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Proud Boys Fail To Ban Gender Queer Graphic Novel From Chicago Schools

The graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Pheobe Kobabe, published by Oni Press, tells the story of Maia Kobabe's journey to self-discovery regarding being non-binary. Gender Queer has been named the most banned book in America, according to the American Library Association and PEN America, the writers' advocacy group Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists. Yesterday, we looked at the case in Virginia where Republican politicians are using ancient and little-used local laws to bring a criminal case against the publisher and author on charges of obscenity.

This month a school board was convened to vote on whether or not to keep Gender Queer in its school libraries. This was called after members of right-wing activist Proud Boys group and conservative parents objected to the presence of the graphic novel at a previous open school meeting, promoted to the Proud Boys group on messaging app Telegram advertising a "School Board Showdown".

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Edgar "Remy Del Toro" Delatorre, a leader of the Proud Boys group's northern Illinois chapter, and present at the 6th of January invasion of the Capitol building, was one member of the group at the meeting. This also included Proud Boys associate Brian Kraemer, previously charged with brandishing a knife at a Black Lives Matter demonstration last year. The paper reports that the members jeered students and called them paedophiles for supporting the presence of the graphic novel in school libraries and joined parents and others in the audience holding signs saying "No Porn".

Group members made no official statements at the meeting nor wore group colours. However, the local paper quotes junior student Tabitha Irvin as saying, "Politics have never caused division in the school setting before. But it kind of fell apart after the board meeting." And senior student Josiah Poynter alleges that, after he addressed the board, was told by a man identified as Brian Kraemer, "You're a paedophile. You promote paedophilia", was threatened with calling the police and later, in the parking lot, drove up to Poynter shouting "paedophile". Poynter  told the paper, "The last thing we need is some 30- or 40-year-old man who lives in the middle of nowhere to be calling … some kid a 'paedophile'. That's not OK."

They also quote senior student Lauren Pierret, stating that the school board president threatened to adjourn the meeting several times because of shouted interruptions, jeers and comments to speakers.

Earlier in the year, a parental committee heard the case from complaining parents but recommended not removing the book. This month, a school meeting was convened to follow up on the previous meeting, specifically to vote on the presence of Gender Queer in school libraries. District superintendent Hank Thiele was reported by the Chicago Sun-Times as stating that "District 99 libraries should continue to be safe spaces for students, to develop and champion beliefs of all individuals and to elevate students and readers of all levels, through text or graphic novels alike." And that Gender Queer does not include pornography of any kind, and refuted any allegation that the graphic novel was intended to "cause sexual excitement". Several people addressed the board, including recent student Stephen Magnusson who stated "I go by gender fluid, that's the gender I work with. Personally, I have struggled a lot with that and my mental health over a long period of time. Having a book like 'Gender Queer' would've been really nice for me when I was actually going here still. It might have helped me sooner come to terms with who I am as a person and help a lot with my personal mental health struggles and my issues with suicide. It's very important that people should have the opportunity to learn more about who they are, and they should also be able to learn more about people around them. I don't think you should be stopping them from learning what they are because all that does is make them hurt. … The idea of removing a book about finding out who you are and going on a journey is backwards to me."

In the meeting, local resident Eileen Bryner reportedly accused the district of ignoring her request for anti-abortion books to be added, stating "so much for diversity of thought. Books that align with your ideas are fine. But books that are with a different viewpoint are excluded". However, Thiele added that librarians had responded to Bryner and purchased one of her recommended books for the library.

The board voted 7-0 to keep Gender Queer in the two schools' libraries. Oni Press republished Gender Queer this past week in a new deluxe edition.

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. Then e created Gender Queer. 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 fan fiction, 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. This special deluxe hardcover edition of Gender Queer features a brand-new cover, exclusive art and sketches, a foreword from ND Stevenson, Lumberjanes writer and creator of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and an afterword from Maia Kobabe.

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Rich JohnstonAbout 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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