Story at a glance

  • The book “Gender Queer” has sparked fierce debate among school districts, parents and students across the country.
  • The book serves as a guide for nonbinary and asexual young people.
  • Some high school students in Illinois showed up to their school’s board meeting to defend “Gender Queer” and advocated to keep the book in their library.

As the movement to ban books picks up across the country, some high school students are getting involved in the debate and defending LGBTQ books to stay in their libraries. 

“Gender Queer,” a book written by Maia Kobabe, centers on what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, serving as a guide to gender identity. The book has become a target for politicians and parents across the country, like in Texas, Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALA). 

However, the ALA named “Gender Queer” one of its 10 adult books with special appeal to teen readers and received the 2020 Alex Award. 

In Illinois, community high school district 99 held a school board meeting on Monday where high school students spoke about why keeping LGBTQ+ focused content, and specifically “Gender Queer,” in their schools was important. 

Josiah Poynter, an 18-year-old senior at Downers Grove North high school, spoke about how keeping gender inclusive books in schools is similar to offering a variety of clubs and activities for all students. 

“Inclusion matters to young people, this is why we must have this book in our school’s library. Inclusion brings an opportunity to grow in a safe environment, it brings comfort to people who feel unloved and cast out,” Poynter said.

Poynter goes on to compare “Gender Queer” as similarly sexual to “Montana 1948,” which includes graphic rape scenes.

Poynter stressed that just because a book may cause discomfort, it should not reduce inclusivity for students. 


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Another Downers Grove North high school student, 17-year-old Julia Hanson, spoke at the school’s board meeting and explained that before she read “Gender Queer” she didn’t fully understand what being nonbinary meant, as a cisgender woman herself. Despite feeling uncomfortable reading the book, Hanson said, “the books in our library are intended to entertain and educate students, which for me was accomplished in reading ‘Gender Queer.’”

Some parents agreed with the students advocating for “Gender Queer,” while others disagreed.

One area resident described the book as “pornography, plain and simple. And it does not belong in our schools.”

However district superintendent, Hank Thiele, prefaced Monday night’s school board meeting by saying, “the book ‘Gender Queer’ meets the critieria for inclusion in our library,” and noted the book was optional and not part of any class or required reading. 

Thiele also told CNN that the book would remain in circulation, "while we work through the process to determine if the title should remain in our libraries."

In other districts, like the Canutillo Independent School District in Texas, the book was removed from circulation while it’s under a review that was prompted by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas).


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Published on Nov 17, 2021