Anchorage School District bans ‘Gender Queer’ book from libraries

The Anchorage School District Superintendent withdrew a book from district libraries last week, a book that was banned in several school districts across the country after calls from Conservative leaders and parents to remove it from shelves.

In a letter to the district this week, Superintendent Deena Bishop announced her decision to remove the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary, queer author Maia Kobabe from circulation in the district.

Bishop withdrew the book after a complaint from Anchorage resident Pete Brown. Brown emailed school board president Margo Bellamy about her concerns about the book at the end of October. Bellamy then sent Brown’s message to Bishop.

There was a copy of the book in a school district library, according to Bishop. A district spokesperson did not respond to a question about the school library in which the book was located. He also did not specify at what grade levels the book was available for payment.

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In her message to the district, Bishop said that after realizing a community member’s concern about the book, she asked a team to begin a search and review process that took held from November 1 to 10. On November 11, Bishop decided to take it out of circulation, she said.

“The review process determined that the book contained adult material, is not appropriate for our school libraries and will not be in circulation at ASD,” Bishop said.

A spokesperson for the school district said the district purchased the book as part of a bundle purchase of a library association’s “winner” package, a common practice in libraries, and said that ‘it had not been deliberately requested by a librarian.

The book is Kobabe’s autobiography and explores themes of personal identity and what it means to be non-binary and asexual. The book’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, describes it as suitable for students in grades 10 and up. It’s a “journey of personal identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of teenage crushes, struggling with how to date family and society, bond with friends over gay erotic fanfiction, and dealing with the trauma and the fundamental smear violation, “according to the publisher. The book delves into sex and contains comical illustrations of sexual acts.

Brown, in his email to Bellamy, called the contents of the book “graphic and objectionable,” according to the Alaska Landmine. Brown, when reached by Facebook message, said he was traveling and was unable to comment immediately.

A student had viewed the book, Bellamy said in an interview.

Bellamy said that so far, during his tenure as a board member since 2019, no other books have been taken from the district’s shelves.

“I don’t personally recall any objectionable book from the past 10 years in the Anchorage school district,” she said.

“Gender Queer” sparked fury and concern from some parents – a parent in Washington state even called for school officials to be criminally prosecuted for including the book in a school library and described the book as “graphic pornography including pedophilia,” according to Soleil Kitsap. (The county attorney did not press charges.)

In some school districts, students and others have championed the “homosexual gender,” saying the pressure to suppress it is rooted in homophobia.

Kobabe discussed the controversy over the book in an editorial published by the Washington Post and took issue with the idea that the book is pornographic, noting that it is “a common charge against the work on themes of the queer sexuality ”.

“Young homosexuals are often forced to look outside their homes and the education system to find information about who they are. Removing or restricting queer books from libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who may not even know yet what terms to ask Google to learn more about their own identities. their bodies and their health, ”Kobabe wrote.

The book’s conviction appeared recently on a Facebook group for ALASKA Parents’ Rights In Education, a local branch of an Oregon-based nonprofit.

Members of the Facebook group also discussed other cultural hot spots, including the requirement for masks in schools, vaccination requirements and critical race theory.

Some members of the group have discussed this week contesting other books on ASD shelves.

Parents’ Rights In Education challenges sex education programs and vaccine requirements in some states, has been outspoken on critical race theory, and challenges “extreme focus on LGBTQ initiatives” which he says has “created an unintended reaction”, marginalizing some students for holding “traditional views”, among his other problems.

MJ Thim, spokesperson for the school district, said by email that Bishop’s decision was not about sexual orientation and was “solely based on the graphic content of the book and the fact that it was not appropriate. for our school libraries “.

The neighborhood “fully supports the LGBTQ community. He worked hard to create an inclusive classroom environment for all students. ASD has many books in circulation with topics on the LGBTQ community, sexual orientation, gender identity and more, ”Thim said.

“Posts on all types of topics have been removed in the past,” he said.

It did not respond to questions about which other books were taken off its shelves or which other books were banned for adult material. He also did not say who was involved in the process of reviewing the book or what the process involved.

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When asked for examples of other LGBTQ and gender identity-themed books the school district keeps on its library shelves, Thim sent a link to the district’s online catalog.

Research shows that the district has several books on LGBTQ and gender identity themes.

A search of the Anchorage Public Library’s collection shows that “Gender Queer” is available by checkout at several city libraries and as an e-book.

The district’s teaching and learning department is assembling a committee to review its processes regarding controversial issues and materials, Thim said.

Bellamy said it’s unusual for the school board to hear concerns about a book directly, and it’s much more common for parents to raise issues with controversial school-level documents with librarians and principals. .

“As a former school librarian myself, librarians talk to parents all the time about what they think is appropriate and not appropriate, and they resolve it,” Bellamy said.

In some cases, books are dropped or limited to higher levels, she said.

In this case, Brown approached the president of the school board directly with his concerns.

“This particular book – I heard about it long before this situation arose in ASDs,” Bellamy said of “Gender Queer.”

She had learned of the controversy in other school districts surrounding the book, but was unaware that it had been stored by a district library, she said.

“We depend on our community to bring forward controversial issues or issues that concern them, we want them to bring them to the fore. And we want to fix it, ”Bellamy said. “I think the process worked in this case.”

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