I was very saddened to learn this morning that one of our nation’s great champions of free speech, Judith Krug, passed away this past weekend. Ms. Krug was the Director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom for more than 40 years. While Ms. Krug fought against all types of censorship, her passing is especially disappointing for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
In 1982, she helped to establish Banned Books Week, which has been an invaluable tool for fighting library censorship. It’s not surprising that LGBT-themed books are often among the most challenged books. Thanks to Ms. Krug and countless other free-speech-loving librarians, these challenged books almost always remain on library bookshelves, providing a lifeline for many young people who first discover what it means to be LGBT at their local library.
Prior to joining the ACLU, I had the opportunity to work with Ms. Krug as a communications consultant for the ALA. This was at a time when Congress was eager to force libraries to censor information online. The ALA knew that this censorship would force libraries to block access to important content, including information about LGBT issues and HIV care and prevention. Even though the ALA faced constant attacks for its opposition to Congress, under Ms. Krug’s guidance the ALA remained firm in its support of the first amendment. The ALA joined forces with the ACLU to bring legal challenges to the legislation.
No doubt, Ms. Krug would be very disappointed to learn, as we reported this morning, that as many as 107 Tennessee public school districts may be illegally preventing students from accessing online information about LGBT issues. Many schools in the state are using filtering software that block students from access to LGBT content including websites for Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; Human Rights Campaign; Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; and Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. This was brought to our attention by Andrew Emitt, a 17-year-old senior at Central High School in Knoxville, who discovered the censorship while trying to do research for college scholarships. Shamefully, the filters do not block websites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called “reparative therapy” or “ex-gay” ministries (PDF). Today, we sent a letter to Knox County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Tennessee Schools Cooperative threatening a lawsuit if they don’t stop censoring LGBT issues.
In my time working with Ms. Krug, two things in particular stand out: her unequivocal belief that the free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of our democracy, and her infectious ability to inspire others to champion free speech. While she will be deeply missed, we can find comfort in the fact that, because of Ms. Krug, there are now countless librarians all over the country who understand the dangers of censorship and who are willing to fight against it even in the face of tremendous community pressure. She would surely have been proud of Karyn Storts-Brinks, a librarian at Fulton High School in Knoxville who is working with the ACLU to end the censorship in Tennessee high schools.
Thank you Judith Krug for all you did to fight censorship and for making this country a better place for LGBT people.