A British writer, presenter and former model says he is shocked to find himself at the center of an unprecedented wave of book bans in the United States.
A Mississippi mayor has told the Madison County Library to remove LGBTQ+ books from its shelves or lose funding. One of the books cited as an example was The Queer Bible, a collection of LGBTQ+ history essays edited by Jack Guinness. Republican Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee has refused to donate funds to the library until the “gay materials” are removed.
Tonja Johnson, executive director of the Madison County Library System, said that when she told McGee the library serves the entire community, he replied that he only served “the great Lord above.”
Guinness discovered that his anthology had been caught in the book’s Twitter ban. “I really couldn’t 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. Calling it ‘gay material’ – that’s the kind of phrase my grandma would have used to talk about my jeans.
Guinness, once described by QG magazine as “Britain’s coolest man”, 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 was Alexa Chung’s roommate.
He quickly transitioned from modeling to working as a presenter and writer for vogue, QG and the Guardian. Since launching the Queer Bible as a website in 2017, it has been included in Attitude Pioneer magazine’s list of outstanding LGBTQ contributors to the arts. He is also a member of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Public Domain Diversity Commission.
The Queer Bible is a book of essays “by gay heroes about their gay 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 features LGBTQ+ people and stories.
“I identified gaps in my knowledge of characters in queer history. People have had to hide their identities in the past to protect themselves, or stories have been scrubbed 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 mayor. The goal is now achieved.
He says he is as surprised as anyone to find himself an activist. “I never imagined this would happen. I created The Queer Bible selfishly for me because I wanted to read about queer heroes. Now I’m on a campaign to fight a Mississippi mayor. It’s a surreal place and I feel very honored. What keeps me going is that it’s not about me. It’s about using my platform so other people can tell their stories.
The American Library Association has seen an unprecedented increase in book ban campaigns over the past 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 anger or stress.” Parents are driving many campaigns after gaining hands-on experience with curriculum texts during pandemic homeschooling.
“It’s terrifying to think that one individual, because of their personal beliefs, can withhold texts from an entire community,” Guinness said. “I grew up under Article 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools. An entire generation grew up not knowing their history or understanding that they weren’t monsters.
“Banning any book is also a slippery slope. In some countries, LGBTQ+ people enjoy equal rights, but this shows how easy it is to get sidetracked. There is a shift, an idea of criminalizing or suppressing certain communities. Today is the queer community – tomorrow it could be your community.