Anchorage School District removes graphic novel memoir ‘Gender Queer’ from circulation

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 7:47 PM AKST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 10:58 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop sent out an email to families Monday evening announcing her decision to remove a graphic novel memoir about a nonbinary teenager from circulation within the district.

The graphic novel, “Gender Queer,” follows the life of author Maia Kobabe. The book talks about Kobabe’s journey through crushes, coming out, and self-identity.

According to an email sent out by Bishop, there was only one copy of the book within the district. Bishop wrote that she decided to remove it due to certain images not being appropriate. School district spokesperson MJ Thim wrote in an email that the decision to remove the book was due solely to the graphic nature of the content within the book, which was ordered during a purchase of American Library Association “award winners.” Thim said that the Teaching and Learning Department of the school district handled the review.

“This decision has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” Thim wrote. “It has to do with graphic content not appropriate for our school libraries. We have many books in circulation at our libraries about sexual orientation and gender identity. Publications on all types of subjects have been removed in the past. It was not ordered in a deliberate request by a librarian. It was purchased simply by the “award winning” book ordering process which is a ubiquitous practice in libraries.”

Bishop stated in the email that the school board was made aware of the book by a community member on Friday, Oct. 29. She says her team began doing their research on the book and reading it, which spanned from Nov. 1-10. Last Thursday is when Bishop decided to remove the book from circulation due to its materials, according to the email.

“The review process determined the book contained adult material, is not appropriate for our school libraries, and will not be in circulation at ASD,” her email states.

The memoir has been banned from or challenged in schools in several different states, according to reporting by the Associated Press. It recently even became a focal point in a gubernatorial election in Virginia, and according to the Associated Press is becoming a point of debate for governors in Republican states.

Past student David Clark says he agreed with the district’s decision to remove the book after he began doing his research on it.

“While it is a great story and while, you know, the graphics are beautiful and everything like that, that there were a couple scenes, or there were a couple of, you know, illustration panels, that were definitely inappropriate for school,” Clark said.

The graphic novel contained sexual images. Clark says before doing his research behind the book, he was upset about the decision. However, he now understands why it was done.

“My reaction when I first found out about it was, you know, kind of ‘Wow, like good job ASD,’ you know, of creating an inclusive environment for all students,” Clark said. “But then I realized, you know ... that kind of material actually isn’t suitable ... for schools.”

However, other members of the community say that the decision to remove the book is silencing a reality of what it means to be an LGBTQ teenager, and taking the book out of circulation is taking away a much-needed sense of representation.

“I think particularly for kids who are struggling with acceptance, this sends a strong message that this isn’t your place,” said Brian Talbott, a parent of a student in the district. “It sends a strong message that this place is going to be controlled by the people who we consider normal, and it tells them, that’s not you.”

Talbott says this age group is when the idea of acceptance is critical. He said having a lack of it could create a sense of deeper isolation in the LGBTQ community.

“I feel like the district should have known what kind of message was being sent,” Talbott said. “I understand that some parents have issues with, well basically three panels in this book, but I feel like with the message that’s being sent by banning it, that message should have been accompanied with some understanding of the impact that it would have and the message it would be sending to queer youth.”

And while Clark says this book might have been too much of a large step due to the type of content it showed, he said it is the start of introducing the conversation of having a deeper representation of the LGBTQ community in the books that are used at school. He said he hopes the district continues to circulate LGBTQ-specific books for students.

“If we’re trying to create a more inclusive and more, you know, accepting environment, and we want to see, you know trans kids ... queer students, especially trans kids, you know, succeed throughout high school and eventually graduate with a diploma without having to result to alternative programming, it would make the most sense to kind of start introducing more of that literature and start having more of those voices represented in the library,” Clark said.

Those looking to read the book can find it at the Anchorage Public library.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the Anchorage School District.

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