Books including “Gender Queer” are being pulled from schools, which sparked controversy

In the country’s pockets, state education officials and local school boards respond to complaints from some parents by removing books from schools and conducting extensive revisions of school libraries to weed out texts deemed inappropriate for students.

But these efforts have sparked backlash from writers and advocates, who say the removals – which tend to target texts on culturally sensitive topics – risk discouraging some students from reading books that reflect their own lives and improve their cultural reading skills.

In Northern Virginia, a state whose gubernatorial candidates sparred over critical race theory this fall, a county school board member drew attention this week to suggest that a book was about a 10-year-old boy who has been sexually abused by an older man , must be burned.

Rabih Abuismail, a 24-year-old member of Spotsylvania County’s school board, argued at a board meeting Monday night that the inclusion of homosexuals in the book “33 Snowfish” by Adam Rapp, who had brought a complaint from a parent that night, disqualified him from being at school libraries.

“I think we live in a world now where our public schools would rather have children read about gay pornography than Christ,” Abuismail told the other board members.

“I do not want to see them,” Abuismail said later in the meeting on “33 Snowfish” and similar texts. “I think they should be thrown into the fire.”

The board voted unanimously to conduct revisions of each school’s library and promised to weed out “sexually explicit” books.

In an interview this week with ABC News, Abuismail insisted that his comments on homosexuality were erroneous statements and that the book-burning remark was “completely blown out of proportion.”

“I was guilty of making that statement,” he said, blaming the length of the meeting and the late hours. “Had it not been 12:30 or 1 in the morning, I would have had other recommendations for where I think those books should be.”

Abuismail accused him of “not criticizing the gay community,” despite mentioning homosexuality at least three times in the board’s discussion of books.

“It’s something I as a human being need to get better at [at]. When I get frustrated, it’s hard for me to get the words out the way I want them to be, “he said.” I do not think any pedophilia, whether heterosexual or homosexual, belongs in school. “

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster in a letter called on the state’s top official in the field of education to work to “prevent pornography and other obscene content from entering our state’s public schools and libraries and identify any such material already available to children. . “

McMaster responded to complaints from parents about “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an award-winning graphic novel by Maia Kobabe about the author’s experience of growing up as nonbinary and asexual.

Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Education, told ABC News that local school officials decide what should be placed in libraries, not the state. But he said he agreed with McMaster that “Gender Queer,” which contains images of oral sex and masturbation, is not appropriate for students.

“You can put the benefits of the book aside and the content of the book aside. It really falls on the imagery in it,” Brown said.

“Gender Queer” has been a controversial topic in other states. In October, after a parent complained to school officials about the book’s presence in her child’s high school, Brevard County Public Schools, Florida, withdrew the text from its libraries and asked school staff to “ensure that there are no other similar books in ours.” libraries, “Superintendent Mark Mullins said in a statement.

Russell Bruhn, a spokesman for the district, told ABC News Friday: “Content is not the issue. It’s the graphics.”

Kobabe argued in an op-ed last month in the Washington Post that books like theirs are a “lifeline” for queer youth. Kobabe said a student wrote to them to say they felt “understood” after reading the memoirs.

In the statement, Kobabe cited several other states where parents and officials have expressed opposition to “Gender Queer.”

Kobabe’s publisher, Oni Press, said it stands by the author.

“The fact is, ‘Gender Queer’ is an important, timely piece of work that serves as an invaluable resource not only for those who identify as non-binary or genderqueer, but for people who want to understand what it means. , “the company said in a statement.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a media group dedicated to accelerating acceptance of LGBTQ people, told ABC News in a statement that young people who identify as LGBTQ “should see themselves in stories about their lives” . “

“We all need to see stories about LGBTQ people, black people, queer-colored and all marginalized groups to better understand each other’s experiences,” Ellis said.

Book censorship became an issue in Virginia’s gubernatorial race this fall after Republican Glenn Youngkins’ campaign published an ad with a mother who was upset that her child was reading a book that contained “some of the most explicit material you can imagine. “

It was later discovered that the book in question was “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, who won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Youngkin defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

ABC News’ Tony Morrison contributed to this report.

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