Bleeding Cool has been running many articles about recent news coverage about the graphic novel Gender Queer: A Graphic Memoir by Maia Kobabe as a new edition has come out from Oni Press. Initially marketed toward older audiences, winning an American Library Association Award in 2020 for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18” saw copies of Gender Queer ordered by school libraries and public libraries across the USA, while political campaigns have found it an easy touch for “what about the children” style rabble-rousing. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s current Interim Director, Jeff Trexler stated that challenges to this comic had become a hot talking point in local politics and were being weaponised for political gain. He told ICV2; “I mentioned the parent in Virginia who went viral after talking about this. Then, that became the heart of the Youngkin campaign. One could say that the protest of Gender Queer became the hub or the foundation of a movement that ended up getting the Republican Governor of Virginia elected”. Since then, obscenity lawsuits against Oni Press and Maia Kobabe have been filed by lawyer Republican Virginia assembly delegate Tim Anderson on behalf of himself and Republican congressional candidate Tommy Altman citing an obscure state obscenity law, though were recently dismissed. But there are many attempts across the country to get the book banned in one place or another. And news stories and coverage of these attempts keep rolling on.
1. Gender Queer Not Banned In Spruce Mountain High School, Maine
The Sun Journal reports that the directors of Regional School Unit 73 governing Spruce Mountain High School in the town of Jay, in the state of Maine, has voted to keep Gender Queer in its school library , with the board voting 8-4 to allow it, while also voting 11-1 to keep the prose book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
School pupil parent and teacher Jeff Bailey stated “Our schools are places of learning, growing and belonging. At least that is what we have the opportunity to continue to be. The books in question are not being assigned to students, but are simply available to them in our library. I would imagine that many books in the library would make someone feel uncomfortable and would challenge our thoughts and beliefs. Being able to seek out knowledge and learn how to process information and perspectives other than our own is an important skill. It is, in fact, a major part of producing well-educated and independent graduates in our ever-changing and global world. It is a job skill and a necessity. Banning these books would send a clear message – That our schools are not for everyone. We are a proud public school. We are for all students of all races and identities. Let’s not ban someone’s story, someone’s experiences, people’s histories. Let’s be an institution of learning, compassion and understanding.”
Former teacher Pam McAllister stated that her students could have found something objectionable in one of the many books available then. “No one is requiring you read this book. They are there for those with an interest. Parents do not have a choice to take that choice away from others.”
Kristy Labonte of neighbouring Livermore stated that books of varied backgrounds “taught me that the way I grew up is not the way everyone has grown up. They have taught me that mental illness, trauma, geography, values all shape who people are and who they become” and with three of her six family members LGBTQ+ and two of her four children students of colour, added “Recent weeks have been emotionally difficult. The increase in racial rhetoric around the school, graffiti on the walls, and parents yelling racial slurs at a youth football game have made it clear there is danger here, that my children are at risk in their own community. It’s ironic that as this problem is becoming more and more prevalent people are trying to limit access to books that may help with discussion around the issue. I am a white mom trying to parent brown sons when I don’t have the experience I need to fully understand their position.”
Local resident Shari Ouellette stated that photos in the book were pornographic, that Playboy magazine wasn’t allowed and so asked why should Gender Queer. Gender Queer doesn’t feature photographs. Shari also urged science be followed. “You are either xx or xy, that cannot be changed. Body issue has no place in our schools.” However, town physician Steve Bien stated that Gender Queer is not pornography and that if it were deemed so then many other health and science books would also have to be banned.” And another resident Jayne Costa said “Reading this book has literally saved people’s lives, that’s power” Board member D. Robin Beck said if she had read Gender Queer she would have come out at an earlier age. SMHS Principal TJ Plourde, a member of the review committee which recommended the library keep the books, shared how Gender Queer aligns with the library selection process:
- Take into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the students served; The graphic novel format allows students who might need the information to access it without reading advanced material beyond their reading level. The book is specifically at high school for high school students, in accordance with the reviews and awards the book has received.
- Foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and varied opinions; The review committee all felt we gained more empathy for and understanding of issues faced by nonbinary people by reading this memoir.
- Give comprehensive, accurate, and balanced representation to minorities and women in history, science, leadership, and the arts and acknowledge the contributions of ethnic, religious and cultural groups to our American heritage; All students deserve to see themselves reflected in library materials, not just cisgender or majority students.
- Present a balance of opposing sides of controversial issues to enable students to develop a capability for critical analysis; This book helps provide a perspective that begins to balance our collection overall. It reflects an experience few other books discuss.
- Stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values, and ethical standards; The author models a strong literary appreciation as a child, adolescent, and creator. The book also gives examples of healthy consent in an adult relationship.
- Provide a background of information that will enable students to make intelligent decisions in their daily lives; The book explains the health concerns of nonbinary people such as binding and medical care and shares how the author was able to seek out support. Foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and varied opinions.
Superintendent Scott Albert supported the committee’s recommendation. “While I was reading this book it pulled at my heartstrings knowing we have students who are struggling with their identity,” he said. “If having this book can help them then I am for it. Individual parents have the right to not allow their child to take out this book. If not given this option, I might feel differently.” Board member Phoebe Pike stated “Every child wants to be accepted for who they are. Ultimately this book is a memoir. Every single one of us deserves a voice. Our job is to look towards what we think is best for the community as a whole.” Albert noted that before the book complaints, Gender Queer had been checked out a mere three times and White Fragility none. On Thursday both books were checked out.
2. All Books About Gender Identity Banned In Keller, Texas, School District
Fox 4 reports that Keller Independent School District in Texas has voted to ban all books about gender identity, and have added the discussion or depiction of gender fluidity to a list of topics that sees books removed from school libraries. This follows Gender Queer being removed from a school library last year, followed by a list of about 40 other books, including a graphic novel adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank. Parents at the meeting held signs criticising the decision while other praised the decision, saying they voted for board members to make these types of changes.
They quoted one parent saying “Unfortunately, from where I stand, it appears that their lives simply don’t matter to you. Y’all would rather punch down on a marginalized group than stand up for all KISD kids. I promise you my child is not a political agenda.” Another stated “The less than 1% who do identify as this deserve our respect. But the 99% of kids who should not be groomed to understanding that this is a normal condition when it is less than 1%.”
3. School Resignation in Orange County, California, Over Gender Queer
News 12 reports that an openly gay school superintendent in Orange County has resigned following a backlash over his sexual orientation and social media posts with a Facebook group called Mom’s For Liberty taking credit and referencing Gender Queer, as a book that was made available to students by the previous administration before Leaven was hired.
4. Gender Queer Letter To Parents In Blair County, Pennsylvania
Penn Live News reports that a Blair County, Pennsylvania teacher was criticised for possessing and reading a copy of Gender Queer, while teaching her middle school classroom. This is despite the book not being taught, or stocked, by the school. Robert Gildea, the district’s superintendent, sent a letter to parents to assure them that the teacher was instructed not to bring the book back to school and that “additional corrective action is being considered.
Dear Junior High Parents,
The intent of this message is to address a narrative being portrayed via social media regarding a book, Gender Queer. The book was in the possession of a teacher and visible on the teacher’s desk. This was brought to the school administrator’s attention who, in turn, directed the teacher not to bring the book to school. Additional corrective action is being considered.
I am of the opinion that the book is disturbing and not appropriate for children of any age. Please note, the book has never been part of district curriculum, is not part of our library circulation, and we have no evidence that the book has been read to or shared with students.
ROBERT J. GILDEA, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS
The Altoona Mirror reports that Gildea confirmed the same teacher asked her students what pronouns they wished to be identified by, which sparked another incident of complaints from some parents.
Altoona Mirror reports that the same teacher was accused of asking her students if they had any pronoun preference earlier in the year, which one parent stated they found unacceptable.
WTAJ reported a crowd as The Hollidaysburg Area School District School Board held their work session in the Junior High auditorium, with parents stating “a composition teacher’s responsibility is to teach composition. It is certainly not her place, nor does she have the training to council these young students in ways that may influence them on making life-changing decisions.” There was, of course, no sign that she was. Another stated “People seem to think that its because you’re homophobic or you don’t like the book, Listen, let’s call it what it is. The teacher doesn’t care. She brought a book to school that she knew she shouldn’t. And if she has that kind of judgment, I don’t want her anywhere near my kid.” Though another stated “We owe it to the future to not repeat the past mistakes. People have hated and treated with scorn and bigotry and ignorance various people throughout our history. And we feel shame for it today. For the sake of not just my two kids but for all those that attend Hollidaysburg area school district, I want our district to be welcoming, I want it to be open,” another parent said. “I don’t want it to be close-minded, I don’t want it to be bigoted.”
5. A Library Closes In Michigan After Gender Queer Protest Vote
USA Today has reported that the only library in Michigan town will now close after voters defund it for refusing to ban LGBTQ books. Just 5,500 residents out of around 10,000 in the township just southwest of Grand Rapids voted, with 55.8% voted no to painting funding. This occurred after a library refused to ban Gender Queer after complaints, but placed it behind the counter. It was accompanied by young lesbian-but-chaste graphic novels Kiss Number 8 and Spinning. With Jamestown Township resident Donna Rotman, stating at a public meeting that “tax dollars should never be spent grooming children. No child has an innate sense of being genderqueer or gender fluid. It is manipulative, destructive and wrong.”
6. Millions Spend On Gender Queer Political Ads In Maine
The Mainewire reports a second political ad ran ahead of the recent Midterm elections in the USA. With parents reading from Gender Queer in new online and TV ads made by Maine Families First PAC for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which saw former Republican Gov. Paul LePage challenging sitting Democrat Gov. Janet Mills. The ad had with parents stating “I’m actually horrified that this is in our schools” and “It’s not the schools’ job to introduce pornography to our children.” Claremont Institute Chairman Thomas Klingenstein who has funded the Maine Families First PAC stated “Governor Mills says that local school boards should decide for themselves whether their schools carry books like Gender Queer. She claims she is neutral. This is not true.”
Janet Mills won.