Salem-Keizer denies second book ban request, stands by ‘Gender Queer’
A second request to remove a book from Salem-Keizer public school libraries was denied.
Earlier this year, members of local parent group Salem Keizer We Stand Together challenged the book “Stamped (for Kids): Racism, Anti-Racism, and You” in local elementary schools.
A parent and leader of the group filed a formal complaint in March on behalf of the organization seeking to have the book taken down. This initiated Salem-Keizer’s “Library and Educational Materials Review” process.
A district books review committee voted 8 to 1 in April to deny the request.
The process was considered a rare case at the time. A formal request for a book review had not occurred since 2018.
However, a few weeks later it happened again.
Affected community members filed a formal complaint with Salem-Keizer in May regarding the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”
In June, a seven-person committee reviewed the book and voted unanimously to keep it in local high schools, as the Salem Reporter first reported.
The local increase in book banning efforts appears to correspond to a national effort.
“Gender Queer” — a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe, a non-binary, queer author and illustrator from California — is held at three Salem-Keizer high school libraries. In 2021, “Gender Queer” became the most difficult book in the USA.
It is currently available at West Salem, South Salem, and Sprague high schools. No schools added or removed the book as a result of the June decision, according to district officials.
According to the online description of the book.
“Gender Queer” is not a required text in the district, nor used to create assignments in any classroom, according to the Salem-Keizer Book Review Committee report.
Many readers loved the book, especially for its reflection of asexual and non-binary people – those who do not identify as either male or female. He has also received several awards, according to the American Library Associationincluding a Stonewall Book Award in 2020.
Some, however, feel that some of the illustrations are too explicit and therefore the book is not appropriate in a school setting.
Family members complain that the book is pornographic
The official complaint to remove “Gender Queer” from Salem-Keizer schools was filed in May by Mike and Ellie Mallek, who have grandchildren at West Salem High School. They said they first heard about the book when parents sent them screenshots of it.
According to their complaint, the Malleks first tried to speak with educators in West Salem earlier this month about their concerns. They were then asked to file a formal complaint.
The Malleks said the book depicts, among other things, graphic images of genitals and “various … positions having sex”.
They said they believe the main purpose of the material is “to promote various agendas” related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning community in an effort to “make it more acceptable in the mainstream”. .
“It implies to the student that this type of behavior is completely acceptable and normal,” they wrote in the complaint. “It could lead to a lifetime of pornography addiction and deviant behavior. It could harm the student’s future self-image and destroy their ambitions.”
They called on the district to remove “Gender Queer” from all school libraries, along with any other books with related content.
When asked what materials they would suggest putting in place on the same subject, the Malleks replied, “Any books with sound family values. It’s not the school system’s job to provide materials relating to deviant sexual behavior.
At the time of the complaint, the three copies of “Gender Queer” in the district had been verified a total of four times, as reported in the district’s system.
The Malleks are not the only ones to challenge the book.
A Virginia judge in May ruled that “Gender Queer” should be declared “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors”, stating that there is sexually graphic content that is not appropriate without parental consent. Salem-Keizer parents or guardians are permitted to restrict which library books their child can access.
Members of Salem Keizer We Stand Together testified at the July 12 school board meeting about the book, further stating that they believe it should not be available in local schools.
Salem Keizer We stand together is a group of community members and parents who want to change the way the school board works and the way schools teach certain subjects. They identify as non-partisan; however, some of their goals, particularly around gender identity, race, and sexuality, align with those of conservative advocacy groups nationwide.
Mike Slagle, a grandparent and former parent in the district who unsuccessfully ran for the school board in 2021, was among those who testified on July 12. He is a member and leader of Salem Keizer We Stand Together. During his commentshe holds up printed images from the book, as well as a printed definition of “pornography”.
“It’s not OK,” he said of the book at local schools. “It’s very offensive.”
The committee decides that “Gender Queer”, as a whole, is appropriate
The Salem-Keizer Library and Teaching Materials Review Committee is responsible for forming opinions based on a book as a whole, in accordance with its guidelines, and not just reflecting on pages “taken out of context.”
The committee – made up of teachers, librarians, a community member, a child protection and prevention administrator and more – was tasked with two key issues: the district a- follow its library selection process and criteria? And therefore, is the book suitable for the development of local high school libraries?
The review board met to discuss “Gender Queer” on June 1 and 15. These meetings were not public. All seven members voted unanimously at the second meeting to keep the book in the Salem-Keizer High School libraries.
“The book will be needed to be kept in schools, to help be more inclusive and allow all students in the LGBTQ+ community to have a resource to refer to,” the review board wrote in its report. “Furthermore, the pages taken out of context (does not) represent the intent of the book and have only served as an illustration to help provide (an) understanding of what the author was trying to portray in his book.”
More books under microscope:Salem-Keizer rejects request to ban anti-racism book ‘Stamped (for Kids)’
The committee in its final report said the book expands on sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that is accessible to students, especially in graphic novel form.
They argue that the book was selected in accordance with the district’s collection development policy and that it reaches an underserved community within local schools, allowing them to feel included in the literature.
They also argued that it is a well-written and illustrated text, from a literary point of view, citing the “large number of teen-specific literary awards” it has won.
“It’s a great example of memory,” they wrote. “It includes many visual metaphors, it promotes literacy and accessibility through the graphic format, and it has a modern language suitable for our students today.”
Suzanne West, Salem-Keizer’s director of strategic initiatives, said the district hasn’t received any formal complaints for other books at this time. No one is currently trying to appeal the June vote.
The plaintiffs were notified on June 27 via email after an attempted phone call on June 24, West said.
Book ban in Salem-Keizer, nationwide
Complaints about books at Salem-Keizer are rare, and community members who initiate the process of official book reviews are even rarer, Teresa Tolento, Salem-Keizer’s elementary program director, said in April.
The district receives one or two informal complaints a year, she said, which are usually resolved at the school level.
Until “Stamped,” no reconsideration request had been filed since 2018, when a community member challenged the “Left Behind” book series. In this case, the committee decided the series was more suitable for middle schoolers, but the books weren’t pulled, Tolento said.
The vast majority of disputed books at Salem-Keizer are kept as is, without restriction, she added.
Since the review in 2018, the district review process has been updated. The old process, Tolento explained, left the decision in the hands of the building superintendents, the superintendent and the school board. The new process creates a committee of stakeholders, including teachers, librarians and parents.
Committee decisions may be appealed to the complaint process.
Data from the American Library Association shows challenges to books increased to the highest rate on record in 2021.
Last year, the ALA tracked 729 book challenges in schools and libraries, noting that this number is likely only a small fraction of the true total – their surveys showing that 82-97% of all book challenges are not reported.
Books about LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities are also heavily targeted by book bans.
The ACLU said some of the most targeted books are those written by or about people of color, like “Stamped (for Kids)”. In 2020, the young adult iteration, “Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You” was the second most frequently challenged book of the year, according to the ALA. The most contested book of that year was Alex Gino’s “George”, the story of a young transgender girl.
Despite this large number of challenges, most attempts to ban books fail and the materials remain in schools and libraries.
Previous reports by Eddy Binford-Ross contributed to this report.
Contact Natalie Pate, education reporter for the Statesman Journal, at [email protected] or 503-399-6745.