Sexually explicit book returned to high school library

Committee requires parental permission for ‘Gender Queer’

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The controversial book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by nonbinary writer Maia Kobabe has been returned to circulation at Connetquot High School with a mature rating (i.e., students under age 18 will need parental permission) after being taken out of circulation in April following community concern about the graphic novel containing sexually charged scenes.

As of Friday, May 13, a committee appointed by the school had decided that it was appropriate for inclusion in a high school library.

While a timeline was not provided to The Suffolk County News, “Gender Queer”’s inclusion in the high school library followed the procedure outline in Policies 1420 and 1420R (Complaints About Curricula or Instructional Materials) of the Connetquot School District and was adopted in 1994.

Policy 1420R states:

“The following procedures shall be employed in handling complaints concerning any textbook, library book or material and any other instructional material used in district schools.

  1. At the discretion of the Superintendent, an informal meeting may be held between the complainant and the Superintendent.
  2. If a complaint is not resolved formally the complainant must file a written complaint with the Superintendent on a form provided for this purpose.
  3. Any written complaint will be presented to the Instructional Material Review Committee. The membership of the committee, which shall be submitted to the Board of Education for annual approval, shall consist of: an elementary and secondary classroom teacher, an elementary and secondary principal or assistant principal, the library media specialist, and a member of the community.  The Assistant Superintendent for Instruction shall serve as chairperson of the committee.  The committee shall:
  • Read and examine the challenged materials;
  • Consider the specific objections to the material voiced by the complainant;
  • Weigh the values and faults of the material as a whole;
  • Consider oral presentations made to the committee. The committee will determine whether any oral presentations will be beneficial to its deliberations;
  • Where appropriate, solicit advice or opinion from other district faculty and staff; and
  • Issue a report to the Superintendent containing its recommendations concerning any complaint.
  1. The Superintendent shall review the report of the committee, make a decision and notify the complainant and appropriate staff.
  2. If the complainant is not satisfied with the Superintendent’s decision he/she may refer the complaint to the Board. The Superintendent will deliver a copy of his/her decision and the committee’s report to the Board for its consideration.”

According to a representative for Connetquot School District, “We followed the guidelines outlined in Policy 1420 and Regulation 1420-R. The issue was resolved at the first step, which is the meeting of the complainant and the superintendent.”

The book 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 a sexual act on a 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.

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