LA Times: Two Florida Moms are at the Center of the Fight Against Book Banning in America
The tattoos on Jen Cousins’ arms speak to literacy and how books can take on us on trips across strange and extraordinary universes: an owl for wisdom, a drawing from the novel “Wonder,” multicolored glasses from Harry Potter and a saying from one of her children: “The world is only what you shape it to be.”
But as any Hogwarts wizard knows, and as Cousins, a mother with a defiant streak, was quick to discover, many forces are conspiring to shape the world.
At a school board meeting here two years ago, her ideas clashed with those of conservative parents and a Proud Boys member who called for “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe about sexual identity, to be pulled from library shelves.
“This is the 21st century. We don’t ban books, right?” said Cousins, recalling that day when school board members “freaked out” over the memoir’s depictions of sexual acts that she said were taken out of context. “It was even more personal to me because my child, who was 12 at the time, had just come out as non-binary. I gave them ‘Gender Queer’ after that so they could find acceptance and confirmation and know they were not alone.”
Cousins and Stephana Ferrell founded the Florida Freedom to Read Project after meeting at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to support mask-wearing in schools. They confronted conservative parental rights groups, including Moms for Liberty, that opposed COVID-19 restrictions and would later challenge “liberal indoctrination” on the teaching of racial equality and gender. Those protests have resulted in the removal of more than 1,100 titles from Florida school libraries, including “TheBluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and 20 books by Jodi Picoult.
Cousins and Ferrell track school board votes and the fates of books across the state’s 67 districts. They file public records requests, travel to Tallahassee to appear before the Legislature (Ferrell was once given 15 seconds to speak), enlist volunteers and try to find wins in a state firmly in the hands of a conservative Republican Party.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.