Orange County NC school board keeps controversial LGBTQ+ books


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Orange County high school libraries will continue to have three books that have drawn conservative ire from some parents and politicians for reflecting an LGBTQ+ perspective that they call “lewd.”

The Orange County School Board briefly discussed three book titles — “Lawn Boy,” “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” and “Out of Darkness” — and voted unanimously to keep them all in the books indefinitely. libraries at Cedar Ridge and Orange high schools.

All three books are nationally award-winning, but have also sparked debate over whether the adult language and sexual situations depicted are appropriate for students.

The board “is not talking about putting ‘Gender Queer’ or any of those books in the hands of a 6-year-old,” Vice President Brenda Stephens said.

“As a librarian, I don’t ban books,” Stephens said. “I try to get the books into as many people’s hands as possible, because we have to learn from them, and…there’s so much to learn if you read them as a whole, not take them out. their context. , by highlighting a line or a paragraph here or there.

District officials said a parent in Cedar Ridge filed a formal complaint about the books in an October letter to Principal Carlos Ramirez. District policy allows parents to review and challenge books and other materials used in their child’s classroom that are available to all library students.

The school’s review committee – the principal, teachers and a media coordinator – conducts the first review, reviewing the book, the class lesson plans and whether the books have educational value and are suitable for age.

In this case, the committee decided to keep the books in the school library. The books were not used in the classroom, district officials said.

The parent appealed the decision to district administrators, who then convened a district review committee. This committee supported the school’s decision, prompting an appeal to the school board.

While the policy makes the council’s decision permanent for two years, council members voted Monday to keep the books on the shelves indefinitely. A future board of directors may reverse that decision, District Attorney Eva DuBoisson said.

Parents who don’t want their students to read these books can always opt out, said board member Jennifer Moore.

Lawnboy.jpg
The Lawn Boy book by Jonathan Evison.

National effort to remove the books

Orange County’s concerns echoed those raised across the country last year as parents and conservative politicians challenged documents and books they say do not reflect their values.

In October, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson led parent groups to label “Lawn Boy,” “Gender Queer,” and other books featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists as “obscene” material that should be removed from the classroom.

The News & Observer analyzed four books at the heart of the controversy in December, finding vulgar language and sexual scenarios. “Gender Queer”, an autobiographical graphic novel, had the most sexual content, including nude and erotic illustrations.

“Out of Darkness,” an interracial romance novel that was not included in The N&O’s review, also faced opposition for its vulgar language and sexual descriptions.

The books have sparked significant controversy in Wake County, with parents unsuccessfully petitioning the council in November to remove them from library shelves. A group of parents also filed criminal complaints with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school district of distributing obscene and pornographic material.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said earlier this month that she doesn’t believe the school district’s decision is “a criminal matter,” but her office will continue to monitor the school district’s review process. .

Meanwhile, the Wake County Public Library is updating its book review and dispute policy after briefly removing “Gender Queer” from library shelves in December. Wake County commissioners could review the new policy in February.

LIFE-EDU-LGBTQ-MEMOIR-CONTROVERSY-MC_fitted.jpeg
“Gender Queer: A Memoir”, by Maia Kobabe. Oni Press TNS

Supporting LGBTQ, Students of Color

Orange County Board Member Sarah Smylie addressed the broader context of the controversy at Monday’s meeting, noting that most of the books in question are either about people who identify as LGBTQ+ , or people of color.

“I disagree with the submission to these attempts to limit student access to the voices of people of color and LGBTQ perspectives,” Smylie said.

“Context matters, and our marginalized students need this school board to clearly and unequivocally state that they matter,” she added. “In this district, we are committed to creating learning environments where every student belongs and is valued and where all students learn to think critically and exercise judgment, engage in challenging story, and engage in a diverse world.”

Students who recently met with council members were also unanimous in wanting to keep them available, noted council chair Carrie Doyle.

“It was hard enough being LGBTQ+ in our schools,” Doyle said. “These books gave them comfort, these books helped them develop empathy (and) these books helped them understand their peers.”

Related stories from the Durham Herald Sun

Tammy Grubb has been writing about Orange County politics, people, and government since 2010. She is an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill and has lived and worked in the Triangle for more than 25 years.

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