By Tanya Kline, ABSS Parent
ABSS joined an alarming and unprecedented trend across the country of banning books representing LGBTQIA+ folks and other diverse groups when Superindendent Dain Butler removed Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel that depicts the author’s experience of growing up nonbinary. Butler’s action followed a singular local complaint for ABSS to remove over 20 books brought forth by the F.A.C.T.S. Taskforce 2.0 which was founded by Mamie and Anthony Brooks- who do not have children in ABSS. Their politically motivated group imitates others across the nation utilizing an outrage campaign to ban books.
As a former ABSS school social worker in a middle school, I learned first hand that students questioning their identities sometimes do not have adults in their lives who support who they truly are. Had Gender Queer been published when I was was working with these students, reading it could have helped me better understand the lived experiences of those identifying as nonbinary. All students benefit from learning about those whose lived experiences are different from their own. For LGBTQIA+ students, reading books where they see themselves reflected provides a lifeline for students that are struggling with their identities and have nowhere to turn. This access is important as LGBTQIA+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and “having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent.” For adults, reading a book like Gender Queer can help us become one of those accepting adults.
Butler acting on his own accord to deny high school students access to Gender Queer did not follow ABSS Board Policy 3210 regarding objections to materials as quoted in the Board of Education’s statement in response to the F.A.C.T.S. Taskforce complaint. Following Board policy would have ensured a process which included a team of staff to evaluate the book’s strengths and weaknesses based on its entirety- not a few images or passages. Contested books should remain on the library shelf until the evaluation process is complete. Butler’s removal of a book without due process is a slippery slope and sets a poor precedent for how other books with difficult subjects will be handled and whether or not students’ First Amendment rights are protected.
We can all agree that Gender Queer is not a book for all age groups. Even Kobabe feels that it is a book for high school age and above. School librarians are professionally trained to choose age-appropriate books for their school and should be trusted to do so. We can also agree that should their decision be challenged, transparency should happen around this process and Board Policy should be followed.
Reach out to Superintendent Dain Butler and the ABSS Board of Education members to tell them you are against banning books especially without following board policy. Let’s make sure as a community that diverse age-appropriate books stay on our school library shelves for students to develop a better understanding of one another and to help protect our LGBTQIA+ youth!