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Banning, Burning Isn’t Enough: New Trend Shows Parents Suing Schools, Libraries Over Book Content

Cropped book cover "All Boys Aren't Blue." (Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr))

We thought last week that two school board members suggesting to literally burn books was peak conservative backlash against books about or by POC and LGBTQ+ folks—not like “Oh, this dystopian hellscape is over,” but like “How can you get worse? Or be, like, equivalently evil?”

In that same story, we brought up the efforts of parents in Washington state to not only get Maia Kobabe’s YA graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir banned, but some looked to sue the school for holding what they say is “pedophilia” and “porn.” Luckily, after the Kitsap County Prosecutor looked at the book, he declined to press charges because the images in question weren’t photographs and wrote “While I would respect arguments to the contrary, the intent of the book does not appear to be solely for ‘sexual stimulation.'”

"Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe. (Image: Oni Press.)

(Image: Oni Press.)

Following the backlash of Kobabe’s story, I took that as a sign that more similar actions would be taken against librarians, teachers, schools, and districts across the country, but I really didn’t expect it to happen within days.

All Boys Aren’t Blue

As of this week, George M. Johnson‘s 2020 young adult book All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto is banned at the district or state level of one out of every five states. According to the Palm Coast Observer, the award-winning book prompted a Florida county-level school board member (Jill Woolbright) to not only get the book off shelves, but to go after three district-level school boards on legal grounds by citing two Florida Stature Chapter statutes.

One statute reads “Each district school board is responsible for the content of all instructional materials and any other materials used in a classroom, made available in a school library, or included on a reading list.” Woolbright, someone who thinks she is saving children when she is really attacking LGBTQ+ children in the county, also cited another statute that says, “A person may not knowingly sell, rent, loan, give away, distribute, transmit, or show any obscene material to a minor.”

Written as the representation they never received growing up, journalist and activist Johnson covers topics like consent, gender identity, brotherhood, and Black boy joy. The books don’t just appear on shelves; teachers, librarians, and more do research and look into novels to see if they are worth the shelf-space and would be of interest to students. Because there is so little overtly queer literature, especially featuring people of color, Johnson’s book was of course picked up for a few schools’ collections in the county.

Book cover "All Boys Aren't Blue." (Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr))

(Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr).)

Earlier this year, it was announced that Gabrielle Union picked up Johnson’s book for a TV adaptation. This is significant not just because Union is a well-established Black actress, but she and her husband NBA husband, Dwyane Wade, have been publicly supportive of their child Zaya Union Wade’s transition. Much media is about a family’s opposition to gender queerness, and it is overwhelmingly white. The Union Wade family and Johnson’s family (within the story) are centered on Black love, acceptance, and learning.

Further actions

Woolbright doesn’t even have the support of all of her school board members. Fellow board member Cheryl Massaro wrote on Facebook (saved by Palm Cost Observer), “She is not entitled to throw the other School Board members and District Administrators under the bus, based on her personal opinions.”

Petitions have popped up across the country, led by Johnson and students, to get their book in the hands of young adults. Kids in North Carolina, Montana, Florida, and Pennsylvania (the same group as this story), started organizing.

While conservative efforts to get books off reading lists, bookshelves, and out of libraries are successful, the legal battle is much trickier. Because of first amendment protections, obscenity laws are hard to actually enforce. So far (like in the case of Gender Queer), it has stalled, but fundamentalist groups and conservative grifters will probably move away from “Critical Race Theory” (which they’ve admitted isn’t taught in schools) and go back to zeroing in on homophobia again as part of their ultimate forever war—the so-called culture war.

(via RawStory, image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr).)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)