Students are clapping back after a book about sexual orientation and gender identity sparked a protest at a Chicago-area high school board meeting Monday night. Conservatives lined up to demand that Gender Queer—a coming-of-age book about gender identity—be pulled from the library at Downers Grove District 99 High School, where only two copies are reportedly accessible for a student population of nearly 5,000.
However, students called BS on complaints that the book peddles pornography and sexually explicit content. Instead, they turned the tables on what they said were attacks on homosexuality and free speech.
Nearly 200 people attended the school board meeting in Downers Grove that quickly erupted into a book boycott fight, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Those opposed to the book held signs and banners expressing their disgust, claiming that the book exposed children to homoeroticism and pornography.
Before the meeting even began, one unnamed parent told the Chicago Sun-Times that having Gender Queer available to high school students was “sick” and “teaches kids how to be gay.”
Terry Newsome, a father who had two kids at Downers, said that his issue with the book is that it’s “liberal code for teaching children how to perform oral sex, anal sex, wear strap-on dildos. These graphic images are totally unacceptable regardless of their gender or sexuality.”
“It’s not your right to decide if our minor children should have access to pornography,” he said.
But Lauren Pierret, a senior at Downers Grove North, argued that plenty of books in schools’ libraries include sexual content, including The Handmaid’s Tale, but they do not receive the same backlash.
“Let’s not present getting rid of Gender Queer as censoring our children from sex,” Pierret told the meeting, according to the Sun-Times. “It’s homophobia.”
“Inclusion matters to young people,” said Josiah Poynter, another senior at Downers. “This is why we must have this book in our school’s library... It brings comfort to people who feel unsolved and cast out.”
District superintendent Hank Thiele also noted that Gender Queer wasn’t even considered mandatory reading for students. He said during the meeting that it met guidelines to be included in the school’s library.
The book is not only causing headaches in Chicago. According to ABC 7 El Paso, parents of the Canutillo Independent School District in Texas claimed during a school board meeting earlier this week that Gender Queer does more harm than good.
"It’s the fact that there are explicit pictures in the pages of the book," one person who attended the meeting told KFOX 14. "Now you can be gender queer or any sexual orientation that you want, but the fact that there is actual pornography in our libraries is what is disturbing."
Gender Queer is an autobiography of nonbinary writer and cartoonist Maia Kobabe, in which they detail their journey into adulthood. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Kobabe said that the book was geared towards people of high school age and older, but primarily it was written for their family members who did not understand emotionally what Kobabe was experiencing. Gender Queer also served as a guideline for young adults who were trying to find an appropriate identity for themselves, especially if they had no other resources, Kobabe said.
“Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are,” Kobabe wrote. “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.”
As of Monday night, the Downers Grove school district announced that library inclusion requirements will be re-evaluated after two challenges to Gender Queer were officially filed.