Updated: Mar 28
Republican Women of Baltimore County would like to thank Michael Ruby, editor and writer for The Villager, for his attention to the unacceptable retainment of obscene and pornographic books by the Baltimore County School system. Ruby chronicles the club’s latest efforts to safeguard students by removingLawn Boy by Jonathan Evison from school libraries. On November 19, 2022, RWBC sent a letter to BCPS to remove this book and other books with obscene sexual content or face fines and imprisonment.
Ruby also covered RWBC’s effort to remove Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. After a ten-month delay, on December 2, 2022, RWBC members got a response to BCPS Form 6002 (“Citizen’s Review of Instructional Materials”) from Dr. Mary McComas, Chief Academic Officer of the BCPS Division of Curriculum and Instruction. McComas claims Gender Queer is in “two BCPS high schools,” but fails to mention which two. She also stated she “referred this matter to a committee… comprised of a parent, educators, central office and administrative staff.” This shadow committee recommended Gender Queer stay in the two schools’ libraries, citing Baltimore County diversity and equity Board policies (0100, 0200, 6200). Pornography is not a diverse and equitable subject and should not be exposed to children.
RWBC maintains that these books are not suitable to be in public school libraries. We remain undeterred in our effort to protect the students of this community.
The article appeared in the December 2022 issue of The Villager News and is used with permission of the publisher. GOP Groups Are Targeting “Obscene” Book in Schools by Michael Ruby Two local Republican groups once again are calling upon the Baltimore County public school system to remove a book from high school libraries they say contains “obscene sexual content” which violates state obscenity laws. In a letter dated November 19, members of the Republican Women of Baltimore County — with leaders from the Patriot Club of America joining them in this latest effort — are requesting that school officials remove Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison, from local high school libraries because the novel contains multiple passages which explicitly depicts illicit sex between two male minors, thereby flouting Maryland’s obscenity laws. The Villager has confirmed that Lawn Boy is included in the library’s collection of books at Hereford High School. The Republican leaders say they suspect it is available at other local high schools, too, because Lawn Boy is in the Baltimore County Public Library system which mirrors the educational selection and procurement process. The groups’ members say they have not been able to check the stacks at other area schools. The Baltimore County public library system has six copies of Lawn Boy in its collection available to card-carrying citizens, according to its inventory on the BCPL web site. Breaking the law The two groups called for removal of the book from schools by December 1. If their demand is not met, the leaders said in separate interviews that they will begin encouraging county law enforcement officials to take necessary actions which could result in fines, imprisonment or both for school board members and administrators who approved Lawn Boy for placement on high school library shelves. In the letter, the groups’ leaders said books like Lawn Boy “(and similar books with obscene sexual content)” that “have seeped into our schools’ libraries” as a result of the “sexualization of our children in public schools” and state-sanctioned curricula that are “inappropriate gender identification training” beginning with pre-kindergarteners. However, the request to remove the book is not a subjective statement about LGBTQ values, sexual orientation or book banning, contended the members of the RWBC and PCA. The issue, they insisted, is about breaking the law. ‘No redeeming value’ Lawn Boy is being targeted by the two groups, they say, because it contains the word “f**k” (which is intentionally not spelled out in the letter) on one-third of the book’s 317 pages and includes a total of 18 “sexually inappropriate passages that clearly violate Maryland’s law regarding the distribution of obscene materials,” continued the letter signed by Republican Women of Baltimore County (RWBC) President Jolie McShane and Patriot Club of [America] (PCA) President Jeffry K. McDonald. “Who thinks this is appropriate for school-age children?” asked the signers of the letter. McDonald added in a later interview that the book has “no redeeming value” and should be removed immediately. “How is this preparing our children to be critical thinkers and to be prepared with life skills?” asked the Phoenix resident. ‘Take action’ The six-page letter, sent to Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Mary McComas, is signed by 92 members of RWBC who attended the organization’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on November 19. Copies of the letter also were sent to the Baltimore County school board, County Executive, County Council members, State’s Attorney and Sheriff, among others. “We’re sending the letter to everyone, hoping someone will take notice and take action,” said RWBC President McShane, a Reisterstown resident, in an interview. Lawn Boy is the second book in the past year RWBC has demanded be removed from school library shelves for violating state laws. A similar request was made via a January 15 letter saying the graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, was in violation of state pornography laws for its explicit illustrations of minors engaging in oral sex, masturbating and using erotic toys. Prescribed procedure That request by RWBC members to remove Gender Queer should have triggered a prescribed procedure for convening a committee of BCPS officials who would conduct a formal review of the instructional materials in question with a preliminary response promulgated within 30 calendar days. More than ten months later, the results of that formal review were sent via email to members of the RWBC by BCPS Chief Academic Officer McComas. In the four-page letter dated November 29 but emailed on December 2, McComas said she accepted the committee’s recommendation that Baltimore County’s public school system should “retain Gender Queer,” saying “that removing this memoir from high school libraries would create a less LGBTQ+ supportive school environment.” McComas noted that Gender Queer is not being taught or integrated into any curriculum and that only two local high school libraries — Hereford and Perry Hall — have a copy in their collections. She added the caveat that, because the memoir is not part of any curriculum, parents can submit a letter to their high school librarian saying their student is not permitted to check out Gender Queer. (For more on how McComas reached her decision, see related story on page xx.) That’s assuming that a parent knows a book like Gender Queer, Lawn Boy and others are part of the library’s collection, said PCA President McDonald, raising another reason for the requested removals. “I don’t think a vast majority of Baltimore County citizens know the book exists or is in our school and public libraries,” he said. “If they did, we wouldn’t have to ask that [these books] be removed because they violate state laws. Parents wouldn’t allow it.” RWBC President McShane called McComas’s letter “not a surprising response” which contends “pornography is just fine to support LGBTQ+ youth who may otherwise commit suicide. “What a bunch of BS,” added McShane. “This is a lame response to our criminal charges.” Most challenged books In contrast to Gender Queer: A Memoir, Lawn Boy is the semi-autobiographical novel about a young bi-racial gay male from a working-class family trying to find a job while struggling with racism, micro-aggressions, poverty and class. A Washington Post review said the book was “spiked with angst and anger but also full of humor and lots of hope.” However, another reviewer in The Spring Magazine called the book “disgusting and disturbing” with the gay romance aspect – used in defense of calls to ban the novel from schools — “not important to this book at all.” The coming-of-age novel has received top marks from some critics and readers but also challenges from some parents nationally who object to the book being in schools and libraries because it contains profanity and sexually explicit scenes. Many parents in protests across America said they consider the novel inappropriate for younger readers due to its LGBTQ themes. During 2021, a year when there was an unanticipated increase in the number of books that have been banned or challenged by parents and political groups, Lawn Boy was number two on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list. Call to action RWBC members said they decided not to wait for a response from BCPS on the Gender Queer review request before initiating their next call to action. So the signatories of the November 19 letter about Lawn Boypreemptively are making their case regarding obscenity by including samples of what they say are “sexually explicit and inappropriate passages” in the book which violate Maryland Code § 11-203 Sale or display of obscene item to minors. Most of the examples provided in the letter include passages (and page numbers where they appear) specifically describing the touching, fondling or sucking by a male of another male character’s “d**k,” which is intentionally not spelled out in the RWBC letter. Maryland law, as the letter points out, states that “a person may not willfully or knowingly display or exhibit to a minor an item which is principally made of an obscene description or depiction of illicit sex.” Illicit sexual conduct refers to a sexual act with a minor involving direct contact with either person’s genitals, according to many legal dictionaries. ‘Immediate removal’ Specifically, Maryland Code § 11-203 (b)1.i. prohibits a person from willfully or knowingly displaying or exhibiting to a minor “content of which is principally made up of an obscene description of illicit sex” or, as stated in Md. Code § 11-203 (b).2., “distributing to a minor an item the cover or content of which is principally made up of an obscene description or depiction of illicit sex; or sexual conduct.” “The undersigned Baltimore County citizens request immediate removal of this book (and similar books with obscene sexual content) from the Baltimore County public schools by December 1, 2022,” concluded the letter regarding Lawn Boy. If the book is not removed, the letter states that fines and imprisonment may be imposed on the BCPS Board of Education members and the system’s Library Media Programs Coordinator because they approved Lawn Boy for distribution and display in high school libraries. Maryland law allows for imprisonment not to exceed one year or a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both, for a first violation, if found guilty. Subsequent penalties allow for punishment not exceeding three years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both, per violation. Take legal action While waiting for a response from BCPS, the RWBC leadership met with Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger last spring to discuss whether Gender Queer violated the state’s pornography laws and charges should be filed. Shellenberger, who recently was elected to a fifth four-year term as the county’s top prosecutor, decided that because Gender Queer was a graphic novel, the “sketches” did not rise to the level of pornography required by Maryland law so charges would not be forthcoming. “I did show it to the County Executive and told him this is what is in our school libraries,” said Shellenberger. As a result of Shellenberger’s Gender Queer decision, RWBC President McShane said the group this time decided to target Lawn Boy for its narrative depictions of illicit sex acts which may make it more susceptible to violating Maryland’s obscenity laws and allow the local state’s attorney to take legal action against the members of the school board which could eventually get the book removed at least from school libraries. The Baltimore County public library system has 11 copies of Gender Queer, according to the collections inventory on the BCPL web site. No effort has been made by the Republican groups to remove any other books they may consider offensive from the public library system; instead, they are waiting to see if county elected or law enforcement officials consider Lawn Boy in violation of state obscenity laws. Obscenity threshold Clearing the obscenity law threshold with Lawn Boy should be easier than that for pornography sought under Gender Queer, contended McShane. Plus, there is another difference with this recent request: school board member-elect Margaret Litz Domanowski, who represents the Third Council District following her installation December 5 on the governing panel, signed the RWBC’s November 19 letter asking for the removal of Lawn Boy. Domanowski, a member of RWBC, said she signed the letter “as a parent of children in the public school system.” (Any one running for the Baltimore County school board is listed as a non-partisan candidate.) The Phoenix resident and mother of three school-age children admitted to having read Lawn Boy but not Gender Queer. Also, Domanowski said she was not involved in the earlier RWBC action concerning Gender Queer. “I don’t understand why any book that uses [the f-word] 104 times is included in our schools,” she said about Lawn Boy. “It’s not appropriate to be in any public school library. And I’m not sure when any book is being considered for our schools why we are not erring on the side of caution.” ’Need our attention’ Having just been installed on the school board, Domanowski said she is still learning the process for approving book selections and the procedure for handling requests to review the appropriateness of instructional materials. But she is critical of the more than ten-month-long lack of response from BCPS administrators to RWBC’s January 15 request to remove Gender Queer from library shelves. “I’d like to know why parents’ concerns are not being addressed,” she said in an interview that took place before McComas’s decision had been made public. “There are a lot of things that need our attention and this is one of them.” RWBC is a politically-active group of conservative women whose mission is to develop an informed, active and effective membership. The group also encourages the effectiveness of women in the cause of good government and Informing the public through political education and activity, according to the group’s web site. Members are registered Republican women who are residents of Maryland. The PCA is an locally-based action-oriented Republican group which “helps to educate and enlighten the community on current events, our children’s education, law enforcement, election integrity, etc.,” according to the group’s web site. Founded just two short years ago, the group’s membership roles have grown to more than 2,000 people who consider themselves to be “patriotic activists.” Why BCPS Decided to Retain Gender Queer More than ten months ago, in a letter dated January 15, 2022, members of the Republican Women of Baltimore County (RWBC) requested Baltimore County public education officials remove the book Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, from high school library shelves, saying it violated Maryland pornography laws with its explicit illustrations of minors engaging in oral sex, masturbating and using erotic toys. Customarily, any request to review the appropriateness of BCPS instructional material is ushured into a specific process, a standard procedure that is initiated only with the submission of a “Citizen’s Review of Instructional Materials” form that is available to any parent or county resident, according to Communications Specialist Charles Herndon, spokesperson for the Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) system. Some details of the review process were mentioned in a February 11 letter to the RWBC members from BCPS Chief Academic Officer Mary McComas who acknowledged receiving their request. McComas stated a selection committee would be convened to review the request and “provid[e] a recommendation for a response to the concerns raised within 30 calendar days of reconvening,” according to her letter to RWBC President Jolie McShane. That recommendation eventually is forwarded to the chief academic officer who then sends a written response to the “originator” of the review request. There are no time limits governing the entire process. ‘Key moments’ In a five-page letter dated November 29 to RWBC and made public on December 2, McComas said the committee — comprised of a parent, educators, central office and administrative staff — recommended retaining what she characterized as “a biographical, graphic memoir” sharing the author’s “experience of growing up as a non-gender-conforming person.” McComas said she reviewed the RWBC request with certain school board policies in mind, including those that “foster the success of every student…by creating and maintaining environments that are safe, diverse and inclusive” (Policy 0100) and those that “respect the worth of all individuals, value diversity and vigorously address equity issues,” (Policy 0200). After first reading some book reviews and learning about the awards won by the memoir, McComas said she read Gender Queer in its entirety, admitting that a few of the illustrations “are startling when viewed in isolation.” But when “read in context as a part of the comprehensive memoir, the illustrations portray key moments in the main character’s personal discernment and journey,” said McComas. Not required reading Then McComas said she “took into consideration social-emotional data” which concluded suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth has increased over the past three years. Also, data shows there is a 50 percent decrease of suicide attempts where there is “a high social support for LGBTQ+ youth.” So “after careful consideration,” continued McComas, she accepted the committee’s recommendation to retain Gender Queer believing that removal “would create a less LBTQ+ supportive school environment.” “A more inclusive school environment is aligned with [School] Board Policies,” she concluded. Gender Queer is not part of the BCPS curriculum and is not required reading for any BCPS student, added McComas, who included the caveat that any parent may submit a letter to a high school librarian indicating that their student is not permitted to check out Gender Queer. Raises questions RWBC President McShane called McComas’s letter “not a surprising response” which contends “pornography is just fine to support LGBTQ+ youth who may otherwise commit suicide.” “What a bunch of BS,” added McShane, in an interview after getting the much-anticipated and long-delayed response to the group’s requested review. McShane said the reasoning for retention doesn’t make sense and raises many questions, including: If Gender Queer helps create a supportive school environment, then why is the book in only two highs schools and not all of the system’s 38 high schools? If Gender Queer is not considered instructional material and not part of any curriculum, then shouldn’t the review be about how books are selected for inclusion in school library catalogues? And why wasn’t violation of Maryland pornography laws, the only reason raised by RWBC for removing the book, ever part of the review process? “This is a lame response to our criminal charges,” said McShane. Communications Specialist Charles Herndon, spokesperson for the Baltimore County public school system, on December 2 declined to answer any questions concerning the decision to retain Gender Queer, saying only, “The letter will stand as our full response to this issue.” — Michael Ruby