Dozens of concerned parents crowded the July 12 Barrington School District 220 board meeting demanding the removal of the book “Gender Queer” from the school print and digital library, calling it “porn” and inappropriate.
“We need to filter obscene or pornographic media,” Jenna Shields told the board, and suggested a new protocol for book review.
The Tuesday night school board meeting was the second one where some parents shared their outrage over this book and others, along with the district’s book review process.
“Gender Queer” is author Maia Kobabe’s “intensely cathartic autobiography” graphic novel which “charts [the author’s] journey of self-identity,” according to book distributor Simon & Schuster.
Some board members at the meeting requested a discussion on the way the district curates books while others suggested waiting until this book is formally reviewed at the district level.
Shields told the board a community members had been signed by 1,300 asking the district to opt out of Senate Bill 818 which offers new sex education curriculum. Hunt had announced during the meeting that the district chose not to follow those suggestions. The petition, she said, also asked the district to reconsider what is promoted to students.
“We ask for an independent task force that includes parent participation be developed and a ratings system.”
Almost all of the audience stood in support.
There were some parents and other community stakeholders who called requests to remove the book from district bookshelves censorship and discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Barrington.
Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison, whose 15th District includes Barrington Township, spoke during the public comment position of the meeting, making remarks, he said, as the only openly gay commissioner on the county board. He said some opposing parents were targeting the LGBTQ community with language that is dangerous.
“I was once that queer kid in school that desperately wanted to not have to hide who I was out of rejection, bullying or violence. Despite living in that closet, I experienced all of that,” Morrison said. “There are queer kids within[Schoold District] 220. We saw just last year a trans student on school property shot with a pellet gun. That is unacceptable action.
“Having curriculum that is affirming to the queer students that attend your schools are critical – they deserve to be seen and we deserve to support them,” Morrison said.
Another parent said she opposes the future of sex education initiative and takes an exception that alternative lifestyles are being exposed and pushed onto children.
Superintendent Robert Hunt told the audience the district has a procedure for book review, which is posted on the district’s website, and the school review has been completed on “Gender Queer.”
He said the district-level review is ongoing and he anticipates it will be completed by the September school board meeting.
Some board members suggested changing policy so there is more discussion about how the district curates books. Hunt said professional educators should be part of the process to evaluate books and determine what is best for students.
Shannon Feineis, a physics teacher at Barrington High School who has two young children in the district, told the board she was standing up for the opportunity for her children to have a choice in the books they can check out at the school library.
“Censoring award-winning books because some people do not agree with the content is a slippery slope,” Feineis said. “Choosing to censor, ban and remove books that represent the trials of the teen LGBTQ community leads to further of a community that already feels misunderstood and marginalized.”
Another mother said her daughter was part of the queer community and struggled. She said being able to read about similar people in similar situations can help queer teens feel normal.
Village Trustee Emily Young said she also agrees queer specific books should be available.
“There are students in our community who are asking these questions and looking for resources to answer these questions,” Young said. “They can be a lifeline for queer youth.”
Some signs being held in the audience read “Our children need to be taught how to think, not what to think.”
Many speakers said they were not homophobic and had friends who were gay but were focused on having age-appropriate, and not graphic porn, material available to children at school.
“This is not about the fact that it’s LGBTQIA content,” said parent Gina Williams. “There are hundreds of books in our libraries about inclusion. This is about porn. It’s inappropriate graphics accessible with a middle school sign on.
“Protect our children, protect their innocence, keep it out of the school library,” Williams said.
Elizabeth Owens-Schiele is a freelancer.