I’ll fight to overturn US ban on my ‘Queer Bible’, says British author | censorship

A British writer, presenter and former model says he is shocked to find himself at the center of an unprecedented wave of book banning in the US.

A greater Mississippi has told the Madison County Library to remove LGBTQ+ books from its shelves or lose funding. One of the books singled out as an example was The Queer Bible, a collection of LGBTQ+ history essays edited by Jack Guinness. Ridgeland’s senior Republican, Gene McGee, has refused to release funds to the library until “homosexual materials” are withdrawn.

Tonja Johnson, executive director of the Madison County Library System, said when she told McGee that the library served the whole community, he replied that he only served “the great Lord above”.

Guinness discovered his anthology had been caught up in the book ban on Twitter. “I couldn’t quite believe my eyes,” he told the observer. “When you write a book, you kind of imagine people might read it, but you don’t imagine anyone will ban it. Referring to it as ‘homosexual material’ – that’s the sort of phrase my grandmother would have used to talk about my jeans.”

Guinness, once described by GQ magazine as “the coolest man in Britain”, worked as a model after university for fashion labels such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Dunhill and became a famous face on the capital’s social scene. He was friends with Pixie Geldof, DJ Nick Grimshaw and musician Florence Welch, and used to be Alexa Chung’s flatmate.

He soon segued from modeling into work as a presenter and as a writer for fashion, GQ and the Guardian. Since starting the Queer Bible as a website in 2017, he has been included in Attitude magazine’s trailblazers list of exceptional LGBTQ contributors to the arts. He is also now a member of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s diversity in the public realm commission.

The Queer Bible is a book of essays “by queer heroes about their queer heroes”. Contributors include Sir Elton John, Graham Norton, designer Tan France, skier Gus Kenworthy and model Munroe Bergdorf. It is adapted from the website, which showcases LGBTQ+ people and stories.

“I identified gaps in my knowledge about figures in queer history. People have had to hide their identity in the past to protect themselves, or stories have been straightwashed to fit into an accepted narrative.”

Guinness and others queer-bible contributors joined crowdfunding efforts to replace the $110,000 (£81,000) withheld by the largest. The target has now been reached.

He says he’s as surprised as anyone to find himself a campaigner. “I never imagined this would happen. I created The Queer Bible selfishly for myself because I wanted to read about queer heroes. Now I’m taking part in a campaign to fight a greater Mississippi. It’s a surreal place to be and I feel very honored. What keeps me going is that this isn’t about me. It’s about using my platform so other people can tell their stories.”

The American Library Association has recorded an unprecedented rise in campaigns to ban books in the last year. New legislation introduced in states such as Texas and Oklahoma has made it easier to remove books about black and LGBTQ+ stories on the grounds that “they may cause upset or stress”. Parents are behind many campaigns after getting hands-on experience of curriculum texts during pandemic home schooling.

“It’s terrifying to think that one individual, due to their personal beliefs, can withhold texts from an entire community,” said Guinness. “I grew up under section 28, which forbade the promotion of homosexuality in schools. An entire generation grew up without information about their history or any understanding that they were not freaks.

Banning any book is also a slippery slope. In certain countries, LGBTQ+ people do benefit from equal rights but this shows how easy it is for things to slip. There is a shift, an idea of ​​criminalizing or deleting certain communities. Today it’s the queer community – tomorrow it could be your community.”

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