ACLU and Anaheim Union Reach Settlement on Banned Books

The Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) recently approved a settlement agreement with plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in a book-banning case at Orangeview Junior High School involving a biographical series about gay and lesbian people, "Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians." The subjects of the books include tennis player Martina Navratilova, economist John Maynard Keynes, and writers Willa Cather and James Baldwin. The books were pulled from the library by district officials. The ACLU/SC represented two student plaintiffs, who charged that the censorship of the biographies violated their First Amendment rights and violated state nondiscrimination laws. The suit was filed on December 21, 2000, and sparked heated controversy in the District, including one demonstration outside of the school led by activists in support of returning the books. Today, the ACLU/SC and the District's lawyers will file a motion with the Federal District Court asking for approval of the settlement.

"The swift and successful resolution of this case," said Martha Matthews, ACLU of Southern California's Bohnett Attorney, a staff attorney position funded by Internet innovator and philanthropist David Bohnett to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights, "shows that individuals who take the risk of acting to defend their principles can make a difference."

"The two plaintiffs in this case and their families" said Matthews, "as well as the two librarians who sought to defend a core principle of their profession intellectual freedom deserve the thanks of every student and parent in the District for ensuring an environment that doesn't shut out the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people."

The agreement was approved by the Anaheim Union High School District Board yesterday evening. It includes the following key provisions:

"The agreement is a victory for all students in Anaheim Unified High School District, gay or straight," said Matthews. "In the pages of these books, they can now encounter gay and lesbian people who have shaped our world, and those encounters will help them see the world in a new way. That's the point of reading. That's the point of libraries to illuminate both our own and others' experiences and to help us understand our common humanity, as well as our differences."

Matthews also commended the District's staff and Board for resolving the issue fairly, quickly, and clearly.

"We're very pleased with the fairness and speed with which this issue was resolved," said Matthews. "The agreement we created is a model of clarity and openness, and other school districts could benefit from reviewing and adopting its general provisions."

Gay- and lesbian-themed books frequently inspire censors. According to the American Library Association, two books for children about gay and lesbian families are among the top ten books banned in the United States. Between 1990 and 1999, the American Library Association reported 497 attempts to remove books from libraries on the grounds that they "promoted homosexuality."

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