'Gender Queer' book removed from Orange school libraries after parent complaint – Orlando Sentinel

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A comic-book style memoir pulled from school libraries in Brevard County because of its sexual images has been yanked off shelves by Orange County Public Schools, too.
An Orlando couple with five children in Orange schools complained that “Gender Queer: A Memoir” amounted to pornography and should not be accessible to students.
“My biggest issue is who is ordering these books and why is there no safeguard?” said Alicia Farrant, who brought the book to an Orange County School Board meeting last week after her children, at her request, checked it out of the Boone High School library. “There should be no pornography allowed in schools.”
The book was in libraries at Boone, Dr. Phillips and Lake Buena Vista high schools but has been pulled from the shelves. “Leadership determined it is not appropriate for the targeted age group and have removed it from circulation,” read an emailed statement from Shari Bobinski, a spokesperson for the district.
The book, published in 2019, was described by Publisher’s Weekly as a “heartfelt” memoir that “relates, with sometimes painful honesty, the experience of growing up non-gender-conforming.” The book — done in graphic novel format — was written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, who identifies as nonbinary.
Most of book, though frank in its discussions, does not deal with sex explicitly. But several pages and comic book frames deal with masturbation and show the protagonist, then 25, wearing a sex toy and engaging in oral sex with an adult partner.
And it was the later pages — read aloud at the Oct. 26 school board meeting — that prompted administrators to pull the four copies of Gender Queer that were in circulation at the three high schools.
“I do hope that book is removed,” said Chair Teresa Jacobs at the meeting, calling the section read out loud “inappropriate.”
Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and her top staff learned of the book at that meeting, later reviewed it and decided it did not belong in OCPS high schools, the district’s statement said.
In a Facebook post two days after the meeting, Boone Principal Dusty Johns apologized to parents that the book had been on campus but said it was no longer on the shelves. “Our staff was unaware of the graphic content,” he wrote on the page of the school’s PTSO. “Thank you for supporting BHS through this oversight.”
In recent months, parental complaints about Gender Queer prompted school districts in Texas, Virginia, Washington and Brevard County to remove the book from their school library shelves.
In response, the National Coalition Against Censorship cautioned schools not to judge books based on “particular scenes or passages taken out of the context of the full work.”
In an Oct. 14 letter to the Fairfax County, Va. school district, which pulled the book for review, the coalition said Gender Queer was an award-winning work that could help some teenagers.
“Books are quite often the safest, most accessible way for young people to engage with new ideas and situations, and can reflect realities of their lives they otherwise fear discussing,” the coalition letter said.
The book’s author shared a similar view in an opinion column for the Washington Post that published Friday.
“Please, leave the queer books on the library shelves, where the queer teens can find them,” Kobabe wrote. “As a queer teen, I desperately needed them. And the queer teens of today need them too.”
Winter Garden parent Stephana Ferrell, in a column for the Orlando Sentinel, said OCPS acted too quickly based on a short excerpt of the book.
“This book is excellent,” she wrote. “The last page brought tears to my eyes, as a parent hoping my children find their way in the world.”
Books with LGBTQ themes or characters often top lists of challenged or banned books as do those dealing with race and racism, said Nora Pelizzari, a spokesperson for the coalition against censorship.
The country’s polarizing political climate has played into the book arguments, which spiked this year school, she said.
“It’s been a big year for book challenges,” Pelizzari said.
School districts can review books but should be careful to also respect the “professional judgment” of school librarians who selected them, she said. Parents, she added, can decide what their children read — but “they don’t get to decide what every kid has access to.”
In Brevard, as in Orange, district administrators decided the parents who complained were right to conclude the book did not belong in high school libraries.
“The graphic novel depicts adult images that have no place in education,” the district said in a statement posted on its website last month.
The district also said that the book “has been flagged so it cannot be purchased again,” that all media specialists — the teachers who run school libraries — “will be retrained in the process of purchasing book titles” and the “entire library catalog will be reviewed to ensure there are no other inappropriate books.”
Farrant said she had read about the parental objections to the book raised in other states and decided to check if it was available in Orange schools. Boone, which her two oldest attend, had a copy.
“Literally it took me 15 seconds to see pornography,” she said. “It’s available for kids as young as 14.”
The issue, she added, wasn’t about LGBTQ content but the explicit sex scenes.
Farrant, who attended school board meetings regularly to speak against face mask rules, wanted to address the school board about the book but said she did not arrive at the Oct. 26 meeting in time to get one of the limited speakers’ slots. The board hears public comment for 30 minutes on issues not on its agenda.
So Farrant spoke with Jacob Engels, the far-right blogger and political operative who also is a regular among the anti-mask group at school board meetings. Engels, who was able to speak to the board, used his time to read aloud an explicit passage.
Jacobs quickly told him to stop. “If you don’t stop now, you’ll be removed from the chambers,” she said.
A man in the audience shouted, “Our kids are reading this!”
Engels continued reading, and Jacobs told the officers to escort him from the room. Engels, a protégé of the infamous political consultant Roger Stone and associates of the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalists group, is known for disrupting political events and government meetings.
At the meeting, Jacobs said she knew it seemed a “contradiction” that a book with language she deemed inappropriate for a school board meeting was available to students. According to OCPS policies, individual schools purchase new books for their libraries, and Gender Queer was selected by three of the district’s 22 high schools.
“I can guarantee you I did not know the book was in the library,” Jacobs said.
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