LGBTQIA+ youth said to benefit from controversial literature
BY SAM DESMOND
Following a community-wide letter mailed out to households in the Bayport-Blue Point School District by former Suffolk County executive and Bayport resident Steve Levy concerning what he characterized as “pornographic” books in the high school library, a number of community members spoke at the October board of education meeting both in favor and in opposition of the removal of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “All the Boys Aren’t Blue.”
Dozens of posts about the matter with hundreds of comments have been put on community social media pages with debates and at times, devolving into name-calling and suppositions of questionable parenting, political bias, and harm to children.
The district has affirmed that books are solely available at the high school library and not part of any curricula.
Following the Oct. 24 meeting and community opinions voiced, the district said they were reviewing policy #1420 for possible amendments.
A vote on the removal of the two books was held by the BOE in April of this year and with the exception of president Michael Miller voting to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” the BOE voted not to remove either book from the library.
Superintendent Dr. Hearney advised during the meeting that a library was meant for the “discovery of knowledge, voluntary inquiry… students can connect with others of similar backgrounds, where students can see themselves, have access of all the genres,” and went on to address the suicide risks of LGBTQIA+ students between the ages of 13 to 17, which the Trevor Projects cites as 55 percent having suicidal thoughts and 18 percent of that making suicide attempts.
Hearney described the case law reviewed by board members upon making the decision in April and that they had all read the two books in question.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe has come into the national spotlight as one of 2021’s “most banned books” according to a report by NBC News, with its presence in schools being formally challenged in at least 11 states.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Gov. Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina) referred to the book as “obscene” and “pornographic,” both strongly questioning “[how the] books ended up on school shelves.”
The book explores themes of identity and sexuality and has won awards from the American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The ALA’s annual Alex Award recognizes 10 books that were originally written for adults, but reverberate strongly with teenagers and other youth readers.
Kobabe, who uses gender-neutral Spivak pronouns e, em and eir, has stated in interviews that the graphic novel (a term meant to describe a comic-book style, not an adjective for the content), which was published in 2019, is meant to be a guide on gender identity, coming out, the “trauma of being nonbinary in a society that largely sees gender as man or woman.”
Most controversial about the graphic novel is a depiction of a character performing oral sex another character’s mock genitalia. The section in question features a bird’s-eye view and a side view of a sexual act in the panel. In another section of the graphic novel, the 14-year-old main character imagines a scene from Ancient Greece, where an older man is depicted touching the genitalia of a seemingly much younger, masculine-presenting character.
“All the Boys Aren’t Blue,” the second most banned book in the country, by author, activist, and journalist George M. Johnson, said that they wrote the novel because “you start to question if you even exist in this world.”
Johnson, inspired by Toni Morrison, penned their young adult memoir focusing on a Black family who “never shamed queerness but elevated it and support it,” they said during a CAA (Creative Artists Agency) Amplify Event in California held in July of this year.
A New York Times bestseller that earned a Daytime Emmy nomination, the book has been translated into six languages.
The passages that have been most controversial involve a 13-year-old engaging in sex with an older family member.
Iowa state’s governor Kim Reynolds read parts of Johnson’s book on television and wrote a bill in Iowa to make it a misdemeanor with a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail for any educator who gave Johnson’s book to a teen reader.
Senate File 496, which Reynolds signed in May of this year, bans school books with descriptions or depictions of sex acts; prohibit instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation before seventh grade; require schools to notify parents if a student requests to use new pronouns; and enshrine the “constitutionally protected right” for parents to make decisions for their children.
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