Cover of Read Me a Story Stella by Marie-Louise Gay next to a locked up book

A Children’s Book Was Flagged for Censorship in Alabama Because the Author’s Last Name Is Gay

A children’s book by Marie-Louise Gay was flagged for censorship at Alabama’s Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HCPL) for no reason other than the author’s last name is Gay. It is perhaps the most ridiculous story to arise as the United States experiences an unprecedented rise in book-banning efforts, largely heralded by right-wing politicians and parents. That’s saying a lot, considering there has been no shortage of ridiculousness as hate groups obliviously quote authors they’re actively trying to ban, manufacture controversy around books they’ve never read, and make their book-banning legislation so broad and ill-defined that the Bible should be banned under them.

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Even though some of these book-banning efforts are so misguided and uninformed that they’re almost laughable, these may actually be the most serious and dangerous. They highlight how these individuals don’t even bother reading or informing themselves about the books they’re trying to ban and have no adequate system to do what they’re demanding. For example, they want every book with “sexual content” banned but can’t even define what constitutes “sexual content” or how libraries are supposed to vet every single resource in their inventory for so much as one line of “sexual content.” This, of course, leads to books being banned for absolutely no reason and libraries finding very unreliable methods of reviewing and flagging books, such as using AI, just to be in compliance with nonsensical laws or trends.

Recently, the author of a children’s book faced censorship at an Alabama library because of conservatives’ faulty and discriminatory book vetting processes.

Children’s book flagged for censorship over author’s last name

Even the most ardent book banners would be hard-pressed to find anything objectionable in Gay’s picture book, Read Me a Story, Stella. It’s the eleventh book in a bestselling series that follows two adventurous siblings, Stella and Sam. This latest story is especially heartwarming as it sees Stella teaching Sam to read and introducing him to the world of books. Hence, it sparked confusion when HCPL placed Read Me a Story, Stella on a list of books that were under review for “sexually explicit” material and set to be removed from the children’s section.

HCPL executive director Cindy Hewitt issued a statement explaining that the book had incorrectly been flagged due to the author’s last name. Disturbingly, “gay” is a keyword that the HCPL uses to determine which books to flag as “sexually explicit” and put on a censorship list. Read Me a Story, Stella was just one of 233 books put on the censorship list after being flagged by a system that uses “gay” as one of its trigger words. Hewitt stated that Read Me a Story, Stella would be removed from the list and would not be censored at the library. However, her statement is hardly reassuring.

The HCPL has still constructed a massive list of books they want to censor, specifically targeting LGBTQ+ books. Of course, Hewitt insists that the library isn’t targeting the LGBTQ+ community with its list. Yet, she admitted to vetting books for the word “gay,” and found that 91% of the books on the list had the words lesbian, gay, transgender, gender identity, or gender non-conforming in the subject header. Circulation manager Alyx Kim-Yohn revealed that these weren’t even books that anyone complained about and that the intent wasn’t to review them but to remove them. The library seemingly just formulated a massive list of LGBTQ+ books to remove, and it’s unclear what authority or reason it even has to do this.

It also proves, once again, that book banning isn’t about censoring books with sexually explicit material. This is just a tired excuse conservatives use to pretend they’re not attacking every book dealing with LGBTQ+ or racial topics. However, nothing so glaringly shows their true intents like a library feeding hundreds of books into a system looking, not for sexually explicit content, but simply for any mention of an LGBTQ+ related word. How many other books are getting pulled and banned for no reason due to libraries using discriminatory and faulty systems like this to determine which books they will censor?

Such an open display of discrimination in a public library should not be tolerated, and conservatives should not be allowed to use such ineffective and faulty methods to mass ban books they can’t even be bothered to research or read.

(featured image: Groundwood Books / Andranik Hakobyan / Getty)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.