Group says governor’s call to investigate book ‘political attack on LGBTQ youth’

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Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 9:20 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Education is now reviewing school districts’ policies on library books in response to a complaint from parents that an illustrated book at Fort Mill school libraries is inappropriate and pornographic.

The book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, chronicles the LGBTQ+ life of author Maia Kobabe and is currently the top-selling LGBTQ+ graphic novel on Amazon, which describes it as a “guide on gender identity.”

In September, Virginia’s largest school district, Fairfax County Public Schools, banned the book, and since then, other states and school districts have challenged it, now including South Carolina.

“There is no place in South Carolina for these kind of inappropriate materials to be presented to our young people,” Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday.

On Wednesday, McMaster sent a letter to Superintendent of Schools Molly Spearman, in which he described Gender Queer as “obscene and pornographic” and asked the state Department of Education to investigate how the illustrated book ended up at Fort Mill school libraries and find out if it is at any other schools, while also calling for the department to develop a process “to review and approve the books and other materials that are available to students.”

“We’re going to remove things that cause harm to our children or put obstacles in their path as they grow up,” McMaster told reporters Thursday.

The South Carolina Department of Education said school library books are selected by schools and districts and that the state does not pay for them, adding in a statement, “It is clear that in this particular instance, the district failed to properly vet the book in question for adoption.”

Upon learning about the book’s placement in the Fort Mill school library, “The agency immediately contacted the superintendent of Fort Mill who had already instructed staff to remove the book in question. At a statewide meeting of district superintendents later that week, the topic was discussed and districts were provided with the book name and publisher so they too could review their library and media center materials for appropriateness,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.

Kobabe, the author, wrote in an Oct. 29 op-ed in The Washington Post, “Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies, and health.”

Campaign for Southern Equality, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization based in the Southeast, said in a statement the state should shift its focus to issues “that are actually impacting students right now,” including pandemic learning loss recovery and addressing health concerns.

“This call from Gov. McMaster is a transparent, coordinated political attack on LGBTQ youth from lawmakers with a long history of opposing freedom and equality for LGBTQ people. In recent weeks we have seen similar efforts to ban books in North Carolina, Virginia, and Texas — and last year Gov. McMaster called for transgender students to be barred from playing school sports,” CSE Community Health Program Director Ivy Hill said.

The Fort Mill School District said it has taken Gender Queer off the shelves at two high school media centers and out of circulation from its online catalog as it reviews the book following the complaint.

“While the letter references the Fort Mill School District, the Governor is requesting a statewide investigation and is not specifically targeting the district,” Fort Mill Schools said in a statement.

Members of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians said in a statement Thursday that they “strongly condemn any form of censorship or removal of books and materials from libraries without following established processes.”

“South Carolina school librarians are professional educators, trained in selecting materials to meet the needs of a broad and diverse community of students,” SCASL’s statement continued. “The selection of materials for school libraries is guided by district collection development policies and guidelines from the American Library Association. Districts also have reconsideration policies and procedures for constituents wishing to request review of specific materials. These procedures should be followed each and every time a request is made to remove a book or library resource. Statements from elected officials should never replace or supersede these policies and procedures as determined by local school boards.”

The group said while it believes parents have the authority to determine what material their children may or may not read, “no one person or group has the right to make choices for other children.”

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