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George M. Johnson isn't surprised their book is being banned: "America has always had an issue with anything that tells the truth"

Author talks gender in the Black community
"All Boys Aren't Blue" author on gender identity in the Black community 14:03

George M. Johnson always knew something like this would happen. Johnson's book, "All Boys Aren't Blue," is just one of many works from queer authors that have been removed from several libraries at public schools across the country.

"I knew it was going to rattle the nerves of people who have always suppressed stories like mine," Johnson told CBS News. "The United States of America has always had an issue with anything that tells the truth. Had I been a White queer author this book would have been (perceived) in a much different way. I would have been the second coming of Ernest Hemingway or some other great American 'writer.'"

The book, which was released in 2020, covers topics of consent, agency, sexual abuse, and depicts a sexual encounter and statutory rape. It has been removed from school libraries in 10 states, including Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas. 

In Florida, a member of the Flagler County School Board filed a criminal complaint with the sheriff's office saying "All Boys Aren't Blue" was on the shelves of two high schools and one middle school, The Palm Coast Observer reported

"This book needs to be investigated as a crime in our media center," Jill Woolbright told the publication. "This is pretty heavy stuff, violating our own policies. That's why I felt the need to file the report, so I know it will be investigated."

In Philadelphia, Vicki Flannery leads the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a non-profit dedicated to organizing and empowering parents to "defend their parental rights at all levels of government." Flannery says parents there have spent time reading multiple books that have caused concern across the country. Some of the books, she says, were available in public school libraries.

After reading an excerpt of "All Boys Aren't Blue," Flannery asked board members if they believed the book was unacceptable for minors. While the board believes the book was purchased with good intentions, it has been removed from the school's library. 

"I believe that when COVID happened and children went to virtual education parents had more of a spotlight on what was happening in their classroom, and they were able to see different types of curriculum that was happening. Things that were not seen as appropriate for the age they were being taught to," she said. 

"All Boys Aren't Blue"
"All Boys Aren't Blue" Farrar, Straus and Giroux

"I think that between us seeing through the COVID lens, and us seeing through today's world everybody sees what's happening everywhere else and parents are starting to see this. This isn't just my district, this is across the country that this is happening."

Johnson said the book is geared towards young adults, between ages 14 to 18. They said they're not responsible for the book being available in elementary school libraries. But says the removal of "All Boys Aren't Blue" does more harm than good.

"The reality is there is no topic that is too heavy for a child who could experience said topic. If a child can experience sexual abuse at the age of seven, a child should understand what sexual abuse looks like, how to handle it, how to discuss it, and how to talk about it," Johnson said. 

"The repercussions of removing a resource like mine doesn't mean youth, specifically Black queer youth won't experience these things. What it does is remove an educational tool for them to have the knowledge and the wherewithal to understand how to handle those situations." 

George M. Johnson
George M. Johnson Handout

Both Flannery and Tiffany Justice, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, say they don't believe in banning books. Flannery says books like "All Boys Aren't Blue" should be found in a public library, not in a public school.

"The biggest concern is where is the accountability for how the books are being vetted. Who's helping the children to select the books. Perhaps they just need to be in another place. So much like we would not allow children to go see PG-13 movies. In school, you have to often sign a waiver and say it's OK for my child to watch this movie in school. Books have different things in them and we just want parents to be a part of the process," Justice explains. 

"We're working hard to help reform public education. We're not looking to destroy it, we want to help fix it with parents involved."

Amid the book's widespread removal, Johnson is working to ensure free copies of "All Boys Aren't Blue" are readily available to queer youth at LGBTQ resource centers and Little Free Libary locations across the country. "For me, as a Black creative, I also take on the challenge to turn my book into something else that can't be denied," they said.

Gabrielle Union, the actress and film executive, reportedly signed an agreement to develop "All Boys Aren't Blue" into a series for Sony Pictures TV. She reacted to the lawsuit on Twitter: "You cannot stop the truth… I'm ready to fight."

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