Parents trying to ban books from schools is a bona fide epidemic—whether it’s for promoting “critical race theory”, which usually in this case means discussing race and racism, or for being “pornographic” or “pedophilic,” which usually in this case means discussing trans, gender non-conforming, and gay identities. This isn’t new; but a new request has surfaced, according to the Kitsap Sun. In Kitsap, Washington, following the removal of Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir from a high school library, a parent asked that school librarians and other school officials be criminally prosecuted for “distributing obscene material,” as he found the book “graphic pornography to include pedophilia.”
After initially receiving a complaint about Gender Queer, Olympic High School librarians determined the book had not been properly reviewed, and the book (of which there was only one copy in the district) was removed the next day due to “sexually explicit” images. (Kobabe’s memoir is about discovering eir nonbinary identity, and includes discussion of sex, sexual identity, puberty, and masturbation from the perspective of a young adult.) But for Steve Adams, who said his two children attend school in the Central Kitsap School District, that wasn’t enough: he wrote to Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright requesting librarians and school officials face criminal charges. “The fact that [Gender Queer] was removed does not solve the matter. If anything, it makes the crime worse,” wrote Adams in an email to Enright, obtained by the Kitsap Sun. “That demonstrates covering up the crime, obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence.” Adams told the Sun he wrote to Enright after a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy found no crime had been committed.
Enright eventually declined to file charges, noting that Gender Queer does not meet the criteria that defines obscene material under state law. He reviewed two statutes that could possibly apply and had three other senior attorneys review the material; finally, he wrote to Adams: “The statute requires that the photographs/images must be used for the sole purpose of ‘sexual stimulation of the viewer.’ While I would respect arguments to the contrary, the intent of the book does not appear to be solely for ‘sexual stimulation.’”
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Kitsap Sun that other states have seen attempts to have librarians prosecuted, and though none have resulted in prosecutors filing charges yet, these attempts can have a chilling effect on intellectual and artistic freedom. If librarians know they can be prosecuted for including controversial books in their stacks, they will be less likely to purchase said books—and sales of those books will be tamped down. Caldwell-Stone noted that the ALA has recently seen an increase in attempts to ban LGBTQ-themed books, as well as books by Black authors discussing racism.