Banned Books: Lesbian Novels

25th Feb 2013

Banned Books: Lesbian Novels

To commemorate the anniversary, For Books’ Sake takes a look at other books with lesbian themes that have met with less-than-stellar reactions from parents

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982, to generally positive reviews. Nine years later the LGBT organisation Project 21 donated a few copies to a Kansas City high school as part of a move to promote LGBT equality.

This gesture didn’t go down well with some parents, who took serious objection to its lesbian theme being made available to their impressionable youngsters.

Copies were publicly burned and, to avoid further controversy, the school pulled the book from its library shelves rather than argue.

At the time, the Kansas City Star reported: ‘The books were removed two days after a hearing before a district committee in which parents and patrons angrily denounced the novels. The books were removed on the recommendation of the 11-member committee.’

Fortunately, some more liberal parents, along with a teacher and the might of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district and won their case. Six years later, Annie, now officially ‘educationally suitable’, was restored to the school shelves.

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

Two years after its 2005 publication, this novel about a relationship between two teenage girls was ‘challenged’ by a woman in Oklahoma who wanted the book removed from her daughter’s middle school library.

Despite the lack of graphic sexual content in the novel, the woman complained that The Bermudez Triangle “has no moral fibre and wrongly promotes a ‘do whomever you want to discover yourself’ mentality.”

Interestingly, nobody on the school board committee that voted to move the book to the ‘restricted’ section of the library (from which books can only be signed out if a student has parental permission) had, according to Johnston’s blog, actually read the book.

The furore led to the removal of one librarian from the library committee, because she defended the book’s inclusion in the main library, and the resignation of another.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule

Desert of the Heart was published in 1964. It was a ground-breaking novel, not least because it was published five years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Canada, where its author lived with her female partner.

Reviews were generally favourable, praising Rule’s intelligent writing and lack of sensationalism, but Rule, unsurprisingly, met with some less enlightened responses.

Because she was, in her own words, ‘jailable’ when the book came out, she was at risk of losing her job teaching English, and the wife of a colleague of hers once stopped her to say:

“Look, we don’t care what you do, but you have no right to spread it around and talk about it. Because our children admire you. What’s going to happen to the world?”

Her relative notoriety meant Rule became a poster girl for Canadian lesbianism, a role she reluctantly played until she died in 2007.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

1982 was a good year for controversial fiction with lesbians in – Alice Walker’s novel is arguably much better known than Annie on My Mind, which presumably helps to explain its unenviable 17th place on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 2000-2009.

The Color Purple is not precisely a lesbian novel, but the lesbian relationship contained within it was one of the reasons a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools gave for wanting it removed from schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2002. (Alice Walker wasn’t alone in this one – there were seventeen other books they objected to as well.)

As with Annie and The Bermudez Triangle, parental pressure in Morgantown, North Carolina, forced schools to remove the book in 2008. Still, Alice Walker won The Pulitzer Prize, so she had the last laugh really. And, in fact, all of the afore-mentioned novels have won, or been nominated for, awards.

85 years since Radclyffe Hall wrote her seminal lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (which Jane Rule thought was ‘a very bad book’) the vocal objecting minorities are getting smaller, which can only be a good thing for the thousands of women who find support and acceptance in books like these.

Which of your favourite LGBT books could be considered controversial? Which others should we have included on this list?

Jennie Gillions

Image via Jronaldlee