After DeSantis’ conservative push, the state has the second highest number of school-related book bans in the US.
“Don’t join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go into your library and read every book,” exhorted Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th US president of the U.S.
More than half a century after the Republican uttered this sentiment, most Americans continue to agree with its basic premise. A recent poll commissioned by EveryLibrary Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring continued public and political support for library funding, shows that 75% of Americans stand against book banning, a result that cuts across party lines.
Florida Lights the Pyre
But despite this fact, Florida —the state that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis calls “the freest in the nation”— has the second highest number of school-related book bans in the country.
According to a recent analysis published by PEN America, a free speech and literary organization, there are 566 book bans within 21 Florida school districts. Texas was the only state with more bans at 801 across 22 districts.
“Overwhelmingly, we are seeing people Google ‘what books have LGBTQ content whatsoever,’ even just a book that has an illustration of a same-sex interracial couple gets thrown onto one of these lists and ends up banned in some districts in Florida,” Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education programs said in a September briefing.
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Apparently, some people not only find same-sex interracial couples objectionable, but penguins as well. And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male Penguins, Roy and Silo, who lived in the Central Park Zoo, built a nest together, and — after the zookeeper provided them with an egg — raised an adopted child, Tango, is one of the books banned. There is no sexual content in the book. Just the idea of two males raising a child together.
A Non-Existing Problem
Other books with LGBTQ characters, but no sexual content or instruction, have also been removed from Florida school library shelves.
This comes after DeSantis in March of 2022 signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents, that prohibits school instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
However, Karla Hernández-Mats, the first Hispanic elected to lead the United Teachers of Dade in 2016, told Floricua that “no teacher has ever taught any kind of sexual orientation content in kindergarten or third grade.” And the governor knows this, added Hernández-Mats, who ran as former Rep. Charlie Crist’s running mate against DeSantis.
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“The Department of Education is handled by the governor’s cabinet. So, if there was a problem, it would be a Republican problem, because they are the ones that have been in power over the Department of Education.”
‘Let Children Read’
Survey numbers across the country show that most Americans agree with a sentiment expressed by children’s author Judy Blume, whose book “Forever” has been targeted for removal.
“Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.”
However, in Florida, books continue to be banned, specifically those that touch on LGBTQ matters and Critical Race Theory in response to DeSantis’ ban on teaching schoolchildren the history of racial inequity in the US, which even the Republican governor admits is not taught in Florida schools.
“[Republicans] are uncomfortable with quite a few things, and the things they are uncomfortable with, they seem to be bold enough and just inhumane enough to try to make a law to keep it from existing in front of them,” Congressmember Yvonne Hinson, who represents Florida’s District 20, and an educator who for 14 years served as principal of an elementary magnet school, told Floricua.
“More books banned. More districts. More states,” PEN writes in response to Florida’s ban. “More students are losing access to literature.”