Tag Archives: “Gender Queer”

Committee Votes Unanimously: Retain 3 Challenged Books

Tara McLaughlin read 3 books from the Staples High School library, and did not like them.

Ten other people read the same books, and came to very different conclusions.

The group — the Westport Superintendent’s Review Committee — spent 2 hours yesterday discussing McLaughlin’s request to remove 3 LGBTQ-themed books from the library.

The meeting — attended by about 50 residents, at Town Hall — was part of a 9-step process involving challenges to materials in the Westport public schools. It followed last month’s session, at which McLaughlin spent an hour outlining her objections to “Flamer,” “Gender Queer” and “This Book is Gay.”

Two were in a library display of the most challenged books of 2022. The display is part of a national “Banned Books” week, recognized by the American Library Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Education Association and PEN America.

The committee includes assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono; representatives of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions; 3 Staples faculty members; a library media specialist, and 3 community members. It is led by former Board of Education chair Elaine Whitney.

Committee members (from left): Jaime Bairaktaris, Kelly Zatorsky, Sivan Hong, David Willick, Elaine Whitney, Carol Kaye, Kelly Shamas, Christine Cincotta, Anthony Buono, Ann Neary. (Photo/Brian McGunigle)

The books McLaughlin objected to “are in every school library in Fairfield County, without exception,” Buono said.

The committee discussed each book separately. The first was “Flamer,” a graphic (as in “illustrated”) novel based on author/artist Mike Curato’s own experiences.

Committee member Sivan Hong checked reviews. At least 100 said, “This book saved my life.”

Other members noted, “It’s a universal theme for everyone, about hope.” “It’s intensely realistic.” “The masturbation scene (which McLaughlin cited) is an insignificant part of the book.” “If we ban a book because of bad language, we’d get rid of half of the Advanced Placement list.”

Staples social studies teacher Carol Kaye said of “Flamer”‘s message: “there’s light at the end of the tunnel. This is a memoir. If a book is labeled ‘vile, vulgar, smutty,’ then that’s how the author is labeled. The story is important to tell. If a tiny percentage of a book makes people feel uncomfortable, that’s no reason to ban it.”

After 40 minutes, the committee voted 10-0 to retain the book in the school library.

Each committee member had copies of all 3 books being discussed — and read them all. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Next was “Gender Queer,” Maia Kobabe’s illustrated autobiography about growing up non-binary and asexual. “The images are even more powerful than the words,” said Sivan Hong. a community member on the committee.

Others added, “There is nothing ‘vile’ or ‘vulgar’ about figuring out one’s identity.” “This tackles ignorance in a way that enables empathy and perspective.”

Several members said that McLaughlin’s complaints took small sections of the book out of context.

Assistant superintendent Buono said “Gender Queer” taught him “a lot about the challenges a person like this goes through. Sixteen years ago, as a principal, I had my first trans student. I wish I had read this before then. I would have had a better reaction than I did.”

After 30 minutes of discussion, the vote was 10-0 to retain the book.

There was no public comment at yesterday’s meeting. However, several attendees brought signs. (Photo/Dan Woog)

“This Book is Gay” has been in the Staples library since 2015. A non-fiction exploration of sexuality and growing up LGBTQ, it includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrum.

McLaughlin objected to the book’s descriptions of apps used to find sexual partners, and sexual activity by minors.

However, Shamas said, “It has plenty of warnings about apps, and encourages safe sex. It aligns with the information we teach in health class.”

Community member Jaime Bairaktaris noted, “These kids know about those apps. If we don’t talk about them, they won’t know the downsides.”

Kaye said the book tells readers, “Don’t read a guidebook about life; go out and experience it.” That advice “might be scary to some people.”

Before voting on “This Book is So Gay,” the discussion returned to all 3 books.

Removing them, Kaye suggested, would “stigmatize the LGBTQ population. It would say, ‘You’re not welcome in this library.’

“It’s hard enough being a teenager today. To have adults around you saying you’re not welcome could be devastating.”

Buono concluded, “There is a district-wide effort — and in my own career too — to make all kids feel like they’re valued, important and belong here.”

The committee then voted 10-0 to keep “This Book is So Gay” in the library.

The committee now forwards its report to superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice. He will then make a recommendation about the books to the Board of Education.

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Large Crowd Hears Staples Book Removal Request

An overflow crowd filled a small Town Hall meeting room yesterday afternoon.

They were there for a public session of superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice’s ad hoc committee to review a parent’s challenge to 3 books in the Staples High library.

Tara McLaughlin — the mother of 2 Staples students and a kindergartener — sought the removal of “Gender Queer,” “This Book is Gay” and “Flamer.” Her initial complaint included other books, but she is focusing now on those 3.

The 3 challenged books.

McLaughlin — a 15-year Westport resident who moved here in large part, she said, because of the town’s excellent schools — had an hour to present her case before the special committee. It includes assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono; representatives of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions; 3 Staples faculty members; a library media specialist, and 3 community members. The meeting was led by former Board of Education chair Elaine Whitney.

The Westport Public Schools’ Superintendent’s Review Committee begins work.

Referencing her own middle and high school days, when she sat in homeroom behind 2 boys who repeatedly passed explicit material back and forth, McLaughlin said her goal was to prevent other students from undergoing a similar experience.

She said, “I can control what my children see. I’m their guide, to launch them into society to the best of my ability. My job is to protect them. I expect the school system to do the same, to the same standards. I’m here for every child.”

McLaughlin — who said “It sucks to be here, but I really believe in this” — spent much of her time reading from the 3 books. She cited “vulgarity” and “pornography”; questioned the books’ educational value, and asked how the books fit with the school district’s “acceptable use” policy for written materials and electronic devices.

Tara McLaughlin

“I 100 percent support the LGBTQ+ community,” McLaughlin said. “But there are a lot of conservative Christians, conservative Jewish people and Muslims here (in Westport) who have expectations for what kids will see in the Staples library.”

McLaughlin noted that she did not object to the books being part of the Westport Library collection.

Calling one of the books “a road map to meet a pedophile,” she said that it “perpetuates stereotypes of all gay men as promiscuous.”

Each member of the committee had copies of the 3 books. They followed along, as McLaughlin read aloud a number of “vulgar” and “pornographic” passages.

Staples principal Stafford Thomas then described the school’s book selection process. He noted regional differences: In Florida and Texas, 1,400 titles are banned from school libraries. In California and New York, the numbers are 12 and 22 respectively. No books have been banned from school libraries in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas.

Referencing a Supreme Court decision, Thomas said, “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.”

He added that the display that triggered McLaughlin’s complaint was a 17-year tradition at Staples. No one in the building, he said, objected to this year’s books.

(“Banned books” is a misnomer. The display actually shows the previous year’s “most challenged” books, as compiled by the American Library Association.)

Staples library media specialists Jen Cirino and Nicole Moeller provided background on how books are selected for inclusion on the shelves, and in the display.

All 3 earned very positive reviews in educational and library journals, they said, including a Nutmeg Award from the Connecticut Library Association and Connecticut Association of School Librarians.

Staples High School library media specialists Nicole Moeller (left) and Jen Cirino. (All photos/Dan Woog)

The final 20 minutes of the nearly 2-hour meeting included questions from committee members.

Staples English teacher Ann Neary asked McLaughlin how she defined “safe space.”

“I was harassed from 7th to 12th grade,” she responded. “I still carry that. Harassment would not be allowed in the workplace, and it should not be allowed in a school.”

Community member Sivan Hong wondered why McLaughlin had taken other books off her list of those she wants removed.

“I was looking for low-hanging fruit,” she said. “These 3 have to go. They’re horrendous. But the rest should go too.

“I’m doing this out of service to the children in our schools. I wish someone had done that for me.”

Buono asked why McLaughlin would not object to the 3 books being in the Westport Library.

“They’re different standards,” she replied. “There are kids as young as 13 at Staples. Any book there is an explicit endorsement of it.”

McLaughlin concluded with an analogy she’d used earlier. “Even if the rest of ‘Finding Nemo’ is great, but there’s a sex scene in the middle, we don’t show it to 1st graders. If the whole book isn’t good, don’t use it.”

The ad hoc committee will continue its work. Two more meetings will be scheduled, at which the public can speak,

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