CANUTILLO, Texas -- Some Canutillo Independent School District parents demanded Monday evening that the school board pull a book from the high school library because of its explicit content.
The book titled "Gender Queer: A Memoir" is a 239-page graphic novel depicting the author's journey of gender identity and sexual orientation. But some Canutillo parents say the book does not belong in schools because it has imagery depicting sexual acts, as well as adult topics that are not suitable for children.
“It’s unconscionable,” said Nathan Barnes, one of 15 parents who spoke out at the Canutillo school board meeting. “Like I told my buddies, this is Texas - this isn’t going to be down here."
He continued: “The book in it’s entirety is disinteresting, but I think what causes me to be more vocal is that there is pornography. There minds are not developed right, they can’t critically think, they don’t understand the chemical reaction that happens when you are watching pornography.”
At this point, the book is no longer in circulation as the Canutillo district is going to review its content and make a decision at a later date.
But it's not just in Canutillo that this controversy looms. The coming-of-age memoir by California writer Maia Kobabe has been seized upon by politicians across Texas who want greater control over the kinds of books available in schools.
The novel depicts Kobabe’s journey of gender identity and sexual orientation. Kobabe, who is non-binary, said it was written to help others who are struggling with gender identity to feel less alone. The book also explores questions around pronouns and hormone-blocking therapies.
“I can absolutely understand the desire of a parent to protect their child from sensitive material. I’m sympathetic to people who have the best interest of young people at heart,” Kobabe, the 32-year-old author, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “I also want to have the best interest of young people at heart. There are queer youth at every high school — and those students, that’s [who] I’m thinking about, is the queer student who is getting left behind.”
“Gender Queer” has become a lightning rod both nationwide and in Texas among some parents and Republican officials who say they’re worried public schools are trying to radicalize students with progressive teachings and literature.
Most recently, Gov. Greg Abbott and another GOP lawmaker have questioned the book’s presence in schools. Abbott has called for investigations into whether students have access to what he described as “pornographic books” in Texas public schools. And state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has sent a list of some 850 books about race and sexuality — including Kobabe’s — to school districts asking for information about how many are available on their campuses.
Across the state, books that tackle racial issues such as “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez and "New Kid" by Jerry Craft have been pulled from shelves after parental complaints. Groups of Texas parents, often sharing information on Facebook groups, have mobilized to find books they deem inappropriate and have them banned from the schools.
The drama has unfolded against the backdrop of a national debate over critical race theory, an academic discipline that holds that racism is embedded in the country’s legal and structural systems. However, the label has been used by some Republicans to target a broader concern that kids are being indoctrinated by progressive teachings in schools.
Texas lawmakers passed two laws this year, that they labeled anti-critical race theory, to crack down on how teachers can talk about race in the classroom. And the issue has been in play up and down the ballot — and outside of Texas, including a GOP victory for the next Virginia governor, who campaigned on a pledge to ban the teaching of critical race theory.
The graphic novel “Gender Queer” traces Kobabe’s own experiences growing up, as the author, whose pronouns are e/em/eir, struggled to identify as gay, bisexual or asexual.
At one point in the book, the author compares gender identity to a scale that was tilted toward being “assigned female at birth,” despite Kobabe’s efforts to be seen as gender neutral. The opposite side of the scale had other factors illustrated with lighter weights, such as “short hair” and “baggy boy clothes.” The image included in the book showed a person trying to add heavier weights labeled “top surgery,” “hormones” and “pronoun” to try to balance the scale.
“A huge weight had been placed on one side, without my permission,” Kobabe wrote. “I was constantly trying to weigh down the other side. But the end goal wasn’t masculinity — the goal was balance.”
While there are illustrations of sexual content in the novel, Kobabe said that students need “good, accurate, safe information about these topics” instead of “wildly having to search online” and potentially stumble across misinformation.
Kobabe, who recommends the book to high school students or older, said there are other novels that have been in high school libraries for years about sexuality, relationships or identity. Kobabe also believes “Gender Queer” in particular became a flashpoint because it is an illustrated comic instead of just text, and that it would not have been singled out so quickly had it been released before the era of social media.
“A person can more quickly flip it open, see one or two images that they disagree with and then decide that the book is not good without actually reading it,” Kobabe said. “To people who are challenging the book, please read the whole book and judge it based on the entire contents, not just a tiny snippet.”
But for parents, they say their opposition to the novel isn’t about the LGBTQ community. It’s about whether these materials and images are appropriate for children.
"It has nothing to do with transgender, straight, heterosexual. If you find this in Romeo and Juliet I am going to be against it,” Barnes told ABC-7.