Salem High Schools to Keep ‘Gender Queer’ on Shelves After Grandparent Challenge


The unsuccessful effort to remove the graphic novel from library shelves stemmed from a grandparent’s concern over the book’s inclusion of gay sex scenes and conversations about sexual experiences.

Maia Kobebe’s “Gender Queer” graphic novel memoir will remain in three Salem-Keizer high school libraries following a challenge from grandparents.

Three Salem high schools will keep copies of the “Gender Queer” graphic novel in their libraries after a district committee voted unanimously against a parent’s request to remove the book.

A group of seven people, including high school educators, the district’s safety coordinator whose job it is to prevent child abuse, a city librarian and a district resident, made the decision in June after a review of the book said Suzanne West, director of strategic initiatives for the Salem-Keizer School District.

The autobiographical graphic novel, which chronicles author Maia Kobabe’s journey to coming out non-binary and asexual, has been one of the most contested and banned books in American schools this year, The New York Times reported. . The book is implicated in a growing trend by conservative groups and politicians to oppose material in schools depicting sexuality and LGBTQ identities.

In Salem, the district purchased the book for high school libraries as part of a larger effort to include books representing a wide range of people and viewpoints, including transgender people, West said.

The book includes depictions of oral sex, genitalia and conversations about same-sex sexual experiences, which were at the center of the lawsuit filed in May by Mike and Ellie Mallek, who have grandchildren in West Salem High School.

The Malleks told Salem Reporter that they heard about the book when other parents sent them screenshots. Their grandchildren had not read the book.

They took their concerns to West’s manager, Carlos Ruiz, who explained they could file a request to have the book reconsidered. Their request stated that the purpose of the book was to “promote various programs related to the LGBTQ+ community. An attempt to make it more acceptable in the mainstream.

“This implies for the student that this type of behavior is completely acceptable and normal. This could lead to a life of porn addiction and deviant behavior. It could harm the student’s future self-image and destroy their ambitions,” reads their application.

Gender Queer is available at West, South and Sprague high schools, West said. Those three copies of the book had been checked out a total of four times by the time the Malleks’ request to remove the book was filed, according to documents reviewed by the committee and which West provided to Salem Reporter.

West said several other parents also raised concerns about the book with headteachers, but only the Malleks filed a formal request to have the book removed from libraries.

District policy allows any parent or guardian to restrict their child from viewing specific books. If someone submits a request to have a book removed from libraries or classrooms, district administrators convene a committee to review the book. West oversees the process and said the goal is to build a group with expertise in the grade levels the material is intended for.

The Gender Queer committee review was not open to the public. The Malleks were able to present their request to the committee, but not observe or participate in the deliberations. West said these meetings are kept private so committee members can have an honest discussion about the material without fear of retaliation or harassment.

A summary of the committee’s decision provided to Salem Reporter notes that depictions of gender are not representative of the book as a whole. “This book offers an insightful and respectful view of some of our marginalized communities. It raises its voices and looks at issues with a proper lens,” reads one of the comments in the review report.

West said the book was not part of the school curriculum or available in classrooms. The committee’s discussion focused on whether high school students are exposed to similar material in the classroom, she said. High school health education standards include both pictures of genitals and discussions of oral sex, she said.

Mike Mallek said he opposes schools presenting information to students about gender fluidity and sexual orientation, saying he has no problem with gay people, but he doesn’t think so. that children should learn about LGBTQ issues in school.

“Innocent younger children, they are not of the age to consent to make these decisions. It’s almost like grooming them to accept this type of behavior,” he said.

Ellie Mallek called the book’s portrayal of sex “inappropriate and unacceptable” for a school environment.

The couple said they were frustrated with the district process and intended to pursue their complaint. District policy allows complainants to appeal the book review process by filing a complaint that may ultimately be reviewed by the superintendent and then the school board.

The district’s decision to keep the book, made in June, sparked renewed interest this week after it was widely publicized by Libs of TikTok, a popular conservative Twitter account and newsletter that frequently targets programs, policies and educators discussing sexuality and LGBTQ issues in schools. Several local parents called for the book to be removed from schools during public comments at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Since then, West said she and other district employees have received angry and vulgar messages from people locally and across the country opposing the decision. Some have genuine questions, she said, while others have been more threatening.

She sent Salem Reporter a voicemail she received that begins “this message is for this dirty, (expletive) disgusting bit of (expletive) Suzanne West.”

The challenge is the second attempt to remove a book from district libraries this year. In April, a district committee voted 8 to 1 to keep the book “Stamped (For Kids)” in elementary school libraries following a challenge from parents.

The book is a children’s adaptation of author Ibrahim X. Kendi’s book “Stamped” for adults and chronicles the race in the United States from the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade to the present day, explaining how historical figures Americans have contributed to segregationist, assimilationist or anti-racist ideas and movements.

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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