Parents Halt Ban of Transgender Children’s Book

The school board wanted it gone. The parents had other ideas.

Book Culture Young Readers

School reading lists have always faced the paradox of censorship: education demands that students read the most groundbreaking literature of history—but if that groundbreaking literature is too controversial, it might never make it to the classroom. To Kill a Mockingbird was challenged in one Tennessee school because of its handling of racial themes, though this is a naked depiction of the United States’ own ugly history. The Lord of the Rings was challenged for its ‘satanic content.’ (Probably the most evil thing about it is that Legolas isn’t real.) Parents confronted this paradox when the Scappoose School Board proposed a ban of George, a colorful and honest #ownvoices children’s book about a transgender fourth-grader.


"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Ray Bradbury

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Alex Gino‘s George follows the tradition of so many other banned books before it: despite winning a slew of literary awards (Stonewall Book AwardLambda Literary AwardChildren’s Choice Book Award), many school boards across Oregon have sought to keep the book away from children. Some feel that the book is “too advanced” for the classroom—but the book isn’t part of any mandatory reading list. Instead, it’s a potential reading choice for Oregon Battle of the Books, an optional statewide reading competition. Since the school board couldn’t remove the book from the contest list, it proposed a more sinister alternative—no reading contest at all. The message is as clear as it is troubling: some parents and educators aren’t just worried about their own children’s exposure to the book. They’re threatened by the book itself.


Promotional banner for #George

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Stuart Levy, President of the Oregon Association of School Libraries, explained the value of the book: “We always encourage everybody to read a variety of books, books that are similar to themselves, books that are different from themselves. They’re windows into the world to other people.” Many parents agreed. “I feel like this is a book that’s a great way to introduce gender identity and gender confusion to our children,” said one Scappoose mother. Evidently, she wasn’t alone—when the school board put the possible ban to a vote, it met defeat.


A selection of banned transgender books: 'George,' 'I Am Jazz,' 'Lily and Dunkin'

Banned children’s books featuring transgender protagonists
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LGBT+ books often top banned books lists, with classic titles such as E.M. Forster‘s MauriceWalt Whitman‘s Leaves of Grass, and Alice Walker‘s The Color Purple among the most frequently banned books in American high schools. While there are sexual references in these books, some more than others, it’s often the homosexuality itself that readers consider explicit. Fully half of all books banned in 2016 contained LGBT+ content. It’s challenging enough to understand that parents would prevent their child’s exposure to some people’s reality because of their own fear—it’s harder still to accept that many would rather take the book away from all children than have a conversation with their own.


A rainbow of LGBT+ books

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This urgency to keep queer content away from anyone isn’t just limited to grade school. In 2014, South Carolina legislators cut funding from two public, non-religiously-affiliated universities for fear that college students—otherwise known as legal adults—would be exposed to LGBT+ literature. The cuts came after one professor assigned Allison Bechdel‘s Fun Home, a graphic novel memoir containing lesbian themes, in an English class. And they were drastic: over $50,000 from the College of Charleston. One of the politicians responsible, representative Garry Smith, told news outlets: “One of the things I learned over the years is that if you want to make a point, you have to make it hurt.”


Alison Bechdel realizes she is a lesbian in 'Fun Home,' her graphic novel memoir

Excerpt from banned memoir Fun Home
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The news is full of stories like this—stories of bigotry and censorship. Thankfully, this isn’t one of them. “I’m so grateful that the board members made the right decision here,” said Kieran Chase, a program manager at Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBT+ advocacy group. “I think that books like George do an incredible amount of work making schools a more welcoming environment for transgender kids.”



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