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Hereford HS Book May Be Child Porn

As appeared in the February 2022 issue of the Villager:

Hereford HS Book May Be Child Porn by Michael Ruby Baltimore County school board members are being threatened with charges of illegal possession and distribution of child pornography unless they immediately remove a book found in at least two area high school libraries that some local citizens say includes “graphically shocking” images that may be in violation of state laws.

In a letter dated January 15, 2022, members of the Republican Women of Baltimore County, a politically-active group of conservative women, are asking the governing body for the 25th largest public school system in the nation to remove the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, which the group’s members say contains images that not only are “graphically shocking” but also “is promoting child pornography.” Copies of “Gender Queer” have been found in the libraries at Hereford High School and Perry Hall High School by the group’s members who said they are still checking the stacks at other area schools. The book is written in a graphic novel format and includes explicit illustrations of minors engaging in oral sex, masturbating and using erotic toys. Fines and imprisonment Because the Baltimore County school board members and Library Media Programs Coordinator Amanda Lanza approved the book for distribution, according to the letter, they could be subject to fines and imprisonment under Maryland’s laws which prohibit the possession and distribution of child pornography. Anyone knowingly promoting or distributing any material depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct is subject to 10 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine for the first offense and up to 20 years and a $50,000 fine for each subsequent violation, according to Maryland law.

The letter from the Republican Women is another in a long line of protests by parents across the country claiming that “Gender Queer” is not only offensive but pornographic and should be removed from libraries because it violates decency laws that are meant to protect children.

While some school systems have deleted the book from their libraries permanently, others have reinstated the book after review committees determined it was not pornographic and agreed with LGBTQ advocates that the book’s content sends a strong message of support and inclusion that is important to young people. Removal by Jan. 31 Republican Women of Baltimore County (RWBC) President Jolie McShane, along with about 45 county citizens who signed the letter, called upon the local school board members to voluntarily remove the book by January 31, 2022, or face legal repercussions. Though no specific legal action is mentioned in the letter, McShane proceeds to spell out what constitutes child pornography and the consequences of possession or distribution as dictated by state statutes.

“We shouldn’t have pornography in schools,” said McShane in a separate interview. “We are hoping the superintendent will voluntarily remove this, and similar books, so no further action is needed.”

Communications Specialist Charles Herndon, spokesperson for the Baltimore County public school system, said the letter has been received and a response is being sent. In line with the school system’s policy, a Citizen’s Review of Instructional Materials form is being forward to the group to be completed, returned and entered into the prescribed review process, the standard procedure that is available to any citizen.

“We have policies and procedures that govern the selection of materials for schools,” said Herndon. “And there is a way for any stakeholder to provide feedback about any [school] materials.”

Herndon added “it’s quite uncommon” for the school system to receive a feedback form. Attempts to contact Amanda Lanza were unsuccessful. ‘Be aware of’ In addition to the two-page letter calling for removal of the book, RWBC President McShane included an additional two pages containing the 45 signatures from county citizens — mostly members of the political group — supporting the request. Also included was a photocopy of a page lifted from the “Gender Queer” graphic novel showing two illustrated panels of minors unmistakably engaging in oral sex, what the RWBC president captioned as a “sexually graphic scene from the book…available in BCPS libraries.”

McShane said she will “gladly” fill out the necessary form and begin the review process. “We sent the letter letting them know they may be in violation of the law,” said McShane. “It is something we wanted them to be aware of, that they may be guilty of distributing child pornography.”

According to McShane, copies of “Gender Queer” have been found in the libraries at Hereford High School and Perry Hall High School. She admitted the collections at other high school libraries have not been visited independently to corroborate whether the book is on their shelves, too. Few banned Also, 11 copies of “Gender Queer” are available to local citizens through the Baltimore County public library system, according to the collections inventory on the BCPL web site. The Baltimore County Public Library system has a formalized system of review, discussion and selection by its Collection Development department before any book is included in its inventory and made available to the public, according to BCPL staffers. This same group reviews any “concerns” that may be expressed by a parent and/or borrower regarding any item in the system. Any material flagged is read thoroughly, reviews by outside sources are scrutinized and the opinions of the system’s Collection Development many ‘selectors’ are solicited.

Though BCPL gets more than 7,000 suggestions of titles to purchase every year from users, Collection Development Manager Jamie Watson reported to the library system’s Board of Trustees in October 2021 that in her 11 years working for the local library system, she gets about seven “concerns” filed each year with few, if any, materials actually being banned. Watson was unavailable to discuss recently why “Gender Queer” was selected for inclusion in the public library system. ‘Seeped into our schools” In the recent letter to the school board members, McShane said that books like “Gender Queer” “have seeped into our schools’ libraries” because of efforts to teach a curriculum that espouses critical race theory which she said is called by local educators as “social and emotional learning.”

As a result, McShane said her group also is targeting other books, which she claims are all available in the Baltimore County public school system, that it deems inappropriate for young readers. Those books, which are not graphic novels, include: “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison; “Lawn Boy Returns,” by Jonathan Evison, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson; and, “Born a Crime,” by Trevor Noah.

McShane said while these other books contain offensive material her group does not consider appropriate for teenage students, only the illustrations in the ‘Gender Queer” book rise to the level of child pornography and may violate Maryland laws. “That’s the worst one,” said McShane, of the graphic novel. “We thought we’d start at the top and let the school board members decide if they want to be arrested.” Latest ripple The RWBC letter to the Baltimore County school board is the latest ripple in a tsunami of protests against the “Gender Queer” by parents in at least 11 states across America including Iowa, Texas, Florida, Virginia, and even Howard County, Maryland, as recently as last fall. Parents are complaining to state education officials and local school boards asking that this and other offending books be removed because the texts are inappropriate due to their sexually explicit content.

Copies of the book ‘Gender Queer” were burned at a Fairfax County, Va., protest and, subsequently, removed from schools while under review. The book was later restored to local school library shelves after two committees found the novel “neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.”

In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott in November called on his state’s school boards to remove the book which he described as “pornography.” In Chicago, attendees at a school board meeting held up “No Porn” signs while others defended the book saying it sends a strong message of support and inclusion that is important to young people.

And South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster called for rectifying state educational policies that allowed such “sexually explicit and obscene images…to be introduced in our state’s schools.” He added that aside from being “deeply disturbing and manifestly inappropriate,” it is likely illegal under South Carolina law and was being referred to the state’s law enforcement division “for further evaluation.” Frank accounts One of the most banned books in America, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” was the 2020 winner of an Alex Award which spotlights books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, a 2020 Stonewall Book Award winner which honors LGBTQ works, and a nominee for a 2020 Ignatz Award in the Outstanding Graphic Novel for Teens category.

Publisher Simon & Schuster describes the book as “an intensely cathartic autobiography charting the author’s journey of self-identity which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, and bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction.”

Author Kobabe has said the book’s frank accounts are “integral” to showing readers an experience growing up outside of gender and heterosexual norms, adding that “we need to reduce the shame of sex among teenagers.” Challenges against books LGBTQ advocates and others opposing the removal of “Gender Queer” from schools call efforts to ban the book homophobic while the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom reports that challenges against books with LGBTQ and race-related content have seen a “chilling” uptick recently.

But McShane said RWBC members say they have concluded some of the illustrations in the book have no educational benefit and, instead, they are working to prevent child pornography from infiltrating local school libraries.

In addition to the graphic illustrations of oral sex and masturbation involving children, “Gender Queer” also includes a drawing resembling ancient Greek art showing a bearded man fondling the genitalia of a boy, further advancing the RWBC group’s contention it qualifies as child pornography and should be removed.

The issue, insisted McShane, is not one of sexual orientation but of breaking the law.


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