Supt. removes LGBTQ book from Western High library

Supt: Book is “highly inappropriate,” “borderline pornographic,”
“does not represent what we should be sharing with our students”

Alamance-Burlington superintendent Dr. Dain Butler has removed a book featuring sexually-explicit images and themes from the school library at Western High School.

ABSS Superintendent Dr. Dain Butler

Butler informed school board members in an email late last Wednesday that he had removed Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe from the Western High School library, which he noted is “currently the only location we are aware of” in ABSS where the book is available.

Butler cited his reason for removal as “inappropriate images that are sexual in nature,” according to a copy of his email to the board that he furnished to The Alamance News.

Publisher’s Weekly describes Gender Queer: A Memoir as an autobiographical “graphic novel” depicting the author’s experience of “growing up non-gender-conforming” and her struggles to define herself as lesbian/gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The New York Times has called Gender Queer one of the most-banned books of our time, citing ongoing efforts to remove the book from school libraries across the country. In 2020, the book won an American Library Association (ALA) award “for books written for adults that have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18,” according to the ALA.

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Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the superintendent’s action:

See other ABSS coverage in this week’s edition:

State’s “grades” for ABSS schools are mostly Ds & Fs:

Graduation rate falls, both overall and at 4 of 6 high schools:

Gender Queer is one of dozens of books that are being targeted for removal from ABSS school libraries by an Alamance County group called the FACTS 2.0 Task Force (or Fairness and Accountability in Classrooms for Teachers & Students) and launched by Mamie Brooks and Anthony Brooks of Graham. Mamie Brooks provided school board members in June with a list of dozens of books in ABSS libraries that the group says contain sexually-explicit material that the group believes is inappropriate for school-age children.

Butler confirmed for the newspaper this week that he had reviewed the book after receiving concerns via email, as well as a copy of a list of potentially inappropriate books in ABSS libraries.

“This happened to be on the top of the list,” Butler said Tuesday afternoon in an interview with The Alamance News.

The superintendent repeatedly emphasized his concern about the potential disruption the book poses. “It’s highly inappropriate and a potential disruption to the educational process,” he told the newspaper. “When we have a disruption or perceived disruption, I must take action to protect our students.”

“To me, it’s borderline pornographic,” Butler said in the interview, referring to Gender Queer.

“It does not represent what we should be sharing with our students. It’s not the content; the images are highly inappropriate.”

Kobabe’s memoir contains numerous explicit images. One illustration shows an adolescent female, wearing a sex device that resembles male genitalia while another character performs oral sex.

Another image in the book depicts the author (and possibly a brother) urinating in the yard of her childhood home, because it had no indoor plumbing. “The property was powered by a mix of solar, hydroelectric, and generators,” Kobabe writes. “We had a bathtub but no shower. We filled our outdoor washing machine with the garden hose…”

The narrative details how the author grew up struggling to hide her menstrual cycle during her youth and fantasizing about having male genitalia. “I was 11 or 12 years old the first time I can remember fantasizing about having a [deleted],” Kobabe writes. Each portion of the narrative is accompanied by an illustration detailing Kobabe’s perceptions of her sexuality.

Butler told the newspaper this week that the book has been taken to a secure location at the ABSS Central Office. “We plan to review [the list of objectionable books] one at a time,” he said. “That’s my job to protect our kids and the learning environment. I think anyone could take a look at this book and say this is not appropriate to be in our schools.

“If we were to find similar images in the possession of a student [it’s possible] we would take disciplinary action,” Butler added. “I’m making the comparison, it’s inappropriate. We don’t allow students to bring material like this to school. I’m not trying to advocate or not advocate for the transgender population; it’s about inappropriate material. To me, this is obviously the right call for our kids. This is about a specific book with images that [are] proximate to pornography.”

Two weeks ago, about half a dozen speakers, mostly ABSS employees, urged school board members not to remove books that FACTS 2.0 identified as containing thematically-inappropriate and sexually-explicit content from ABSS school libraries.

Read also:

Earlier coverage of the book controversy, both in ABSS schools, as well as at May Memorial Library (July 3, 2022 edition):


Defense of LGBTQ books expressed by half-dozen ABSS employees during most recent school board meeting (August 25, 2022 edition):