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Texas School District Returns Illustrated LGBTQ Memoir to Library Shelves Following Public Review

By Molly Smith - El Paso Matters | December 13, 2021

The graphic novel section of the Canutillo High School library. (Molly Smith/El Paso Matters)

Canutillo Independent School District will return an LGBTQ-themed book to its high school library following a formal review into a parent’s complaint that the graphic novel was inappropriate because it contained sexually explicit content.

A nine-member committee of educators, librarians and parents voted 8-1 Tuesday for author Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” to remain on Canutillo High School library’s shelves for students to check out, the district announced Wednesday.

“The committee carefully examined the content of the book based on a rubric to determine factors such as its artistic quality and/or literary style; age appropriateness of the subject area; ability for readers to gain an awareness of a pluralistic society and capacity to provide information to motivate students and staff to examine their own attitudes and behavior to make informed choices in their daily lives,” the district said in a statement.

“Gender Queer” is one of a handful of books parents and conservative state lawmakers across the country have attempted to ban from public schools. Most are written by LGBTQ authors and writers of color and explore gender, sexuality and systematic racism.

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“Gender Queer” chronicles Kobabe’s journey to identifying as nonbinary and asexual. Its publisher, Simon & Schuster, describes it as “a useful and touching guide on gender identity — what it means and how to think about it — for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere” and recommends it for readers in 10th grade and above.

Canutillo administrators temporarily pulled the district’s sole copy from the high school library’s shelves in late October after parent Breanne Barnes filed a formal objection, or challenge, seeking to remove it from the library’s collection. The school principal appointed the nine members of the reconsideration committee who read the book in its entirety.

Barnes previously told El Paso Matters her objection had “nothing to do with LGBTQ versus heterosexual content” but rather with the book’s “pornographic” images and descriptions, which include depictions of oral sex and masturbation.

Barnes could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment about the committee’s decision. She previously indicated she would not be satisfied until the book is permanently removed from the library, and would possibly file a grievance with the school board.

Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel chronicles the struggle to fit into the male-female gender binary and journey to identifying as nonbinary and asexual. (Angela Saavedra/El Paso Matters)

At least one Texas district has pulled Kobabe’s book from its library shelves without going through a formal book reconsideration process. The Keller Independent School District, which is near Fort Worth, removed the book in late October after a parent’s Twitter post that called the book “legitimate visual porn” gained traction.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott highlighted that decision in a Nov. 8 letter to state education officials urging them to develop “statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

Texas Library Association’s President-Elect Mary Woodward said pornography is not in school libraries.

The Katy Independent School District outside Houston permanently removed five books the district described as “pervasively vulgar,” many of which feature LGBTQ relationships The North East Independent School District in San Antonio has temporarily removed more than 400 books from circulation while they are reviewed by librarians for appropriateness after having been flagged by a state lawmaker.

Neither district is going through the book reconsideration committee process.

The National Coalition Against Censorship denounced actions like this, which it said violate students’ First Amendment rights.

“The law clearly prohibits the kind of activities we are seeing today: censoring school libraries, removing books — and entire reading lists — based on disagreement with viewpoint and without any review of their educational or literary merit,” the NCAC said in a Wednesday statement that more than 600 organizations, publishers, bookstores, librarians and authors signed onto, including Kobabe.

“Libraries offer students the opportunity to encounter books and other material that they might otherwise never see and the freedom to make their own choices about what to read,” the statement continues. “Denying young people this freedom to explore — often on the basis of a single controversial passage cited out of context — will limit not only what they can learn but who they can become.”

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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