LGBTQ graphic novel ignites controversy across the country

Parents and lawmakers throughout the country spoke out against the graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir after a video of a parent labeling it pedophilia went viral.    

Key Players

Maia Kobabe is the author of Gender Queer, a memoir that depicts Kobabe’s life growing up as a nonbinary person. Some illustrations contain oral sex and masturbation. Another controversial drawing in the comic is based on Symposium by Plato, an ancient Greek pottery cup in which an older man touches the penis of a younger one.    

Stacy Langton, a parent from Fairfax County, Virginia, demanded that Gender Queer be removed from the Fairfax High School library, denouncing it as pornography and pedophilia. 

Rep. Jeff Cason (R) represents the 92nd District of Texas, encompassing a number of towns northeast of Fort Worth.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been Texas governor since 2015, after serving as the state’s attorney general from 2002 to 2015.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has been South Carolina governor since 2017. 

Further Details

The controversy began Sept. 23, 2021, when Langton spoke at a Fairfax County school board meeting about both Gender Queer and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, another novel she claimed was child pornography.   

The next day, Fairfax County said both books would be  removed indefinitely and created two committees of staff, students, and parents to decide if they should be officially pulled, The Washington Post reported

But on Nov. 23, 2021, the district announced that the committees had determined both books were appropriate for high schoolers and would thus be reinstated to the libraries. 

However, by that time, the video of Langton had gone viral, leading parents in other districts to seek out “obscene” books in their public schools.

On Oct. 11, 2021, Gender Queer was pulled from Melbourne High School in Brevard County, Florida. The district said that the book featured “adult images that have no place in education.” 

Meanwhile, in Texas, nearly three weeks later, Cason called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate Gender Queer and other books that “may violate the Penal Code in relation to pornography, child pornography and decency laws.” Cason singled out Gender Queer, saying that the book is “not appropriate for school libraries and may even be criminal for its representation of minors participating in sexual activities.” 

On Nov. 1, 2021, Abbott published an open letter to Texas school boards, calling for schools to vet books that “promote pornographic or obscene materials to students.”

On Nov. 10, 2021, McMaster also published an open letter to Molly Spearman, state superintendent of education, stating that the illustrations in Gender Queer “easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity,” adding that a copy of his letter would be sent to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, as the book’s content was “likely illegal under South Carolina law.” 


Two Texas school districts remove ‘explicit and inappropriate’ books after governor’s letter

On Dec. 6, 2021, the San Antonio Express-News reported that the North East Independent School District in San Antonio had pulled more than 400 books from school libraries. 

The review was prompted by Abbott’s letter and a complaint from State Rep. Matt Krause (R), who provided a list of 800 books that he felt violated Texas law because of their content.

By Dec. 7, 2021, Katy Independent School District, near Houston, had removed five books from shelves after parents complained. According to Chron, the school district also reevaluated its process for selecting library books to ensure that books with “pervasively vulgar” material would remain inaccessible. 

Entire North Carolina county removes Gender Queer from library shelves

Meanwhile in North Carolina, the Wake County public library (WCPL) system decided on Dec. 14, 2021, to pull Gender Queer from shelves  after a community member complained about the book. 

According to Spectrum News 1, a review determined that “the book does contain explicit illustrations that do not align with WCPL’s selection policy.” Notably, Gender Queer was the only book to be removed from the Wake County library system in 2021, while other adult novels like 50 Shades of Grey remained available.  

Loudon County School District follows suit, pulls Gender Queer from shelves

On Jan. 15, 2022, Loudoun County School District in Virginia removed copies of Gender Queer from their libraries. 

According to The Washington Post, a committee recommended the book remain in high school libraries, but superintendent Scott Ziegler overruled the committee, releasing a statement that “the pictorial depictions in this book ran counter to what is appropriate in school.”

Montana school board votes to keep Gender Queer

On Jan. 24, 2022, the Billings Public School Board in Montana voted to keep Gender Queer, despite a subcommittee recommending its removal, the Daily Montanan reported. 

The surprising turn of events occurred after supporters of Gender Queer swayed various board members in a public meeting, citing academic freedom to read, LGBTQ+ community support, and the book’s different viewpoints.

Virginia lawmaker’s bill to regulate explicit books dies in senate committee

Virginia State Sen. Bill DeSteph (R), who represents Virginia Beach, had introduced a bill that would require parental consent for students to check out “explicit” books from school libraries. But on Jan. 27, 2022, the Democratic-controlled Education and Health Committee rejected the bill in an 8-7 vote, ABC News reported.