LGBTQ+ Book Bans Reign Havoc in Literature: Then to Now

In 1928, the first LGBTQ+ book was banned and since then the numbers have steadily increased. Let’s take a look at the history.

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Literature has the ability to challenge boundaries and get people thinking about topics they wouldn’t otherwise ponder over. LGBTQ+ narratives were revolutionary in doing so—these books challenged society’s view on people who identify within the community and, over the years, have widened people’s perspective. However, every year the censorship of LGBTQ+ books increases. We live in the 21st century; shouldn’t it be the opposite?

The First, The Second, and The Third LGBTQ+ Bans

Although it is hard to pinpoint when exactly the first LGBTQ+ books were banned due to different interpretations of banning and censorship in several countries, these books provide a relatively accurate timeline of the first few LGBTQ+ book bans around the world.

The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall


The first book with LGBTQ+ themes to be banned was The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. It was banned in 1928 due to the portrayal of homosexuality and the fact that those themes “corrupted” the public. In fact, the book went through a trial for obscenity in the UK under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Well Of Loneliness was one of the first books that gave people a story about lesbianism. It was, therefore, one of the most popular books on lesbian identities for several decades. Therefore, the banning of this book was very controversial, especially among younger people. Due to this, it has constantly been cited as a milestone in both LGBTQ+ literature as well as in the history of book bans.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin


The second LGBTQ+ book that was banned was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. It was published in 1956 and banned in 1977. This book didn’t face a widespread ban; however, it faced censorship in several countries and regions in the U.S. due to its same-sex content. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, due to the AIDS crisis, the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community escalated tremendously. This could have also been a contributing factor to the censorship of Giovanni’s Room

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson


In 1985, the third LGBTQ+ book was banned. The title was Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. This book is a semi-autobiographical account of Jeanette’s life as a queer young girl growing up in a conservative Christian family. Because the novel explored and talked about religion and sexuality, it was banned, restricted, and challenged in several school districts around the U.S. Additionally, several religious communities banned these narratives due to their portrayal of religion. 

The bans on each of these books were eventually lifted, and they are mostly freely available. 

Famous LGBTQ+ Books That Were Banned in the Late 1900s and Early 2000s

LGBTQ+ Book bans rose significantly in the late 1900s and early 2000s. These bans were controversial at the time, and although some of them are still banned in certain areas, they have provided significant texts to LGBTQ+ literature over the years.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker


Although not solely an LGBTQ+ book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a story of the repression of African American women in rural Georgia that includes a lesbian romantic relationship between the main character, Celie, and another significant character, Shug Avery. This book was first banned in 1984 by a high school honors class in Oakland, California, and it continues to remain banned in several schools and libraries across the US.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky


Perks of Being a Wallflower talks about sexuality, abuse, and mental health. It addresses LGBTQ+ themes through one of its main characters. This book has been banned in several schools due to the content being “inappropriate.” In fact, it was most recently banned in January 2023 by the Conroe ISD board in Houston for students younger than high schoolers. It was brought up for review by a parent of an 8th grader who said that the book would “morally corrupt minds of all who read the novel.”

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman


This children’s book is about a young girl who has two mothers. It has faced widespread bans and challenges due to its portrayal of same-sex parenting. It is also the center of the conflict regarding the representation of LGBTQ+ content in children’s books. It was first banned in the early 1990s, and by 1999, it was ranked number nine on the American Library Association’s most-banned list.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg


This is the story of Jess Goldberg, a butch lesbian, and follows her journey exploring her sexuality, the challenges and discrimination she faces, and gender identity. It was banned shortly after its publication in 1993 by several schools and libraries due to its portrayal of sexual and trans themes.

Where are we now?

In 2022, over half the books that were challenged and banned had LGBTQ+ themes. Although there is rising inclusivity, acceptance, and equality of the LGBTQ+ community presently, there is also a rising number of LGBTQ+ books that are being banned every year. Here is why:

As more LGBTQ+ voices and stories are heard, the readership of books with these themes increases as well. Therefore, with the increase in readership comes an increase in scrutiny and pushback from people who are opposed to the circulation of LGBTQ+ literature.

Book bans are also very dependent on the cultural and political climate of a region. Political propaganda is a large reason for the banning of several books. From the previous examples of LGBTQ+ book bans, Heather Has Two Mommies was banned due to political propaganda. Two senators, one from North Carolina and another from New Hampshire, introduced a bill to stop providing federal aid to schools that promote or support homosexuality. It was in this congressional record that Heather Has Two Mommies was cited.

Countries that Still Have Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws and How it Restricts books:

Russia’s Gay Propaganda Law bans the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships.” Due to this law, several books, articles, and discussions that have LGBTQ+ themes have been banned or restricted, especially those targeting children and young adults. 

Nigeria has very strict laws against same-sex relationships. They also have the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2013, that illegalizes marriage between the same sex. Due to this Act, several books and texts that contain LGBTQ+ content have been banned so as not to “promote” these ideals amongst people. 

Several Middle-Eastern countries have laws that criminalize the LGBTQ+ community. These laws have severe implications for literature with LGBTQ+ content. 

The LGBTQ+ community faces discrimination and challenges every single day. To many people, books are havens and safe spaces; they are a place where people feel seen and accepted, and to some, writing is a way of finding themselves. The censorship and banning of LGBTQ+ books take this security away from both readers and writers.

To read our similar article on the effects of LGBTQ+ Book Bans, click here!