Our Voices

Pride’s #BookBan Legacy: Speaking Truth to Power

Pride has long been known as a joyous celebration of queer life and love, a time for the LGBTQ+ community to come together without fear.

Unfortunately, Pride 2023 has felt like less of a celebration and more of a reminder: the struggle for queer existence is not over. From drag bans to policies forbidding trans children from playing school sports, the United States has seen an unprecedented, sweeping introduction of legislation that limits trans and nonbinary peoples’ access to healthcare, athletics, education, and more.

Anti-trans legislation is at an all time high, and trans lives are under attack.

While book bans may seem to pale in comparison to the viciousness of anti-trans killings – of which there were at least 12 murders since the start of 2023 – they are just as destructive. This is what Robert F. Kennedy described as “another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.”

Book bans, drag bans, anti-trans legislation are all institutional measures that demote trans people to second-class citizens. Systematically preventing people from accessing knowledge, community, and care will kill them.

Over half of 2022’s most challenged books have LGBTQ+ themes, according to the American Library Association, which tracks and reports book ban efforts. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said “It’s a way of telling young gay and transgender persons that they don’t belong in school, that they don’t belong to the community,” she said, according to an NBC news article. “It sends a message to the LGBTQ community as a whole that they’re not considered full citizens with full rights.”

These restrictive measures only further embolden violence toward the queer community. This Pride has seen a dangerous spike in physical and literal attacks: from bomb threats to the vandalism of queer bars and spaces to the burning of pride flags. This past month, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue reported that the first five months of 2023 saw more incidents of anti-drag protests as well as threats of violence than in the last seven months of 2022.

But despite the unease around safety this Pride, activists and allies alike have been fiercely pushing back against the wave of anti-trans attacks.

In a legal first, a judge in Arkansas ruled the state’s ban on gender-affirming care unconstitutional — also affirming the rights of transgender youth and families, as well as the medical practitioners who hope to provide them care. In Nevada, Governor Joe Lombardo recently signed a bill preventing health insurance providers from discriminating against trans and non-binary people in need of gender dysphoria treatment. And activists recently succeeded in convincing AMC to cancel screenings of No Way Back, an anti-trans, fear mongering film that discourages gender affirming care.

This year, Pride Month has felt markedly different, but one thing remains the same: Pride has and always been about speaking truth to power. That legacy will forever outlive any bills or book bans.