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From the Library: Revolutionary Voices Banned, Revolutionary Readings Emerge

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Image: <i />Revolutionary Voices book cover This past spring, Revolutionary Voices, a multicultural queer youth anthology published in 2000, was pulled from the shelves at a Mount Holly, New Jersey high school library. A formal complaint was filed by Beverly Marinelli, a resident of Lumberton, NJ who just happens to belong to a local chapter of Glenn Beck's 9.12 project. Marinelli stated that the book is "pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate." Following the request to remove the book, a review committee voted to take the book off the shelves at the school library.

The book was also pulled from Burlington County's public library shelves. The county ban was a bit quieter, as the library did not follow its own policy for handling challenges of controversial materials. The book was pulled off the shelves without so much as a word.

Alright, so it turns out there were a few words, exchanged through email. After being asked to investigate the ban, The New Jersey ACLU recently uncovered emails sent from Gail Sweet, a librarian in Burlington County. Here's an excerpt from one of those emails:

"How can we grab the books so they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic)...Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale)."

Totally disappear? How very Fahrenheit 451 of you, Gail.

When asked in another email why this book was being banned, she responded with the words, "child pornography." Because if it's queer and it mentions sex, it's porn, right?

Revolutionary Voices is out of print and tends to sell for at least $100 online. So if the library doesn't carry it, it's going to be pretty hard to get a hold of a copy. Which makes it even more important that public libraries aren't making this anthology "totally disappear."

Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie, has been described by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) as "the first creative resource by and for queer and questioning youth of every color, class, religion, gender and ability." The anthology is comprised of prose, art, letters, diary entries, and performance pieces.

Amy Sonnie has received hundreds of comments from readers who have been touched by Revolutionary Voices over the last decade. After the book was challenged this spring, she shared a letter that she received from a man named Lewis who first picked up the book when he was 15 years old:

My friends and I passed around a single copy of this book for weeks… I was fascinated and relieved that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity. At the same time, it was really important for me as a pretty sheltered young person to see that I was by no means identical to other LGBTQ youth, that there was a wide diversity of voices within the community. This was an illuminating and strengthening part of the book for me.

It is extremely important that queer identities are not only present, but celebrated in the reading materials that students have available in their libraries. It is also important that libraries fulfill their duty to provide a wide array of perspectives and ideas. After sharing the letter from Lewis, Sonnie writes that queer students "certainly deserve a chance to discover the 'diversity of voices' that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy".

And speaking of healthy communities, a group of young theatre artists recently got together in response to the bannings and decided to create a theatrical reading of Revolutionary Voices, which they call revolutionary readings. They describe the goals of the project on their website:

Libraries are not a place for personal, political, and religious agendas. By removing this and similar books from their shelves, the voices of the LGBTQ community are silenced. They deserve the opportunity to be heard, and students should be given the option to hear these voices if they so choose. Opponents claim that this book is pornographic. The legal definition of pornography is as follows: "material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement."

Upon witnessing our performances, upon reading this text, upon viewing these images, upon hearing these stories, you will recognize that Revolutionary Voices is not pornographic. The stories in the book do not intend to sexually excite its readers. They are not meant to preach or to force, but to share perspective, generate discussion, and educate.

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Image: revolutionary reading performers

What an awesome way to protest the banning of this book, right? These artists are making sure that the voices in Revolutionary Voices are not silenced, and if you're in New Jersey, they just might be performing near you (they'll be in Montclair, NJ on August 19th and Riverton, NJ on August 22nd). Support their project if you can! If you can't, make sure to check out Revolutionary Voices from your own library (check to see where the closest copy is here). And if you're really in the mood to fight censorship this weekend, consider writing the Rancocas Valley Regional High School Board of Education a letter to let them know what you think about their decision to ban this revolutionary book.

Do you own a copy of Revolutionary Voices? If you're in possession of this anthology and interested in donating your copy to a library, please consider the Bitch Community Lending Library! We'll take very good care of it, lend it out often, and make sure that it is never banned.

*Comments on this post have been turned off due to excessive derailing. Further comments can be sent via email to kelsey(at)b-word.org*

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Comments

30 comments have been made. Commenting is set to read-only for this post.

Thanks for sharing this story

Wow, these young people rock. I wish I'd found this book when I was 15, and the thought that anyone would want to make all copies "totally disappear" is really upsetting. I'm writing to the school board now.

Go, revolutionary readers!

As a ravenous connoisseur of both teen- and queer-related lit, I can't wait to read this book, and it's at my local library! It's probably no surprise (being as I'm a Bitch commenter) that I'm completely anti-censorship, and it especially hurts me to think of high schools removing resources for LGBTQQIA students. School libraries have the potential to be amazing safe havens for students who may not have that safety in the classroom or at home; I know I didn't.

Those emails weren't as illuminating as I'd like. Aside from apparent (and unrelated) horror that queer people are getting materials for safe sex, I wish there was some elaboration on why they have a vendetta against Revolutionary Voice, especially words that spell out the prejudice that seems to be at work here.

The issue's history

The "vendetta" against Revolutionary Voices can be read in more detail on our website!!

The book was not banned.

I do support the young theater artists, However, the book was not banned.

Regarding the public library, it was removed in compliance with the library's book selection policy. The library director began to apply the policy before being contacted by anyone. The issue of homosexuality had nothing to do with the library director's decision. Both conservatives and liberals act to comply with library policy. Claims otherwise are red herrings. I am the first person to report what the library director said in response to the ACLU half story. Please see, "Et tu, Mary Minow? Then Fall, Gail Sweet!"

Regarding the school, it was removed in accordance with Board of Education v. Pico.

In either case, the book was not banned.

banned books

How do you figure it's not banned? The book was removed based on the librarian's objection. That's banned - the ALA defines banning a book as the removal of a challenged book. Also, any challenged book has to actually go through the challenge process - a librarian can't simply pull it off the shelf based on personal interpretation of library policy.

Response

"The book was removed based on the librarian's objection." Correct, given the librarian was the library director who applied the book selection policy and obtained the unanimous approval of the library commission who is her boss.

"That's banned...." No, that is not. Library selection policies keep huge numbers of books ut of public libraries. They are not banned. Huge numbers of books are not banned. Indeed the libraries use the selection means to keep out books they politically oppose, such as books about ex-gays who have accepted Jesus Christ and successfully left homosexuality. Those books are selected out all the time.

"[T]he ALA defines banning a book as the removal of a challenged book." Who cares? The ALA is a political organization whose goal it is to ensure children retain access to anything whatsoever no matter the law or no matter the community standards. Consider preview.tinyurl.com/WillManley/ or National Hogwash Week. Do you happen to know that no book has been banned in the USA for about half a century?

"Also, any challenged book has to actually go through the challenge process - a librarian can't simply pull it off the shelf based on personal interpretation of library policy." That is correct. But that is not what happened here. No patron challenged the book before the library director decided on her own to apply the selection policy and remove the book.

Listen, I totally agree with you that material should not be inappropriately removed. But that is simply not what happened in this case.

Oh, really?

Your article and comments maintain a puzzling vagueness about the actual book in question. For all your anger against the media for focusing on the "irrelevant issue of homosexuality," I've yet to hear what the banning (and no, I am not going to change my terminology because you personally dislike the ALA) is about, if not that. Considering that you justify the banning with the equally vague, and strangely reverent, claim that "books about ex-gays who have accepted Jesus Christ and successfully left homosexuality" are pulled "all the time," and that you fail to understand why anyone would be concerned that Gail Sweet is "active in the [notoriously racist and homophobic] tea party movement," I smell a not-so-queer-friendly agenda.

I think my question bears repeating: why is the book being pulled, if not because of homosexuality? Don't pull a Sweet and say "child pornography." I can easily point you to extremely graphic heterosexual sex scenes in dozens of YA books that have never been challenged.

In fact

In fact, books have been banned in the USA in the past half-century, including The Diary of Anne Frank and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At the school and local level, just like what's happened here. The library director, just like anyone else, must go through the challenge process. And she didn't. She acted on her own interpretation. Unlike your claim, BOE v. Pico in fact states one can't remove a book "simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

A book "Selected out", though I'd take issue with those actions for the same reasons, is not the same as what happened here. And I'd agree with TheBadassMuppet that your use of "ex-gays", "left homosexuality" and the "political ALA" are slightly suspect from this point of view, as is your handle, "Safelibraries".

I don't care to read your website that you foist on us here or the other links you cite, and I don't think the ALA is trying to give children access to anything "whatsoever no matter the law". For crying out loud, this book was not shelved in a children's section, it was in adult nonfic; and there is no law (at least currently on the books and may there never be again) against being queer. I've noticed that you have commented on Revolutionary Voices-related articles on other sites, and I have a feeling you are not a Bitch reader, nor are you on this site for anything other than to push your agenda, which appears to be agendaed censorship in libraries. And that said, I will not be responding to your comments any more.

Those who cry "Censorship!" the loudest

"I smell a not-so-queer-friendly agenda." So, that's it? No need to address the issues, right? Just label someone as having a "not-so-queer-friendly agenda" and you are suddenly correct? TheBadassMuppet is correct? No one should mention books about ex-gays is being systematically excluded from public libraries because they'll get attacked as having a "not-so-queer-friendly agenda"?

You both did not address the issues I raised--you merely said you were right and I wasn't. Impressive.

What is also impressive is that certain books are not worthy of placement in public libraries, according to you, if they smack of a "not-so-queer-friendly agenda." You can make those judgments from afar but the local library director can't, right?

And making fun of the name "SafeLibraries" as "slightly suspect"? This from someone called "Cakes"? Does this have anything to do with the issue that no banning has occurred in this situation? No, just look the other way, it was banned and there's no need to say otherwise, and banning is a daily occurrence. Attack the person and skip over the issues. Impressive.

You gotta love this: "you on this site for anything other than to push your agenda, which appears to be agendaed censorship in libraries." So the freedom of speech expert opposes my seeing an issue and exercising my freedom of speech based on my conversation with the library director? Here, I have a quote for you given your my-way-or-the-highway approach to freedom of speech. It's from from Dan Gerstein:

"The ... elites have convinced themselves that they are taking a stand against cultural tyranny. .... [T]he reality is that it is those who cry 'Censorship!' the loudest who are the ones trying to stifle speech and force their moral world-view on others."

I enjoy having legitimate debate on the issue. What is happening on this blog post is not legitimate debate. It is an attempt to stifle speech with wild claims about which people have absolutely no knowledge, except that shouting down people will make legitimate issues disappear.

Fortunately, I realize the commentators are not BitchMedia representatives. I think they have a fine blog, etc.

Hooray, accusations and personal attacks!

I am baffled by your accusations of "stifling speech" and having a "my-way-or-the-highway approach to freedom of speech" because we are anti-censorship. Deliberately or accidentally, you are completely misrepresenting what we have said. I absolutely never said that books about ex-gays should be banned because I do not believe that; I only questioned why you seemed to be pointing to an unspecified claim that that happened to justify banning books about being queer.

My response to you revolved around two questions for which I have yet to see answers:
1) WHY is Revolutionary Voices being challenged if it has nothing to do with homosexuality?
2) Can you tell us HOW and WHERE "books about ex-gays [are] being systematically excluded," specifically?

Yes, here's the beef

1) My opinion is irrelevant. I believe media is reporting that the graphic of the two boys watching the two people having anal sex was the tipping point, but I do not know without researching it.

2) Yes, I can provide sources for the ex-gay issue that will explain how and where. Finally, I sense you are being a little open minded. Good. And I hope you come out equally strong about "censoring" ex-gay material as you are about the current case.

Here are a few sources directly or generally on the subject:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/02/AR200810...

http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/08/ala-censors-with-gay-abandon.html

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,569135,00.html

http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/american-library-associati...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020451850457442088283744030...

http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/community/intellectualfreedom/872014-26...

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/10/banned_book_week_and_intellige01192...

http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2008/09/banned-books-week-hypocrisy-pu...

http://webpages.charter.net/tomeboy/leftout.html

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=75366

@SafeLibraries

Re "banning": I'm also not interested in changing the terminology that I've used. Perhaps you think I'm using the term too liberally, but I believe that voting to remove a book from the shelves after it's been challenged for inappropriate content constitutes a book ban.

This post discusses the banning of a book created by and for queer youth, as well as the awesome project that has been put together in order to make sure that these voices are still heard. This post is certainly not a place to try and make a case for homophobia within libraries. Let's keep with the topic at hand. Our comments policy can be found here. Thank you.

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator

Ashley McAllister

@Ashley McAllister

You said, "This post is certainly not a place to try and make a case for homophobia within libraries." You are not suggesting the I am doing that, are you? You are not suggesting that anyone's opposing libraries blocking materials including ex-gay materials amounts to homophobia, are you? You are not weighing in on the issue by hinting I am homophobic while stating without evidence that banning occurred, are you?

You, unlike the commentators, represent Bitch Media, according to your About Us, Staff page. Is it Bitch Media's official policy to call people homophobic or imply they are as the means to avoid addressing substantive issues?

On the substantive issue, you state without support, other than your ad hominem comment, that you "believe that voting to remove a book from the shelves after it's been challenged for inappropriate content constitutes a book ban." That's nice, but it is not what happened. It was not "challenged for inappropriate content." That is a procedure separate and apart from the procedure the library actually used. I'm not surprised you use personal attack to distract from the real issues, but I am saddened you represent Bitch Media while doing it.

Oh Please

@SafeLibraries Maybe you didn't find those ex gay books you were looking for because you didn't check the fantasy section.
Your comment is the homophobic equivalent of "But what about the Menz!" You immeditalely jumped to pointing out other homophobic books that were banned, instead of stating why this particular book was banned.
I suggest you find a different board to post on. We are quite anti-homophobia here, and it's pretty clear from your statements you lean in the opposite direction. This board will only irritate you, and you in turn I can safely say, will probably do the same to us. If you chose to stay, that is your right, but you will find we are likely to be less than receptive when you post thinly veiled homophobic comments, and when you use diversionary tactics common to misogynists, racists, and homophobes who wish to change the conversation away from discussions that are not going their way.

Girls, Defamation, and Apologies

@IfTheShoeFitsWearItBitch

So, instead of addressing the issues, you triple down on the attacks on me, this time saying I "use diversionary tactics common to misogynists, racists, and homophobes." Then, you say I "wish to change the conversation away from discussions that are not going their way." I get it now. People here get to ignore the issues people are discussing; then attack people who comment claiming they are racists, misognists, and homophobes, then claim that's what people are discussing and an attempt to address the issues is "changing the conversation."

Based on the ad hominem nature of the comments here, I think an appropriate quote that fits perfectly is from Marina and the Diamonds, from her song entitled, "Girls":

Is there any possibility
You'll quit gossiping about me
To hide your insecurities
All you say is "blah, blah"

@bitchmedia.org

You have control over this conversation. You, by your actions and perhaps those of your commentators, are beginning to border on the potential for legal liability for defamation of character. Sometimes a simply apology is all that is needed to avert legal action. At the rate this conversation is going, a simple apology may be needed at some point. I can assure you I am not intimidated one iota by name calling.

I understand you are called "bitch" but I'll assume that is a tradename and has nothing to do with your personalities. If it were not for this medium of communication that makes name calling so easy, you would likely find me to be very personable and agreeable. In other words, if we met in real life and had a real conversation, I would not be treated the way I have here that is bordering on defamation. I want you to give serious consideration if you want to continue down the path of defamation of character. You will only end up defaming yourselves.

I love how you completely

I love how you completely doged all my points about your changing the conversation, and attempted to paint me as lobbing personal attacks. How is stating that you changed the conversation from 'Why is this book banned' to "But these OTHER books that argue for a completely different side of the conversation and are the product of a belief that someone can change who they are and should for religious beliefs that it seems fairly transparent that I share are AlSO banned so HA!" NOT attempting to straight-splain the conversation into a dialouge that makes YOU comfortable?

It completely ignores the entire issue, as has been pointed out to you.

What you did WAS a common tactic of misogynists, homophobes, and racists. Funny-what I just posted, that last line, was EXACTLY what was posted by another poster from where I come, Ye Ol'd TigerBeatdown. See, there we have a word for it-when its by men who want to derail the conversation it's called "mansplaining." What you did was "straightsplaining"-i.e. changing the conversation from the issue of the books on hand being banned, to a "but what about the EX gay's and THIER censorship!" No one here was arguing for those books to be censored-also, you won't find anyone here who believes those books to be anything other than homophobic in that they purport that there is something wrong with being gay. But I wouldn't argue to remove them-I would leave them right there in the fantasy section along with Teg Haggard's "How to Remain Happily Married-to a Woman! I swear! A woman!"

I also like how you attempted to pretend that I lobbed personal insults at you, when all I did was state that you used a derailing technique common to misogynists and homophobes. Just like you didn't *say* I was a bitch-you just rather randomly my name, and then said you would do me the wonderful courtesy of assuming I am not a bitch-also, you assumed I would take being called "bitch" as a insult *on* *a**website* *of* *the* *same* *name*- and went on to talk about how you are sure I would find you a nice person.

Your language is exactly the same of those privledged people who get highly offended when you point out their attempt to make the conversation about them and instantly pull the "You're calling me a racist/sexist/homophobe card". Usually, this card is often followed by the "Why must you take everything so SERIOUSLY, this is why no one listens to feminists/people who talk about racism/homophobia/transphobia, etc."
It hurts to be called out. I get it. But instead of playing the martyr and pretending that you have been called names, instead of being defensive that you were called out on attempting to use your privledge to change the conversation to grounds YOU feel comfortable with, try and examine your own behavior.

I would like to rescind my advice that you leave-I think you should stay and read up on this, and other feminist/queer/race related blogs. Tiger Beatdown and Jezebel's discussions of privledge I believe would be of great interest to you.

Edit

DODGED, not doged.

Let's stay on topic, folks.

Hey there commenters,

Lively discussion is great, but we need to keep said lively discussion focused on the topic at hand—the book Revolutionary Voices. Please review our comments policy if you'd like a refresher!

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

My apologies

My apologies Kelsey-I thought anything revolving around the discussion of the book banning was fair go. That said, I would like to read this book, and is there any way we can work to get it put back on the shelves?

Comments policy like selection policy allows removal

Thank you, Kelsey Wallace. I take it by your comment that defamation of character is not the official position of Bitch Media. As a result of my belief that that is the case, I am less concerned about it now. And the Comment Policy you linked discourages defamation.

If you would do me the favor of somehow removing the defamatory comments about me, that would be greatly appreciated.

I get that may seem an odd request in the light of a discussion about a book removed from a library by complying with the library's selection policy (not banning), but it is substantially similar--removing defamatory comments that violate Bitch Media's Comments Policy. Indeed, the removal of the defamatory material under the Comment Policy is substantially similar to the removal of a book under the library's selection policy. That's what the library director did, with unanimous approval of the library commission. Now, under your own Comment Policy, please remove the defamatory misinformation about me, and please do it quickly before search engines pick it up and make it permanent.

Again, thank you, Kelsey Wallace.

Derail overload.

Alright, enough is enough here. @SafeLibraries, as far as I can tell no one is defaming you by saying that this isn't the place to make a case for books about "ex-gays" in libraries.

Everyone else, thanks for your comments that were relevant to this post. However, this thread has become so full of derails that we are turning off the thread. If you have further comments about the book, please email me at kelsey(at)b-word.org.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Tell the truth

@IfTheShoeFitsWearItBitch

Tell the truth. How are you affiliated with Bitch Media? The Feedjit feed shows someone from Portland, OR, Bitch Media's home, visits my blog minutes before additional defamatory content appears written by you, IfTheShoeFitsWearItBitch. Of course you not be directly affiliated, other than writing from Portland. But it sure is a coincidence.

I have placed a phone call to Executive Director Julie Falk but have not yet spoken. The defamation is non stop at this point, and actually gets worse and worse. Right, you can't defame a pseudonym, SafeLibraries, but a simple Google search gets around that. I am certain Julie Falk will not find what has happened here to be Bitch Media's finest moment. I fully expect she will be professional, not behave as you do, and take appropriate action as she sees fit.

To Things of Relevance

@SafeLibraries *cracks up laughing*

Girl, I live in Massachusetts, and this is the first damn time I've posted here. I don't know what you're talking about, but it doesn't surprise me to see you jump the train to Crazy Town (no offense meant to those suffering from treatable mental illness, including members of my own family)

Onto things of relevance-so is there a petition we sign to get the book put back up? I've seen this elsewhere-can we publicize it more?

(Kelsey, I hope I haven't violated the policy, but I felt compelled to...well, to laugh at crazy allegations towards me. Feel free to check up my address and anything else you need, this is the first time I've posted, and I have no interest in getting involved in inter-web-wars, I merely tries to point out again, after others had done so, how I felt SL comments tried to change the subject of the dialouge. Feel free to send me any personal messages or whatnot, and I'm off to read about the comment policy)

banned

Of course the book was banned, from both libraries! Pressure was brought to bear, and people who would have supported keeping it in the school library felt the need to bow to political pressure. Come on, people! There are myriad novels in both libraries with much more sexual content, including national and international award-winning fiction.

I'd never heard of this book

I'd never heard of this book before and I really want to read it now. I hope Beverly Marinelli is happy. :)

great post! it's not often

great post! it's not often enough that at the end of a news story, the readers are given a glimpse into something that people are doing to create positive change. it's so nice to hear that this group of students are acting against this book being removed. other articles on this topic did not clue us in on revolutionary readings!

In Support

Ashley, thank you for posting this post and sharing about revolutionary readings.

This wasn't mentioned in the post, but I love that Amy Sonnie is also a librarian. I feel strongly about the important work done by librarians and archivists to protect, catalog and preserve books and publications for public access, ESPECIALLY radical libraries, which are often run with little to no funding but with great care. Thanks to all those who help keep books from being disappeared.

Radical librarians!

I also like that Amy Sonnie is a librarian. Radical librarians definitely deserve a big pat on the back!

Thanks for the comments, Cakes.

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator

I love that book!

I bought it when I was 17 or 18. I wish I knew where my copy was now! I'd totally donate it if it was still around.

Thanks for the thought,

Thanks for the thought, dusktreader! I hope you enjoyed the read as a teen.

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator