Kentucky school district says LGBTQ book banned elsewhere has literary value, will stay

Rick Bowmer/AP

It’s the top target of conservative groups aiming to ban LGBTQ books in schools. But “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe will stay on two high school library shelves in Louisville, Kentucky, officials say.

The final decision-making panel for library challenges in Jefferson County Public Schools decided unanimously to keep the illustrated memoir available to students at Liberty High School and the Phoenix School of Discovery, WHAS11 reported.

“Gender Queer” is a graphic memoir that explores how the author came to identify as nonbinary and asexual, and how Kobabe, who uses neopronouns e/em/eirs, explained what it means to identify that way to eir family. Some parents or groups have demanded it be banned from shelves over a few panels that briefly show nudity or sex, the Courier Journal reported.

“Taken as a whole, ‘Gender Queer’ is a coming-of-age story of a young person discovering their gender identity,” the six-page written decision states. Board members reviewed the text and found “that while a few passages contain sexual references or material, the work as a whole is not predominantly appealing to a prurient interest in sexual conduct.”

They also found that the sexual content in the memoir is not “patently offensive” to the average person when “contemporary adult community standards” are applied, the decision states.

And “finally, and most significantly,” board members described the “compelling and far-reaching impartial evidence that ‘Gender Queer’ has serious literary value,” which they wrote aligns with their review “as educators, school administrators, and parents.”

To get to the school district’s School-Based Decision Making Council, someone sends their concern to the school’s principal, who then has five days to issue a written decision. Someone must appeal that decision, and then it goes to a “school-level council of teachers and parents,” the Courier Journal reported. From there, the decision goes to the superintendent and then the district-level panel, which holds the public hearing and issues the final written decision.

On Monday, Sept. 26, the decision-making board sided with the principals and the school-level councils that already denied requests to ban the book. The panel argued it provides a “rare comfort” to LGBTQ students who already don’t see themselves represented in traditional literature, WLKY reported.

“One of the key roles of our school libraries is to provide our students with access to diverse literary works that allow our students to see themselves and their peers reflected and to grow and learn in a safe and inclusive environment,” the board wrote in the decision. And because the board works with parents, they voted to “continue to allow access to this title to the high school students whose parents or guardians have not requested otherwise.”

The parent who complained against the book and appealed the principal’s decision was Miranda Stovall. Her monthslong crusade to remove the book — which she believes is “pornographic” — from the few JCPS libraries that offer it on their shelves ended Monday, the Courier Journal reported.

Stovall’s struggle aligns with a national campaign by conservative groups, such as Moms for Liberty, to ban LGBTQ books and stories with protagonists of color from school libraries and classrooms, McClatchy News previously reported.

Some celebrated the board’s decision as a win for high-school-aged LGBTQ and nonbinary students or teens who may be questioning their sexuality.

“If we ban books that talk about LGBTQ identities, we’re cutting a lifeline to queer, particularly trans kids who don’t see themselves represented in school, in popular media, oftentimes in life,” Chris Hartman, executive director for advocacy organization the Fairness Campaign, told WHAS11.

If you are struggling or thinking of harming yourself, you can reach out to a counselor with the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) young people. Text ‘START’ to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386.

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