Gender Queer Graphic Novel Repeatedly Removed From Schools & Libraries

Gender Queer: A Memoir is a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe, first published by Lion Forge in 2019 and now republished from Oni Press. But in recent weeks it has become a hot topic, and targetted as a book to be banned in public libraries and school libraries, generally by people who have not read it. And while it has been Maus – and now Drama – that have been hitting the headlines for being removed from libraries, Gender Queer: A Memoir has been pulled, challenged and withdrawn more often than any other book right now. Despite being honoured by the American Library Association with Alex Awards, given to ten books annually with special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18. But of course, there are other issues at play. It was on the list that Texas state representative Matt Krause submitted to the Texas Education Agency, as well as other school district superintendents, asking whether any copies exist in school libraries or classrooms across Texas, how many copies of each exist and how much money has been spent on buying them, noting that a number of Texas school districts of late "have removed books from libraries and/or classrooms after receiving objections from students, parents, and taxpayers." But the influence has gone far and wide. Here are a few very recent examples;

Gender Queer Graphic Novel Repeatedly Removed From Schools & Libraries
Gender Queer Graphic Novel bu Maia Kobabe

The Daily Montanan reports that Kalispell's Public Library board of Kalispell, in Montana's Flathead Valley decided to indefinitely suspend conversation about Gender Queer, one of two LGBT-related books that had been challenged, while leaving Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy on the shelves, which was also honoured by the American Library Association with Alex Awards. "Both books were part of the adult literature collection and both had been targeted in other library debates throughout the country." The challenge and the decision saw the library's directors position against the staff, one library director having already resigned, and an interim director state that she would resign over the matter, stating "I have the responsibility to protect the public's right to freely access information, that is, free from interference from government, religious or political views. The library is obligated to provide a wide range of views, including those that may be considered unorthodox or unpopular."

The Akron Beacon Journal reports that after certain parents demanded a number for books available to students in the Hudson High School library of Hudson, Ohio be removed back in November, that Gender Queer is still off the shelves while undergoing further review. Other challenged A Girl on the Shore by Inio Asano had been permanently removed while the novel Lawn Boy had already been returned to shelves. Gender Queer however seems to be causing the board problems – four months' worth, so far. The book, as well as the others, were initially removed for "offensive or objectionable content for high school students." All three books include LGBTQ content. Oni Press publisher James Lucas Jones said the book is an important resource for students who identify as genderqueer or nonbinary and that "limiting its availability is short-sighted and reactionary."

Gender Queer Graphic Novel Repeatedly Removed From Schools & Libraries

Seacoastonline reports that The York School Committee, of York in Maine, hearing an appeal from a pupil's grandmother to have the book  It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley removed from the York Middle School library, had other books challenged. Julie Edminster, a parent of two children at the school criticised the existence of Gender Queer, stating "I'm not going to fill out a form and request the book to be removed. I don't have time…Teach some morals and some ethics … I'm sick of it. We get labeled as book banners and crazy parents if you think that a book should be removed from the library. What message are we sending to the kids by allowing these kinds of books in the library? Are there standards to determine whether the book is considered child pornography, or just general health and science?"

The Missoula Current reports from the Billings Public School Board of Billings, Oklahoma who voted whether or not to remove or keep Gender Queer and Lawn Boy from Billlings West High School and Career Center libraries, stating that "both books constituted child pornography because of several passages in the coming-of-age books dealing with sex and sexuality." Initially a subcommittee of educators unanimously upheld keeping the materials in the libraries, but an appeal was registered and triggered a five-member review comprised of public school board members, This week they voted to keep Lawn Boy by a 4-1 vote, but recommended removing Gender Queer on a 3-2 decision, with two board members issuing a written dissent, criticizing the majority for not following district policy. They stayed instead that they recognised "the potential concerns this book raises, but we feel it is an important resource for student going through similar experiences in life. It also provides a unique opportunity for students who wish to learn about others and gain empathy" and that "while we affirm that it is a parental duty to determine what is suitable material for their children to enforce those decisions, it is not appropriate for one parent to determine what is suitable material for all other families and students."

Gender Queer Graphic Novel Repeatedly Removed From Schools & Libraries

The Reading Eagle reported that the Kutztown Area School District Board of Kutztown, Pennsylvania had voted 5 to 4 to affirm their Review Committee's recommendations, which included the book Gender Queer be approved for circulation at the high school library. The book was initially pulled in November after certain parents demanded that LGBTQ-themed books be pulled from the library, if the library had copies of them, and heated discussions led to the committee being formed. Other motions were also denied, including the requirement of parental signatures to check out the graphic novel and another to censor specific pages of the book containing graphic illustrations and that "at times, discussions became heated and the meeting had to be called to order due to outcries from the audience." Al Darion of the committee stated "The child who is most likely to be struggling and perhaps do harm to themselves because of that struggle might be precisely the one who is not going to go, 'Mom, can I read this book,' and for that reason I think it needs to be accessible. If a parent forbids a child to read it, then that opens up a really good discussion at home." A parent is also cited who states that attention was brought to this particular book not because a student brought it home and a parent became upset but as part of a bigger movement to ban books in schools about gender, race, diversity and factual history. And that her 14-year-old daughter, who had chosen not to read the book, had decided to create the Teen Banned Book Club, being held bi-weekly Wednesday nights at Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown as a result of the fuss. "The rebellious teenager in her decided that she wanted to start a banned book club where teens could access, read and freely discuss books that have been historically banned or part of the new book banning movement" which had gained national media attention.

And there's a lot of national media attention, as Fox News reported that Loudoun County Public Schools of Loudoun County, Virginia will remove Gender Queer from school library shelves. While the school district in nearby Fairfax County is not, and states that the book is neither obscene of paedophiliac. Loudoun Superintendent Scott Ziegler requested a review of the book due to questions about its content. The Washington Post reported that a "committee recommended (on a split vote) to retain the book in the high school library collection [but] the superintendent decided to remove the book from circulation." And that the school board appeal committee voted 3-0 to uphold the removal.

Gender Queer Graphic Novel Repeatedly Removed From Schools & Libraries

While CBS17 reports that Gender Queer has been returned to Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, North Carolina after it was removed in mid-December after complaints – and that the libraries are looking to revise their process for permanently removing books from its collection as a result.

But it's Maus that gets the bigger publicity – and the resulting sales. Perhaps Gender Queer might deserve similar public attention right now.

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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