the West Des Moines School Board voted Monday to keep a queer author’s comic book-style memoir on the shelves of the district library, though he may not have the final say.
Last year, Clive’s Teri Patrick sued the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe which is available on the library shelves at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School, a campus for ninth graders. The book, which does not appear to be in the Valley High School library, traces the author’s journey with sexuality and gender identity through adolescence and adulthood.
Patrick’s complaint went through two review boards and the superintendent before she took it to the school board, which voted 6-1 Monday to keep “Gender Queer” in Valley Southwoods. Board member Liz Cox voted no, adding that she was the only one to vote at a previous committee against keeping the book.
“I have to believe there are books out there that support LGBTQ students that are age-appropriate that don’t have that content,” Patrick told the board. She declined to speak with the Des Moines Register after the vote.
Parents on the subway and across the country have taken issue with “Gender Queer” over the book’s depiction of sexual activity, masturbation and sexual fantasies on the part of the narrator, calling the book pornographic and comparing its presence in schools to the toilet of children.
Board members questioned Patrick with pointed questions, but also praised her for coming forward to share her opinion, present thoughtful arguments and spark discussion.
In written complaints, Patrick wrote that she believed the book was pornographic and violated Iowa law that prohibits giving explicit material to minors.
Continued:Iowans widely oppose criminal penalties, lawsuits for ‘obscene’ books in schools, poll finds
She also took issue with the book’s written swearing comments and individual passages that describe pap smears as excruciating pain, pregnancy as a parasite, and nightmares about menstruation. Patrick wrote that she believed the book was intended to “convince young girls to consider choosing to be asexual body haters who don’t have children”.
Patrick told the board on Monday his initial thought was that the school was getting several books at once, without having time to review them all, and that the inclusion of “Gender Queer” was a mistake.
Previous review panels that decided to keep “Gender Queer” said the award-winning book had artistic merit meant to be an autobiographical coming-of-age story, not pornography. They found that the images were taken out of context and that the book could empower LGBTQ students to find support and a sense of belonging.
“I want to be very clear that I’m extremely supportive of books that students can connect with and relate to,” Patrick said Monday. “I want everyone to feel like they belong, and I want resources to be available to help kids get through (those) tough teenage years of figuring out who they are.”
Continued:An Iowa proposal to charge teachers for “obscene” books is dead. But the push for school ‘transparency’ continues
However, she says, students can still find literature to connect with in school libraries that don’t contain adult images, language and situations like those in “Gender Queer.” She said she thought there was a way to present sexual topics without going into graphic detail, but that “Gender Queer” crosses a line.
“I’m not here to censor our First Amendment rights or say this book shouldn’t exist,” Patrick said. “It is available in public libraries, bookstores and online booksellers. However, I do not think that books with these pornographic images should be allowed in our school libraries for children as young as 14 to consult them then that the rationale is that overall the book is good, so allowing a few instances of questionable content is fine.
“If you tolerate certain images and certain languages for the greater good, where will that tolerance end?” she says.
Continued:Iowa senator seeks criminal sentence for distributing ‘obscene’ material in schools
Board member Jeff Hicks said Iowa’s obscenity law provides exceptions for educational materials and content that, taken as a whole, have artistic and literary value.
Hicks wondered if the parents took offense to other topics that might be covered in the books, such as suicide. He said having a call focused on specific images that aren’t suitable for young Southwoods teens would be conversational, but to start using labels like “porn”, “grooming” and “obscenity” changes that.
“Do you think our librarians are committing crimes by distributing what you call pornography? he said. Hicks said it seemed insulting to teachers and others, who dedicate their lives to protecting children, to imply that they distribute pornography.
Board member Fannette Elliott said she reviewed the examples of “Gender Queer” passages that Patrick brought up. She said that looking at the pictures without reading the words, she could see the pictures as inappropriate.
“But when I sat down and read the book — not to take the images out of context — it’s very much a coming of age book,” she said.
Continued:Iowa Governor Reynolds targets ‘X-rated’ books in schools and ‘transparency’ in statehood speech
Superintendent Lisa Remy reminded council that families can request that their children not be able to borrow certain books. And, under state law, Patrick can appeal the board’s decision to the Iowa Department of Education.
School districts across the country have grappled with the question of whether to remove “Gender Queer” from library shelves, with mixed results. In Ankeny, a review committee decided to withdraw “Gender Queer” but to keep the other books that were challenged.
Recent challenged books in the United States often involve stories about LGBTQ people or people of color.
In Iowa, Republican lawmakers have pursued bills that would make changes to how schools and educators handle materials for students. A bill that would involve making teachers pay for books is dead, but a proposal requiring greater disclosure of curriculum and materials is alive.
Chris Higgins covers the Eastern Suburbs for The Register. Contact him at [email protected] or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.