Cali School Board Pushes Back Against Parents, Votes To Keep Sexually Explicit Books In Schools

The Orange County (California) Board of Education (OC BOE) has let parents know that their concerns have been heard, but their concerns will not be heeded. The OC BOE, after a weeks-long review, voted unanimously to keep three high school controversial books that have caused much consternation among parents who have labeled the books as sexually explicit and obscene.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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The Orange County (California) Board of Education (OC BOE) has let parents know that their concerns have been heard, but their concerns will not be heeded. The OC BOE, after a weeks-long review, voted unanimously to keep three high school controversial books that have caused much consternation among parents who have labeled the books as sexually explicit and obscene.

The three books in question were Gender Queer, Lawn Boy, and Out of Darkness. The books have won national awards and also have been highly celebrated for their LGBTQ+ inclusiveness. But it isn’t necessarily the fact that these books are LQBTQ+ inclusive that has so many parents in an uproar, rather it is some of the content these controversial books promote that have parents wanting them banned from schools.

Before the vote was put forth to the OC BOE, the Orange County Schools superintendent recommended that the school board should keep the controversial books on public school library shelves for at a minimum of two more years. But the OC BOE support was so strong for the books that their vote wasn’t only to bring the controversial books back for a short term, they voted to keep the books in public school libraries indefinitely.

The parent complaints, though, are very specific. Gender Queer: A Memoir is written by Maia Kobabe and is more of a graphic novel. What has many parents calling it obscene is that the book includes a number of color illustrations showing teenage boys performing oral sex on each other.

The images from Gender Queer are too graphic for us to put on our website for you to see. Doing so would likely cause Google to suspend advertising from our site, on the basis of distributing pornographic imagery. If you want to see the NSFW images parents and educators are talking about, you can simply click on the book cover below…

The other book, Lawn Boy, was written by Jonathan Evison and has been slammed for what some parents have called “depraved.” In the book, there are numerous graphic scenes and descriptions of sex between adult men and children. The book also has one young adult in it reflect on various sexual encounters he had in the fourth grade with another boy in the same grade.

Below are two sample excerpts from Lawn Boy

The support for and against the controversial books was clear. Vice-Chair Brenda Stephens said, “As a librarian, I don’t ban books.” As the entire board was voting in keeping the three books, Board Chair Carrie Doyle included statements that some of the county’s LBGTQ+ students penned. One read, “Seeing these books on the shelves makes me feel like there’s a place for me. LGBTQ+ kids deserve to be seen,” Doyle read. “No one wants to feel alone and keeping these books will ultimately save lives.”

Parents were not allowed to give public comments as the meeting took place. Apparently, the OC BOE had heard all they needed to hear. It didn’t stop one parent from speaking with a local news station though. Sarah Snipes is the mother of two Orange high school students and she says she, along with hundreds of other concerned parents, hold the same view – the controversial books have absolutely no place in schools.

“They’re extremely harmful,” Snipes told local ABC11. “The content of these books is completely inappropriate. It’s very sexually explicit. There is no need for us to have pornography in middle school and high school libraries.”

What helped make the board’s decision a unanimous one was that the OC BOE attorney told the panel that under the law, material in books can be sexually explicit without being obscene. The board then looked at the books, agreeing that there is no lack of seriousness in the material nor is there any lack of literary value.

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“If you read the book and take it as a whole, it describes the author’s genuine struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation while growing up,” said board member Sarah Smylie. “That’s not salacious or pornographic.” Okay, but what about the illustrations?

Stephens wanted to point out that their decision to keep the controversial books in school libraries didn’t mean younger children would have access. “We’re not talking about putting ‘Gender Queer’ or any of these books in the hands of a 6-year-old. We’re talking about our high school here,” she said.

Hillary Mackenzie, another OC BOE member, had more concerns. “If this was banned from our collections, I honestly cannot imagine what would follow. I support keeping it. I support LGBT+ representation in our media centers.”

There are two distinct sides when it comes to these controversial books and many more like them. Now, not only are parents getting involved with school boards, but legislators are also beginning to wield their power in trying to move some of this more controversial material from schools. Proponents of keeping it are calling what they’re doing banning, but by that logic it would mean Playboy magazine is banned from the school. Schools do not contain every book in existence, they pick and choose which books are appropriate and beneficial for students. Parents argue that some of these books simply don’t fit that criteria. Educators want those sexualized ideas and sexually explicit images available to students, however, and aren’t backing down.