'Gender Queer' book causes controversy in suburban Chicago high schools
ANTIOCH, Ill. - Antioch public school parents are outraged over a controversial book in two high school libraries.
"This author is an adult and she is talking to impressionable, underage children. So that's where our concern stems from," said parent Kate Gilman.
Parents describe the book "Gender Queer" as pornographic. The District 117 school board, which represents Antioch Community High School and Lakes Community High School, disagrees.
First they sided with parents and placed the book behind the circulation desk and in a counselor’s office, according to parents. But after public pressure from outsiders, the parents say the board moved the book back into circulation.
"They are depicting masturbation, oral sex, sex toys, having sex with someone after knowing them for 45 minutes and meeting them on a dating app," said Gilman.
The book illustrates author Maia Kobabe’s gender journey and eventual discovery that Kobabe is non-binary and asexual. It details her young life in a comic book style.
"Telling women not to get a PAP smear because of the pain and taking opioids to get over the pain of a PAP smear. You're putting fear into 13-year-olds that have no idea what that is like. Why is this book in the school?" said parent Carmen Mereniuc.
"Gender Queer" topped the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in 2021. The book is set to be re-issued in May.
The district’s superintendent supported placing the book in circulation, writing in part in a letter to parents, "The book is widely available to students through a variety of other sources…in addition it’s available through loan… through the Antioch Public Library."
He says a school committee reviewed the book and deemed it appropriate.
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"It violates any number of state statutes and Antioch village statutes regarding the presentation of obscene material to minors, but for some reason it's all about being inclusive and being equitable to certain communities," said parent Chris DiLullo.
The American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t see it that way.
"It's a hard line for some parents because they worry about control," said ACLU Communications and Public Policy Director Edwin Yohnka. "I think you have to think about it in that context of allowing others to grow and mature and learn in the way that they think is appropriate and the way that their family believes is an appropriate thing. That's not a decision we leave to a vote."
Meanwhile, parents say they won’t shelve the issue.
"I would love to be able to find an alternative that is an actual good resource for someone going through this," said Mereniuc.
Parents, school officials and lawmakers in 11 states have raised issue with the book since it was published in 2019.