Virginia Beach School Board Removes ‘Gender Queer’ from Libraries; Other Books Stay

Virginia Beach School Board Chair Carolyn Rye is directing staff to remove Gender Queer: A Memoir from school libraries, following the recommendation of a work group.

“I think the removal of this book is a win for parents and students,” board member Victoria Manning told The Virginia Star.

In December, Manning flagged the book for review over graphic content, along with three others: Lawn Boy, A Lesson Before Dying, and Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye. The district also reviewed Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, which Manning flagged because they might have violated the district’s equity policy, according to 10 on Your Side.

In a January 28 report, Chief Academic Officer Kipp Rogers summarized the result of six separate review committees, one for each book, composed of students, parents, and staff. In all cases, the committees recommended keeping the books in libraries. The Bluest Eye and A Lesson Before Dying can also be used as supplemental classroom material.

One committee member considering Gender Queer originally did not want to keep the book in school libraries due to content, but changed their mind after a high school student spoke about how the book could help “students who struggle with self-identity.”

Rogers’ report states:

“The Chief Academic Officer and Superintendent had concerns about some of the graphic depictions in the book Gender Queer; however, the concerns did not warrant removal of the book from school libraries for student voluntary checkout. The rationale for keeping Gender Queer in circulation for voluntary checkout was:
•The library book was secured by schools following the criteria outlined in VBCPS Policy 6-61.
•The book already exists in some high school libraries as a choice option for students to check out.
•A committee reviewed the book and recommended keeping it as an option for voluntary checkout for high school students.
•Removing the book from circulation would be subject to review under the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) case that speaks to the First Amendment limiting removal of books by school officials from school libraries because of their content.”

Following that report, Manning appealed the decision to Rye, who convened a work group of school board members Trenace Riggs, Carolyn Weems, and Jessica Owens. The group met once in April and once in May. Their report recommended removing Gender Queer.

“The working group finds that the book contains many illustrations, some of which depict genitalia, bodily functions, and sexual acts which the majority of the group determined were pervasively vulgar,” the report states. “The working group finds that the book does not accurately present information concerning important and necessary health procedures in a manner that is common for most people, therefore raises questions regarding the educational suitability of the book.”

In a letter to the board, Rye said, “I as the Chair have accepted the recommendation of this work group. I will therefore direct staff to remove the book Gender Queer from school division libraries.”

Rye said work is ongoing to assess the district’s policies and regulations over challenged materials.

Other Virginia school districts have also removed Gender Queer from libraries, including Loudoun County Public Schools, whose board concurred with Superintendent Scott Ziegler’s directive to remove the book, according to The Washington Examiner.

Manning told The Star that she’s challenging the Saga series, a sci-fi comic book series which Manning called “pornographic” and whose author Brian Vaughn has acknowledged its mature content.

Manning expects there to be more challenges.

“There are other parents/citizens who have found other books and I know there has been at least one other challenge,” she said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].

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