WESTERLY — The American Civil Liberties Union and an organization that represents transgender and gender-diverse people have announced their support for keeping “Gender Queer,” a memoir that describes its author’s experience as a teenager coming to terms with being a non-binary person, on the shelves of the library at Westerly High School.
Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU Rhode Island, and Ethan Huckel, chairman of the board of directors of TGI Network of Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization that serves transgender and gender-diverse communities, in a letter dated 21 March to Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau, said they read information about efforts to have the book removed from the library as well as school officials’ position that the book should remain available to students.
“As the lawsuit against the book progresses through the school district’s review process, we are writing to express our strong support for the comments we have seen from school district officials advocating for the book’s availability to students. It is consistent with the highest mission of the public school system to expose students to a wide range of viewpoints and to make available an array of literature that reflects the varied and real experiences of adolescents,” Brown and Huckel wrote. in their letter.
The book has been targeted for removal from school libraries nationwide and from Westerly by people who argue that its graphic illustrations depicting sex acts and narrative content are not appropriate for display in a public school library.
Brown and Huckel, in their letter, said legal attempts to have the book taken down are unlikely to succeed.
“This attempt to censor what students can read is unfortunately part of a nationwide assault on academic freedom and First Amendment rights in public schools. The claim that ‘Gender Queer’ could somehow violate on the other hand the state obscenity laws are ridiculous on the face of it,” part of the letter reads.
The letter goes on to say that the courts are unlikely to find the book obscene for a variety of reasons, including its literary and artistic value. The book has received awards from the American Library Association and other organizations.
Garceau and some school committee members said the book could be useful for young adults in high school who are thinking about their own identities as they prepare for the next phase of their lives. Brown and Huckel addressed similar themes in their letter.
“Equally important as its literary and artistic merit is the book’s ability to provide comfort and affirmation to young people at a time when they may be exploring their sexual identities. The struggle to censor a book like ‘Gender Queer’ – much like the struggle to ban critical discussion of race in school – is nothing less than an attempt to suppress the ideas themselves and diminish students simply for being who they are,” reads -on in the letter.
While parents can raise concerns about the curriculum and other issues with school officials, they shouldn’t be able to dictate which books students can read and remove from the library, Brown said. and Huckel in their letter.