A Kent School District librarian has recently been recognized with an intellectual freedom award after defending LGBTQIA+ books in a middle school library after the books were unilaterally removed by administrators who found their content and themes to be inappropriate.
Cedar Heights Middle School librarian Gavin Downing recently won the Candace Morgan Intellectual Freedom Award from the Washington Library Association for his work fighting for intellectual freedom and against censorship and book banning in public school libraries over the past few months.
A few books, including one called “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by Lev A.C. Rosen, were temporarily removed from the shelves of the Cedar Heights Middle School library by administrators after a student reportedly found some of the sexual themes and situations in the book to be inappropriate for middle school students.
This book, and a few others, were placed under review by the district to determine of they were appropriate materials for the middle school, but all of the books in question notably featured LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, raising concerns among community members — and Downing — that the district might be trying to remove literature that featured characters from these already marginalized communities.
In an interview with the Kent Reporter, Downing said these embattled titles were among the most carefully vetted books he had curated for the library and that they were important resources for students who either publicly or privately identify as being part of the LGBTQ community.
Downing emphasized the importance of literary representation of characters from marginalized communities and said he was ready to defend those books more “than ever.”
Downing said he was “absolutely shocked” to learn that he had won the award and he was not even aware that he was nominated.
This is part of what he wrote in his acceptance speech:
“We can’t do this alone.
I don’t need to tell you that things are grim right now. Book challenges and bans are hitting unprecedented levels, primarily going after books by and about LGBTQIA+ and/or BIPOC people. Further marginalizing those who are already marginalized in our communities. And it’s happening everywhere. Not just in distant states, but close to home. Right here in Washington.
And even as we can view and measure just how many challenges are ongoing, the consequences are mostly invisible. How many challenges occur where the librarian quietly goes along with the censoring administrator, and nothing gets reported? How many times does a librarian quietly choose not to select an important book because it will cause trouble, and they don’t want trouble? How many times does a patron come to our libraries and doesn’t find what they need because the material that could help them has quietly been removed, or was never there to begin with?
And it’s easy – so easy – to just quietly go along. To not make trouble. To not make waves. Administration doesn’t want to fight with angry parents. They’d rather the librarian just quietly surrender anything controversial. To make sure there’s silence in the library.
But that’s not our job.
“Our job as librarians is to provide what our patrons need. Not to buckle under what administration wants, to avoid controversy. If you’re avoiding controversy, you’re not serving all your patrons.
So we fight. We raise our voices and we get loud.
My fight isn’t over yet. The first book challenge is about to head to the school board, and I honestly don’t know which way they’ll decide. I hope they make the right decision, because if they let this book get banned, more will be challenged. But regardless of their decision, the fight will continue. As long as anyone is trying to censor libraries, I will be there to fight them. Even if my book challenge is done, I will be there to support other librarians facing their own challenges.
Because we can’t fight alone.”
Downing went on to thank the community members who supported him as he refused to keep his library quiet in the face of censorship.