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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Lake City Council rejects effort to ban ‘Gender Queer’ from library

The Liberty Lake City Council considered a request May 3 to ban the book “Gender Queer” from the Liberty Lake Municipal Library.  (AP Photo)

An award-winning book that some Liberty Lake City Council members view as inappropriate for children will remain on the city library’s shelf.

The council voted 4-2 to uphold the Liberty Lake Library Board of Trustees’ decision to retain the book after lengthy discussion by the council and members of the public Tuesday night.

Councilmembers Tom Sahlberg, Jamie Baird, Phil Folyer and Annie Kurtz voted in favor of the board’s decision. Chris Cargill and Wendy Van Orman voted against.

Many councilmembers expressed their displeasure with the book, “Gender Queer,” but ultimately felt it aligned with library policy. It is a graphic novel in which author Maia Kobabe writes and draws what it means to be asexual and nonbinary.

The book was published in 2019 and ordered by the Liberty Lake Municipal Library in 2020.

Baird said she found the book “reprehensible” and hates that today’s culture is “hell-bent” on stripping children of their innocence.

“I would never have a child in my care read the book,” she said.

But, she said, it is every parent’s or guardian’s duty to monitor what their children read or check out at the library – not the government’s or the librarian’s job.

Kurtz said she was uncomfortable reading the book but did not believe it was the council’s job to hide it from the public.

Sahlberg said he would not want the book in his home, but like Kurtz, did not believe in censuring the book and believed most Liberty Lake residents wanted to uphold the library board’s decision to keep the book.

The effort in Liberty Lake mirrors a national trend.

The American Library Association reports that book-banning efforts grew in 2021 to their highest levels in 20 years.

“Gender Queer” is the book that has drawn the most ire.

Locally, the book caught the attention of Erin Zasada of Liberty Lake. She acknowledged she did not read the book in its entirety, but described it as pornographic, pointing to what she referred to as graphic pictures depicting oral sex.

Interim director of the Liberty Lake library, Joanne Percy, responded last December to Zasada’s request to pull the book.

She noted the book is a well-reviewed title and an award winner. She also said the book is housed in the adult section of the library, in her response rejecting Zasada’s response.

Zasada appealed the decision to keep the book and pointed out that an award the book won was from the School Library Journal, which is focused on literature for children.

The book has won several awards, including the Alex Award from the American Library Association.

In her appeal, Zasada asked library trustees to spend five minutes with the book.

“If you can each make a public statement that this book is not pornographic in nature and deserves to remain on the shelves of our public library, then I guess my perception of pornography is way off,” she wrote to the library board. “I am fighting for the kids who don’t have parents protecting them, educating them in an age-appropriate way about the pervasiveness of our country’s hyper sex-focused and ‘sexual identity culture.’ ”

Zasada told the council Tuesday night that her appeal, which the library board rejected, was not an attack on the LGBTQ community but a fight against sexually explicit conduct.

Eight area residents, including Zasada, expressed differing views on the topic during the public comment period.

One woman called banning books “fascism” and suggested that it will not stop children from finding information in the book elsewhere.

Another woman said libraries are a place to explore different life experiences and cultures, and that no one is asking that children or adults check the book out.

“Just because it’s offensive to someone, it’s not grounds to have it removed,” she said.

One man said images in the book are inappropriate for a youth audience and called for removing the book from the library or at least limiting who can check it out.

Fifteen residents submitted written comments about the book with no indication of their position on the book’s status at the library.

Folyer said he did not want to ban the book from the library but took issue with the fact the book was in the adult section of the library even though it is directed at children. Amazon lists the reading age as 18 years and older.

Van Orman said the book should not be checked out to people under 18 years old.

Cargill also preferred a policy that prevented children from checking the book out.

“I don’t like this issue at all,” Cargill said. “I think it takes away from a lot of the togetherness we have as a community and causes a lot of division.”

While he disagreed with the text in the book, his issue was the “disgusting” illustrations.

Cargill said people would be shocked to know the book was at the library if they saw the book’s pictures. He also thought the book is targeted at teenagers instead of adults.

Mayor Cris Kaminskas said the item was difficult for her because she is a conservative Christian with a transgender nephew. Ultimately, she said it was the council’s job to determine whether the selection of the book followed library policy, which Kaminskas said it did.

“Nobody is forcing any child to read this book,” Kaminskas said.

The New York Times described the book as a memoir by the author, who explores questions “surrounding sexuality and gender identity and the process of coming out as gender nonconforming.”

Many of the arguments to ban the book point to references to masturbation and, as the Times reported “an illustration based on an erotic image of an older man and a boy depicted on a Greek urn.”

The author has said that the memoir generates controversy because it discusses gender fluidity.

Spokane author Chris Crutcher knows a thing or two about book banning. Of the 15 books he has written, 13 have been banned.

“I’ve always said it’s never been my intention but it’s never been my intention not to get banned,” Crutcher said.

Crutcher spent several years working as a therapist for people who sustained child abuse and neglect. He also taught at an alternative school for 10 years.

“A lot of my stories come out of those experiences,” he said.

His books make people uncomfortable, but they’re true, Crutcher said.

“Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” and “Whale Talk” are two of his most prominent books that have been banned but are also his bestsellers. He said his books have been seldom banned from public libraries but instead have been eliminated from schools’ curriculum or taken off a school’s voluntary reading list.

Crutcher said he tries to give children as strong a voice as possible because a child almost never wants a book banned.

“In general, I don’t know anybody who is smart enough to figure out which books are so called ‘harmful,’ ” he said.

Crutcher said books about minorities and LGBTQ people are those children’s best friends.

“When you ban the book, you ban the kid,” he said.

Crutcher said he received emails from readers saying his book, “Ironman,” which includes a gay teacher as a character, saved their life.

“They read about themselves and felt legitimate for the time they read the book,” he said.