Alabama flags book because author’s name is ‘Gay’

Alabama flags book because author’s name is ‘Gay’

Author's last name sparks debate over censorship

by Suswati Basu
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In a recent incident that highlights the challenges libraries face in curating their collections, a children’s picture book titled “Read Me a Story, Stella” found itself at the centre of controversy at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HCPL). The cause of the uproar? The author’s last name is ‘Gay,’ leading to concerns of potentially “sexually explicit” content in Alabama.

A children's book has been flagged for censorship by Alabama officials – because the author's surname is “Gay”. The book is Read Me a Story Stella by Marie-Louise Gay.
Marie-Louise Gay is the author of “Read Me a Story, Stella” which was flagged by an Alabama library due to her name.

“[The] ridiculousness of that fact should not detract from the seriousness of the situation.”

Kristen Brassard, Groundwood books

The controversial flagging of ‘Read Me a Story, Stella’

Marie-Louise Gay, the author of the book, was stunned when her work was flagged for removal from the children’s section of the Alabama library solely because of her last name. According to, Kirsten Brassard, Gay’s publicist at Groundwood Books, stated, “Although it is obviously laughable that our picture book shows up on their list of censored books simply because the author’s last name is Gay, the ridiculousness of that fact should not detract from the seriousness of the situation.”

Read: Clean Up Alabama call to jail librarians for giving LGBT books to kids

This incident, however, sheds light on a larger issue of censorship and its implications. Brassard pointed out that other books on the list included Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” a book devoid of LGBTQ themes or sexual content but which depicted a poignant narrative about the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by the police. This serves as a stark reminder that censorship is not just about limiting access to certain books; it sends a message to children that certain ideas or people are not worthy of discussion or consideration.

Censorship concerns and unintended consequences

HCPL’s executive director, Cindy Hewitt, acknowledged the mistake and clarified that “Read Me a Story, Stella” should never have been on the list in the first place. She stated, “Obviously, we’re not going to touch that book for any reason.” Hewitt also praised “The Hate U Give” as an excellent book and emphasised that there was never any intention to target the LGBTQ community. Instead, she sought to be “proactive instead of reactive” in reviewing and potentially relocating books.

Initially, “Read Me a Story, Stella” was one of 233 titles marked for review and potential movement. However, due to internal and public backlash, the process was halted. Some books were moved to the adult section, while others remain unrecatalogued.

Hewitt clarified that the review process was based on a list of 102 books compiled by Clean Up Alabama, an organisation targeting “sexually explicit” books in libraries across the state. Interestingly, “Read Me a Story, Stella” was not on this list. Hewitt admitted to a miscommunication regarding the process, explaining that the keywords used were meant to focus on “sexuality, gender, sex, and dating.”

Moving forward and community engagement

Alyx Kim-Yohn, a circulation manager at the Madison branch of the library, expressed frustration with the handling of the situation, calling it “cosmically ironic” that it occurred during Banned Books Week. Kim-Yohn refused to participate, citing professional ethics, and questioned the unilateral decision to relocate books without any prior complaints.

Community members from Read Freely Alabama, a group opposing book challenges, visited several branches and compiled a list of 40 books moved to the adult section. The discrepancy in cataloging practices was evident, with some books classified as “young adult” in some branches but “adult” in others.

Kim-Yohn hopes for an apology from Hewitt and an assurance that such incidents won’t recur. They also urged the public to continue supporting libraries despite the controversy.

Consequently, the incident at HCPL serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by libraries in navigating the delicate balance between curating their collections and ensuring access to diverse ideas and perspectives. It underscores the importance of open dialogue and community engagement to ensure that libraries remain inclusive spaces for all.

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