Loudoun County Public Schools Remove Controversial Graphic Novel By Non-Binary Author From School Libraries

Part of the cover of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, now banned from Loudoun County Public School libraries. – Photo: Simon and Schuster.

A school system in Northern Virginia has pulled from all school libraries the autobiographical graphic novel by a non-binary author, which has been branded “pornography” by social conservatives and concerned parents for its graphic depictions of some of the musings of the author on sexuality and gender.

Loudoun County Public Schools has effectively banned author Maia Kobabe’s 2019 graphic novel, Gender Queer: A Memoir — which is generally classified as a “young adult” or “adult” publication for its sensitive content — in all school libraries in the district. The book was never made available in elementary or middle school libraries, but was found in several high school libraries.

Gender Queer, published in 2019, discusses Kobabe’s struggles to discover his identity and sexuality growing up, including instances where Kobabe, who is both non-binary and asexual, as the novel’s teenage character, indulges in daydreaming. or fantasize about certain subjects. The autobiographical graphic novel contains explicit references and depictions of sexual touching; masturbation and sex toys; an erotic scene of a man and a boy on an ancient Greek urn, which critics say glorifies paedophilia; and depictions of menstrual blood.

As a result, many parents, not only in Loudoun but in districts across the country, demanded that the book be censored or removed from school libraries due to inappropriate content. Recently, neighboring Fairfax County pulled the book from library shelves – along with another frequently censored book, lawn boy, by Jonathan Evison, – but later reversed that decision after a committee of parents, teachers and high school students determined that the book, and the details of Kobabe’s struggle to find his identity, had a literary value beyond lustful interests.

Loudoun County Superintendent Scott Ziegler called for a review of the book after parents and activists raised questions about the inappropriate nature of its content, and in particular some of its color illustrations, the doorman said. – LCPS spokesperson, Wayde Byard. The Washington Post. According to Byard, a committee recommended—on a split vote—that the book be allowed to remain in high school library collections, but Ziegler overruled that, deciding to withdraw the book from circulation. Ziegler’s decision was appealed, but the school board’s appeal committee voted 3-0 to uphold its decision.

“I have read every book submitted for my review in its entirety. I am generally not in favor of removing books from the library. I believe that our students need to see themselves reflected in the literature available to them,” said Ziegler in a statement. However, he noted “[t]The pictorial representations in this book went against what is appropriate for the school.

Ian Serotkin, vice chairman of the Loudoun County School Board and one of three members of the appeals committee that upheld Ziegler’s decision, defended his rationale for banning the book on social media in a post on Facebook. Noting that he has served on numerous book appeal committees over the past two years, he said he had never voted to withdraw a book before.

“Some books were appealed simply because they contained gay characters or LGBTQ themes. Other books were appealed because of brief passages of sexually explicit content. Some say this book and others like it are pornography, sex grooming, or pedophilia, and none of that is remotely true – for this book or any other book appeals to the school board at over the past few years. It’s far too easy to take passages or screenshots out of context without considering the book as a whole, and it does a disservice to our public discourse,” he wrote. .

Pages from “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe – Photo: Goodreads.com.

“In previous calls, I felt that the literary and educational value clearly outweighed material that might be considered objectionable or inappropriate for students, and I could draw clear parallels between the content of these books and classics with similar content such as The Heart Catcher, The best of worlds, Romeo and Juliet, native son, and countless others,” he continued. “Gender Queer is different for several reasons. The district-level examination committee was divided. They voted to keep the book, but on a close 4 to 3 vote. The superintendent’s decision was to remove the book from circulation from the high school library.

“Sexual content is a big part of this book,” Serotkin added. “It’s neither fleeting nor brief. The sexually explicit illustrations that have captured media and public attention may only appear on a handful of pages, but sexual themes are pervasive throughout the book. And, the sexually explicit illustrations themselves cannot be ignored. I think I can draw a line between something that is described in writing and what is depicted in vivid color.

That said, he noted that the book remains available in county public libraries, but not in district schools.

Library shelves – Photo: Priscilla Du Preez, via Unsplash.

“None of this means that Gender Queer is a bad book. It is a good book and an important book. It was quite powerful in several places,” Serotkin concluded. I learned quite a bit from reading it that I didn’t know about asexuality and what it’s like to grow up as a non-binary individual. I have no doubt that this book could be helpful to students struggling with these questions about themselves or their peers, and I hope books like this are available to students as part of a complete program [Family Life Education] study programme. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Is any good book an appropriate book for a student library?” In this case, for the reasons I have listed, my conclusion is that this one is not.

Kobabe, speaking with James Hohmann of The Washington Post on a podcast last year (we also wrote and illustrated a corresponding editorial), said we believe efforts to ban their books in schools are partly a political stunt, fueled by debates over transgender issues in schools, and partly a backlash to increased visibility of transgender people. .

E noted that the controversies in various school districts over the book’s ban followed a pattern in which conservative parents read about efforts elsewhere — often thousands of miles away — and sought to challenge the book in their own school districts. E also said the books will have meaning for other students struggling with their identity and looking for characters or portrayals that reflect their identity.

“There are queer teenagers, I promise, in every high school where this book is challenged,” Kobabe said.

Irene B. Bowles