ORLANDO – A memoir that explores race and sexuality has sparked a controversial debate over the book ban with a Flagler County School Board member who filed a criminal complaint accusing the district of breaking laws on the obscenity.
“Not All Boys Are Blue: A Memory Manifesto” has sparked national controversy because of its sexual content. The memoir features author George M. Johnson’s thoughts on growing up black and gay.
School board member Jill Woolbright filed a criminal complaint, telling a deputy she believed it was “a crime to have the book in the [district’s] media centers ”and demanding that those who set it up be held“ accountable ”.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office dismissed the complaint on November 19, but the community remains embroiled in a heated debate over whether the book should be available in school libraries. This sparked hours of two-way discussion at school board meetings.
Johnson, who uses them / them pronouns, said the briefs are aimed at ages 14 to 18. While the work includes descriptions of oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation, Johnson said they come within the context of consent, sexual abuse, gender identity, toxic masculinity, emotional trauma and other significant issues facing adolescents.
Johnson said the book gives teens a roadmap for recognizing and dealing with trauma and abuse, as well as for avoiding mistakes the author made as he grew up.
“My book is 320 pages long and everyone ranks it based on two excerpts,” Johnson said. “It’s important for people to realize that there is a wealth of additional information in this book that young adults will process and browse. It is a learning tool introducing heavy subjects.
School libraries should reflect the wider community, including the experiences of LGBTQ and black youth, Johnson said.
“I try to communicate to young adults that I too have been in their shoes,” Johnson said. “I hope my book and lyrics will give them the agency to name the things they’ve been through and prepare them for the things they’re going to go through.”
Withdrawn from schools
The book has been withdrawn from circulation at Flagler-Palm Coast and Matanzas High Schools, and a panel is being assembled to review its contents, said Jason Wheeler, spokesperson for Flagler County Public Schools. The book was also briefly on the shelves at Buddy Taylor Middle School, but was taken down following an internal review prior to Woolbright’s complaint to law enforcement, he said.
“We currently do not have a specific date for when the review process will end,” said Wheeler. “All I can say is that a review team is being put together and will then begin its work.”
Sheriff’s Office investigators have determined that Woolbright’s complaint does not meet the “threshold for a criminal offense,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said in a prepared statement. Florida law specifies that materials must “lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” when taken as a whole to be considered obscene.
“The sheriff’s office does not determine what material is appropriate for Flagler County students,” Staly said.
“Not all boys are blue” has been challenged for its descriptions of sex, but it has also garnered literary praise, landing on the best books of the year lists compiled by Amazon, the New York Public Library and the Chicago Public Library.
Instead of harming teens, books with heavy topics give them the tools to understand the issues they’ll face in life, Johnson said.
“It’s not that young adults won’t go through this,” Johnson said.
Woolbright did not respond to a phone message and email requesting comment on Friday. She told MPs that she raised her concerns about the book to the school principal on November 2. At a school board workshop on Tuesday, Woolbright said she informed law enforcement because she did not believe the matter was being handled adequately by school officials and felt “Statutorily” responsible for reporting what she considered a crime.
“In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer, this constitutes obscenity, and if it constitutes obscenity, it is prohibited,” Woolbright said at the meeting.
Earlier this month, Orange County public schools pulled from their shelves another controversial book titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir” amid concerns about sexual images.
Johnson said the efforts to ban the books only made more people read them.
“Once you tell someone it’s forbidden, it just makes them more inclined to want to read it, to taste the forbidden fruit,” Johnson said. “Their attempts to ban it only tempt more and more people to want to read the book.”