Nearly a thousand people filled the Ridgewood Avenue Middle School auditorium on the evening of February 8, 2023 to voice their opposition to proposed book challenges aimed at six LGBTQ books in circulation at the Glen Ridge New Jersey Public Library.
This started back on October 24, 2022, when an organization called Citizens Defending Education (CDE) submitted a “Request for Reconsideration” regarding the six books to the library’s director, Tina Marie Doody. The CDE states that their organization is “a group of Glen Ridge residents seeking transparency and accountability on all issues involving the school district, particularly the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives currently being implemented in our schools.”
The CDE group said the particular six LGBTQ books were “inappropriate” for children.
The books that were challenged by the CDE included:
- “You Know, Sex” by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth.
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.
- “Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life” by Rowan Ellis and Jacky Sheridan.
- “It’s Not the Stork!” by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.
- “This Book is Gay” by James Dawson.
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by NJ-born author George M. Johnson.
If granted, these requests would have removed these books, but ultimately, each of the requests were denied by Director Doody. The requests to have these books removed were made by a total of eight people. The CDE then appealed each of the denials in January 2023 to Carol Harpster, the President of the Glen Ridge Public Library Board, and to Director Doody. The CDE was told that their appeal would be discussed during the library’s Board of Trustees meeting held on Feb. 8.
The Glen Ridge United Against Book Bans, or Glen Ridge United, formed shortly after the six book challenges were made. This group is composed of a coalition of Glen Ridge residents and others who oppose the efforts of the CDE in attempting to ban those titles. In the span of a couple of months, they gathered a petition of more than 2,900 signatures from Glen Ridge residents who supported keeping the six books within the library. Glen Ridge United also drew a large amount of residents to attend the meeting. Forty people took the time to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Out of the 40 people who arose to speak, only one person stood up to say they supported the CDE. No one from the CDE was there to speak that night. “Banning books, especially these books, endangers our children,” said Phil Johnson, an organizer for Glen Ridge United.
Other people that spoke up in support of keeping the six books included parents, students at Glen Ridge public schools, teachers, librarians, clergymen, and even Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D) of the 34th Legislative District.
“We have drafted a bill that will make it illegal to ban books in the state of New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Timberlake, highlighting how the state legislature is taking the issue of book bans seriously. There was thunderous applause from around the room when she stated this.
Family members of George M. Johnson, one of the authors whose book was challenged, were in attendance too. They read a prepared statement on behalf of Johnson. “It’s a sad day when people have decided that the banning of books, which has not killed a single student, is more important than the banning of guns,” Johnson’s statement read. “As a Black queer person. I know what it’s like to read books that don’t tell my story. So in this hunt to “protect teens” does it ever cross your mind that removing or restricting this life-saving story for LGBTQ students only harms them more? Or how removing this life saving story for Black teens harms them?”
“Save your LGBTQ+ youth from years of anguish, depression, and self-hatred. Set a good example to their classmates and peers,” said Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi, who took his own life back in 2010 at Rutgers University due to receiving threats of being outed from his college roommate. “Your actions as leaders within your town will impact everyone in your town, not only those members of the LGBTQ+ community but your straight youth as well. Your straight youth are looking at you to see if their queer peers should be harassed, intimidated, or bullied; or if they are worthy of a place in your community.”
Many students spoke up as well, with some sharing how much it meant for them to read LGBTQ stories and what it felt like having to fight against the book challenges. “I’m tired of having to fight battles and give speeches when I should be home studying for the ACT,” said one student.
After public comments ended, the library Board of Trustees discussed each of the challenged books. One by one, the Board voted unanimously to keep each book within their library system.
Book bans have become common nationwide, with the American Library Association(ALA) documenting 1,651 incidences — the most in a 20-year span — where specific books were targeted between January and September of 2022. The efforts of Glen Ridge United proved to be very successful in preventing these six LGBTQ books from being another collection of banned stories for readers in this suburban New Jersey community.