A stack of books. Text reads "#ReadWithLove PFLAG"

Learning to Read with Love

This blog post is by Jamie Henkel, Interim Director of Learning and Inclusion at PFLAG National, a Unite Against Book Bans partner.

At the end of December, a church in Maryland hosted a reading event that got wide attendance, good media coverage, and wasn’t protested. That this event was so unremarkable is what makes it stand out, because the featured reader was a drag performer, the audience were children, and the books were banned.

Why did this event work when so many similar events are protested and shut down? One big factor: the event tapped into values many of us hold dear. It asked people to gather and Read With Love.

Across the U.S., community groups and campaigns are adopting winning strategies learned from the LGTBQ+ movement. After all, in a relatively short time, the movement overcame deeply entrenched opposition to “gay marriage” to earn broad support and federal recognition of the freedom to marry.

This dramatic feat demonstrates the power of narrative change and the recognition that, when you butt heads with an opponent that’s working to divide, everyone gets a headache—and you’re still divided. Instead, focus on strengthening the bonds that unite your supporters and bring people together.

That’s why, in the face of efforts to weaken public education by banning books that are by and about marginalized people, PFLAG National urges people in our communities to include MORE books about all kinds of topics and people in our schools and libraries.

It’s true. Most people are appalled by censorship efforts and threats at libraries and schools, but repairing the damage can seem daunting. Read With Love provides an entry point for folks who value the freedom to read to do something that makes a difference.

Photo of drag queen Angelica Lize reading from a children's book.
Drag queen Angelica Lize reads “The Mother of a Movement” at the PFLAG Southern Maryland event “Read With Love” at Peace Lutheran Church on Dec. 30, 2023. Photo courtesy of Eleanor Pratt.

In Charles County, Maryland, where that delightfully unremarkable children’s story hour took place, and in many other communities, local PFLAG chapters and partners are bringing people together through actions and events called “Read With Love-Ins.” In places like Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where local school districts have taken aggressive steps to ban inclusive books and education, students have hosted a “Read With Love Book Drive” to collect banned books and donations for local libraries. At school and library board meetings from Connecticut to California, PFLAG chapters are also using Read With Love to organize advocates to show up and speak out.

Of course, for people who expect hard language to counter the harmful rhetoric and actions targeting LGBTQ+ people, Read With Love can seem soft. But at PFLAG, we know that love takes action. Read With Love is both a simple request and an act of courage.

For more information about hosting your own Read With Love-In, visit https://pflag.org/readwithlove/. To access talking points and other support for handling difficult conversations about book banning when preparing for an event, see the Unite Against Book Bans Action Toolkit.

Laura McGinnis, Sr. Manager of Press and Public Relations for PFLAG National contributed to this post.