Minow: Tell us about the vote by the Texas Youth Commission to ban your young adult anthology, Revolutionary Voices.
Sonnie: Revolutionary Voices is a collection of creative writing by LGBTQ youth. It deals with the challenges queer young people face and the ways young people have become empowered to stand up for their rights. The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) banned the book in 2004. I was upset by the news but not surprised. That same year,
ALA reported that 3 of the top 10 banned books nationwide were removed for “homosexual content.” During the 1990s alone, more than 500 books were challenged for having a “homosexual theme or ‘promoting homosexuality’” -- 71% of all challenges occurred in schools. Since TYC runs the state’s juvenile halls, it is ironically considered an educational institution. (In 2007 TYC was rocked by an abuse scandal including accusations that it’s been widely negligent in its educational mission. See http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/storie/110407dnprotycedmain.3a27333.html). Given that LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color, are more likely to get caught up in the system, finding a book like this in the library is all the more important. While it’s a dubious honor for be the author of a banned book, the disservice to these young people makes it hard to celebrate.
Minow: Did this experience politicize you? If so, how?
Sonnie: I have been politically active since my teens, but this experience did reinvigorate my activism around intellectual freedom issues. TYC’s decision to ban Revolutionary Voices, along with Radical Reference’s amazing work at the national conventions, catalyzed my decision to become a librarian. Prior to that I was working on information access for marginalized communities and for corporate media accountability through the Center for Media Justice (http://centerformediajustice.org). My work with social justice community organizations was a great primer for a career in librarianship.
Minow: You're known as the "banned librarian." What is the focus of your blog?
Sonnie: The “banned librarian” is a blog for librarians interested in social justice issues, and community activists who recognized the importance of freely accessible information.
Libraries and community-based organizations are natural allies. In my experience these partnerships are not always strong, even though the concerns are shared -- from surveillance under FISA to who’s hardest hit by the failing economy. In my blog I try to highlight the work of various organizations, special collections, and policy reform groups. Right now, I’m working on a series of posts about the upcoming PATRIOT Act sunsets. They’re written for legal novices like myself who want to get involved in advocacy efforts this year.
Hopefully blogging about censorship, public policy and social justice won’t invite the censors. But, given the current climate, I can only hope the ‘banned librarian’ won’t be making an appearance at “Banned Blog Week” anytime soon.