Panelists say LGBTQIA+ books get banned out of bigotry

Recently, multiple states have been passing legislation that is banning LGBTQIA+ books. In lieu of this, Ramapo hosted an event on April 4 called Banning Books, Banning Minds to discuss the effects of book banning.

The event began with opening remarks from Ed Shannon, professor of literature and president of the Ramapo American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He discussed a bit of what the AFT is—one of the few teacher’s unions at Ramapo— as well as a recent event. 

Refreshments included cookies decorated as pride flags. Photo by Peyton Bortner

He recounted a story about an elementary school teacher in Florida who was prohibited from talking openly about his sexuality in the classroom. If a student asked him about his weekend, he would not be allowed to mention his husband. The school’s principal told him he may be fired due to talking about his sexuality on television, from when he protested the “Don’t Say Gay” law before it was passed. Luckily, AFT contacted him and helped him keep his job. 

The conversation then shifted to professor and social psychologist Maya Poran. She works as an associate professor of psychology and focuses on women, gender and sexuality studies. 

She started by sharing what reasons these states give for book banning. Among these reasons were that some believe it is too early for children to talk about the subject, it is confusing to children, it forces politics onto people, it normalizes the abnormal and it may turn people queer or gay in some way. 

She then went on to discuss the psychology of development, specifically, the idea of intuitive social psychology. This concept presents the idea that we as people learn through observation, role models and punishments/rewards for our behavior. So, in the context of banning books, the material is taken away because it is known that books are socializing tools that provide role models and ways to think. 

She explained that discussions surrounding identity have been forced to be something outside of school, in the privacy of the home. However, the issue with that is that at times children are not getting these discussions, or they are hearing negative reinforcements. Instead, children require a variety of sources for this kind of information. 

Poran then turned it over to senior psychology student Kayla DeRosa.

DeRosa talked about Cass’ Model, a model of stages that people often go through when they are realizing their sexuality. There are six stages that describe the transition a person goes through from feeling confused about their identity to being able to accept the transition.

What the stages emphasize is how someone’s identity development could be impacted by their surroundings. If there is support surrounding them, they can develop through these stages in a healthy manner. However, once discussions and information are taken out of their reach, this can lead to a feeling of alienation as they try to exist in a heteronormative society. 

Overall, DeRosa insisted that taking away discussions about the topic and banning books ends up disrupting the development of the stages she discussed. Children will look at their non-heteronormative identity and feel conflicted. 

Poran returned to the podium to continue the discussion. She restated how sexuality and gender identity are a process and how a majority of people don’t know who they are right away. They have to take time to figure it out. She mentioned a transgender panelist she hosted in her class recently who was in her late 60s and had just transitioned five years ago because she was trying to figure out her identity. 

She then went on to talk about the big picture behind book banning: that it is not just about the books, but the action of banning in and of itself. Even if a ban is fought and rejected, the people who are being stigmatized still understand that a book is not wanted. The mere notion of the circumstance is enough to create fear and anxiety in the community. 

“It’s a strange feeling for even a young person to say ‘I did it, I fought it and I got it’ and still feel… afraid because the book ban, the existence of it in and of itself is causing a disruption to development and wellbeing,” Poran said before closing the event.

Featured photo by Peyton Bortner