The Blue Valley board of education voted to keep two books with LGBTQ themes in high school libraries after the novels were challenged by a parent concerned about their sexually explicit content.
Todd Farnsworth, who has two children enrolled in the Blue Valley school district, asked for the two graphic novels — “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe — to be removed from the district’s shelves.
A committee made up of students, parents and educators from the district had already voted to keep the books. However, Farnsworth appealed that decision, leading to a special school board hearing Thursday night.
The Kansas City Star reports that when addressing the board Thursday, Farnsworth said his challenge was “not about sexual orientation or identity.”
“If books about sexual orientation and identity are important to you to have in the libraries, find them that meet your policies,” he said. “Replace these with books that make sense, that are age appropriate and not sexually explicit.”
He was not alone in his sentiments about the books. The district documented a handful of written complaints from other parents, as well.
“I am sure if students used their Chromebooks to look up these topic and pictures on the internet, we would be contacted as parents and the child would be sent to the principal’s office,” one parent’s complaint read.
The district’s library media coordinator Christy Bolton told the board, according the Star’s report, that officials had reviewed the entirety of the books to see whether they violated the district’s policies.
“We must ask ourselves if the entire work was written or drawn to be sexually explicit or intended to be gratuitous in nature,” Bolton said, according to the Star. “These scenes are described and drawn to convey the author’s truth. They were necessary and justified in sharing their truth.”
Bolton added that the books offered an “opportunity for others to understand the journey of someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, and an opportunity for others to learn about someone who may or may not be different than them.”
The board voted 5-2 to keep both books available to students in the district. Board members Jim McMullen and Kaety Bowers, who both joined the board in January, voted in dissent.
“Ultimately, what the board’s task was to determine if the district committee who reviewed the books followed policy when approving them, which the majority agreed they did,” Blue Valley chief communications officer Kristi McNerlin said.
Under the district’s policy, now that the books have made it through the appeals process, they will not be eligible to be challenged again for the next two years.
‘Fun Home’ and ‘Gender Queer’
Both books challenged in Blue Valley are illustrated memoirs written by LGBTQ authors recounting their own roads to self-discovery and identity that do contain depictions of sexual acts.
“Fun Home” was later turned into a Tony Award-winning musical and mostly focuses on Bechdel’s relationship with her father, whom she discovers is gay soon after coming out as lesbian herself.
Of the book, Publishers Weekly said, “Bechdel presents her childhood as a ‘still life with children’ that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She’s made a story that’s quiet, dignified and not easy to put down.”
“Gender Queer” is an award-winning graphic novel written and illustrated by cartoonist Maia Kababe and depicts life growing up as someone who is non-gender-conforming.
The School Library Journal, a monthly magazine geared towards school librarians, notes the book is appropriate for students grade 9 and older and is “a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand.”
According to the district, there are four copies of “Fun Home” in high school libraries, which have been checked out a total of 17 times since 2016. There are two copies of “Gender Queer,” which have been checked out five times since 2020.
The challenged to the two books comes at a time in which schools across the country and others in Johnson County are seeing an increased number of requests from some parents about banning or removing certain books, especially those with themes of sexual orientation and race.
In October, the Shawnee Mission School District changed its process for how parents and members of the public can log complaints about library resources after another LGBTQ-themed book, “All the Boy Aren’t Blue,” received pushback from some parents.