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Loudoun County schools pull controversial gender book from library shelves

Loudoun schools pull controversial gender memoir from library shelves, citing graphic images.

Loudoun County schools have decided to pull copies of the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from library shelves, citing color illustrations that were deemed inappropriate. (iStock)

Loudoun County schools have decided to pull copies of the controversial book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from its library shelves, citing color illustrations that were deemed inappropriate.

The graphic novel, written by Maia Kobabe and published in 2019, is about a young person’s struggle with gender identity and chronicles, in comic book-style drawings, the twists and turns of the author’s journey to adulthood.

The book, Kobabe’s first, has sparked debate in school systems across the country, and last year was pulled, but then retained, in school libraries in Fairfax County.

In Loudoun, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, schools superintendent Scott A. Ziegler asked for a review of the book because of questions about its content, schools spokesman Wayde Byard said Friday.

A “committee recommended (on a split vote) to retain the book in the high school library collection [but] the superintendent decided to remove the book from circulation,” Byard said in a written communication.

That decision was appealed, and “the School Board appeal committee met [Thursday] evening and voted 3-0 to uphold the superintendent’s decision,” Byard said.

Ziegler said in a statement: “I read every book that is submitted for my review in its entirety. I am not generally in favor of removing books from the library. I believe our students need to see themselves reflected in the literature available to them.”

“The pictorial depictions in this book ran counter to what is appropriate in school,” he wrote.

The book contains illustrations of sexual contact, masturbation and a sex toy; an erotic scene of a man and a boy shown on what looks like an ancient Greek urn; and depictions of menstrual blood.

“Sexual content is a large part of this book,” Ian Serotkin, vice chair of the county school board, wrote on Facebook after he voted to pull the book from library shelves. “It is not fleeting or brief.”

“The sexually explicit illustrations which have gotten significant media and public attention may only appear on a handful of pages, but sexual themes are pervasive throughout the book,” he wrote. “And, the sexually explicit illustrations themselves cannot be ignored.”

“I think I can draw a line between something being described in writing and it being depicted in living color,” he wrote.

The book is not available at school libraries, but it is at county libraries, he said.

The book is mainly about the anguished gender struggles that some young people go through.

“My deepest emotional relationships have always been with women,” Kobabe wrote in the book. “Did that mean I was a Lesbian? But my sexual fantasies involved two male partners. Was I a gay boy trapped in a girl’s body? The knowledge of a third option slept like a seed under the soil.”

“Decided I was a lesbian,” Kobabe wrote. “Much confusion. Decided I was bisexual. Decided I was asexual … Got asked directly, ‘Are you gay?’ And answered ‘I don’t know.’ ”

“I feel like there are all these wires in my brain which were supposed to connect body to gender identity and sexuality,” Kobabe wrote. “But they’ve all been twisted into a huge snarled mess.”

Kobabe tells of fascinations with the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde and the late British rock star David Bowie.

Last year, Kobabe, who lives in California, told The Washington Post’s James Hohmann: “There are queer teens, I promise, in every single high school where this book is being challenged.”

People are “reacting because they know that they’re on the losing side of the culture war,” Kobabe said. “And this is sort of an angry effort because they know the tides are already turned against them. But it’s still going on. It can still hurt people.”