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Reading is what? Controversial.

Reading+is+what%3F+Controversial.
Ashlee Scola

In February of 2024, RuPaul published a video on the social media platform TikTok, dressed in a blue suit and standing in front of an American flag, urging the audience to visit the website rupaul2024.com and await an upcoming announcement. Many fans jumped to theorize that Rupaul may reveal his plans to run for president– however, Mama Ru was leading a different campaign.

The announcement graced our screens on March 4th, as RuPaul shared with his fans that he co-founded a new online bookstore called Allstora.

 “Allstora is supporting authors. It is supporting all voices everywhere,” Rupaul said in an interview with Stephen Colbert. “This is a platform that I am in love with because the conversation needs to move forward through books, through conversations, through community.”

Regardless of the hopeful horizon ahead, it was only a matter of time before potential readers and customers stumbled across polarizing content among over 10 million titles that Allstora offers. Controversial literature or otherwise, Allstora initially refused to remove any books from their platform– but has since retracted that statement and issued an apology on the matter. 

Allstora Itself: Promises and Initiatives

This website is supposed to be something new and different, as it markets itself as something that must be straight out of a fairytale. Allstora claims that all authors will be paid equitably, as the way profits are split supposedly doubles the income on the sale of each book sold. In addition, as a part of its stated mission, Allstora strives to uplift the voices  “of underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ+ people, women, and communities of color.” 

On the website’s home page, there are categories to choose from, like “Trans,” “Black,” and other marginalized communities. There’s also a feature to sign up for a paid membership, and in turn, you receive discounts on book purchases, as well as a monthly curated book selection. And finally, the Allstora philanthropic arm imposed the Rainbow Book Bus, an actual rainbow bus that is set to transport diverse titles across the country to communities facing book bans. 

The Controversy Begins

As mentioned, Allstora stated during its launch that over 10 million titles will be sold to its customers, promising an inclusive, uplifting curation. However, as patrons explored the website, they stumbled across controversial literature platforming right-wing and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric; with titles such as Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, Matt Walsh’s “What Is a Woman?”, and “You Are Not Born That Way: Homosexuality: It’s Time to Break Free” by Shalamar Williams available for a place in their carts. Like the aforementioned titles, Kirk Cameron, Riley Gaines, and Robby Starbuck are also authors infamous for anti-LGBTQ+ stances, with much of their work pushing these ideals on readers.

The Initial Responses

To address this situation, Allstora offered a simple pop-up on the site’s homepage alerting guests that “you may find books you disagree with.” Allstora’s team also stated in this note that although the site may not agree with every single title it offers, “We cannot fight the ideologies of hate if we lack the ability to study, understand, and react to them. We do that by reading books.”

In addition, Allstora also offered two ways that will be used to “mitigate the potential harm of specific books.” The first: A community-led system that allows visitors to flag titles contrary to Allstora’s “core values.” The book will not be removed, just simply don a disclaimer underneath the title instead. And the second: all profit from each flagged title will be donated to the Rainbow Book Bus.

“With the help of our community, we’ve flagged this book as contrary to our core values,” Allstora’s disclaimer says, “All proceeds from this title will go towards protecting diverse literature and marginalized communities from book bans through the Rainbow Book Bus.” 

Lady Bunny, A popular drag queen who has been featured on Drag Race multiple times, took to Instagram to voice her criticism following the shocking discoveries. 

“Why did you need the help of the community to do the right thing, Allstora?” said Bunny, “Why not just stop selling what many on the left consider to be hate speech?” 

Backtracking and the Verdict 

On the 9th of March, Allstora issues their last and final statement. Co-founder and Allstora CEO Eric Cervini took to Allstora’s webpage to publish a wordy apology.

“I’m devastated that I’ve caused Ru’s name to be even loosely associated with hate, and I take full responsibility for the decision to include these books,” Cervini said. “I’m horrified by the thought of a queer or trans youth accidentally stumbling upon a harmful book on our platform. I confused my duties as an academic and a bookseller, and I brought pain instead of joy into the world. And for that, I am sorry,” the website said. 

Following this statement, books have been actually removed from the site, and there is once again a feature to report anything considered as “hateful material”. Users with Allstora accounts may use this form to inform Allstora  “why this title is potentially harmful, and to whom,”.

Cervini’s statement leaves us with this: Allstora is now solely focused on building a community that utilizes its user responses, that they wish to use in order to curate its catalog for the long run. 

“While other online bookstores will continue selling hate-filled books, Allstora will not,” Cervini said. “As we continue to grow, I’m committed to doing a better job of listening and learning from the communities that we hope to nurture.”

 

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About the Contributor
Ashlee Scola
Ashlee Scola, Staff Writer
Ashlee is a senior at GHS, and a first year staff writer for The Gillnetter. Her hobbies include studying and collecting crystals, listening to all kinds of music and creative writing. She is an honors student and a member of NHS. Her dad is the School Resource Officer, a.k.a. ‘Scola’-- so she’s been around Gloucester Public Schools and its events for many years. You can contact Ashlee with any questions or suggestions at [email protected] 

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