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School board permanently removes “Gender Queer” from the Galesburg-Augusta High School library

The hardcover special addition of "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe depicts a drawing of a male looking person with short hair in a hoodie and sweat pants sitting in the grass and looking up at the stars, juxtaposed above an upside down drawing of a young girl with long hair running during the day in a tie dye shirt and yellow shorts through meadow flowers with butterflies.
Leona Larson
"Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe was the most challenged book in 2022, according to the American Library Association. The ALA recorded 151 challenges based on its LGBTQIA+ content and claims that the book is sexually explicit. Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools is the latest district to ban it.

The American Library Association presented the graphic memoir with an Alex Award for appealing to young adults ages 12 to 18. But the Galesburg-Augusta School Board says it isn’t appropriate for high school students.

After a closed-door session, the Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools Board of Education voted Monday to remove Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” permanently from the library collection at Galesburg-Augusta High School. A majority of the board agreed that some of the book’s graphics were sexually explicit and warranted its removal.

Before the vote, the public was given a final opportunity to speak. More than thirty people attended the school board meeting, but only four spoke on the issue. Two were for keeping the book and two were against, including Karen Owens, a district parent who called herself “one voice sharing for many.” When Owens asked for a show of hands from those who agreed with her that the book should stay off the shelves, about a dozen arms went up.

“Our reasons may differ, but we do all agree that this book contains images that are developmentally inappropriate for this age group,” said Owens. “There are books that are appropriate that can replace it on the shelf. Our children need parents and a community that loves them enough not to put adult literature in their hands.”

Marcie Barber did not raise her arm.

“I would personally be okay with my seventh grader having that book available to him. I would even be okay with my fifth grader having that book available to him. And if my first grader happened to get his hands on it, it would generate a discussion,” said the mother of three district children. She added later that “the illustrations, the content are all age appropriate for kids that are in this building. I think that we are at risk of marginalizing a group of students who are at high risk for mental health crisis.”

“Gender Queer” was first pulled from the library in March because of complaints that the book’s graphics were “pornographic” and inappropriate for high school. Current district policy says materials must remain in circulation and available to borrowers pending a committee review. That committee was appointed in April.

District Superintendent Wendy Maynard-Somers said the book wasn’t pulled. In aMarch interview with WMUK, she said it was “checked out” so that she and the board could read it. Maynard-Somers said on Monday that the board will change the policy over the summer. She said they will look at processes in other districts, and sighted Kent County specifically.

“We know that we're going to improve our processes for how we bring controversial books into the district,” Maynard-Somers said at the board meeting.

Maynard-Somers told the board the library has other books available on the same subject. When asked if there were books about non-binary students, she said the librarian told her there were, but “I have not, you know, looked at that book specifically.”

The final vote was five for and two against removing the book permanently from the library. Christy Corsi and Krista Simmons were the two board members who voted against the book’s removal. Corsi said that “if you’ve read the book, it’s actually amazing.”

Simmon’s was visibly upset.

“My struggle with banning this book is that, I have to remember that my job as a board member is to represent all of our students. And my feeling is, is if we ban this, we don't represent all of our students,” Simmons said. “Yes, there's a few pictures that, I agree, are probably sexually explicit. But it doesn't in my mind allow me to ban a book completely when I know there are students who need to read it.”

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.