NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A debate between citizens over the inclusion of the book Gender Queer in the high school library led to angry outbursts at the North Kingstown school committee meeting on Tuesday due to the graphic sexual content -- both images and text -- in the book.
The book, a memoir of Maia Kobabe, discusses coming to terms with sex as a teenager. The book frankly discusses a teenage Kobabe’s thoughts, feelings understanding of sex, sexuality and gender identity.
Numerous speakers at the meeting said that they found the book’s graphic images and descriptions of teenage sex to be pornographic and inappropriate.
“Our job as educators is to teach children how to read and write – our job is not to teach children how to give b---jobs,” said Ramona Bessinger, a teacher in the Providence School Department.
Several speakers held up posters with images taken from the book depicting various sex acts.
“You’re talking about children – you’re going to expose them to pornographic material? You might as well put Playboy and Hustler in there,” said one speaker.
On several occasions School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg needed to request that the audience allow the person with the floor to speak.
Superintendent Phil Auger and the school committee defended the school’s use of the book.
“To reiterate, any discussion of banning a book should not be taken lightly,” Auger said. “The book in question deals with mature questions of sexual identity, and there are students in our high school that are asking these questions. As part of a public school population LGBTQ youth have as much of a need and a right to have access to library resources to support their overall health and well being.”
The conversation bounced back and forth between support of the school committee’s continued support of the literature, and clear disapproval of the curriculum. Parents against it said that they didn’t feel like children should be allowed access to such material unless they ask for it and even then only with signed parental consent.
“A library is there to provide us information on all topics, not just those that make us feel comfortable,” Committee Member Jen Lima said.
Lima said that while every parent has the right to say that they don’t want their child to read a book they do not have the right to take access to that book away from other parents or students for whom it could be a valuable resource. Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg said that it is important to remember that this book is available in the high school library and the students there are not children, they are young adults and that this book and others like it may be vital to some of them.
“Taken on their own the images are shocking, and one wonders how they could be otherwise,” said local resident Catherine Pastore. “I had to read the novel to find out, and I’m here to tell you that the images are literally an illustration for young people who may be questioning their gender identity, that they are not abnormal or crazy, that they are not alone in their confusion and that there is a way through the maze.”
The committee quickly moved through the rest of its agenda before adjourning. The next meeting will be held on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.