ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The book banning controversy has come to the Piedmont Triad.
The Burlington Times-News reported earlier this week that a group is working to get “obscene” books removed from libraries in the Alamance-Burlington School System. These complaints center around “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and the graphic novel “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe.
Who is involved?
Mamie and Anthony Brooks made the request, according to the Times-News. Mamie Brooks identifies herself as the director of the FACTS Task Force 2.0. The organization’s name is meant to harken to Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson’s F.A.C.T.S. Task Force, described as “seeking to provide support for parents, teachers, and most importantly, students who are willing to stand up for North Carolina’s future by exposing indoctrination in the classroom.”
FACTS 2.0 Task Force can be found on Facebook, a page with a little over 200 followers. The page shares articles that relate to their stated objectives and memes.
According to the Burlington Times-News article, the Brooks’ got the list of books they’ve deemed obscene from the Pavement Education Project. The PEP describes itself as “a nonpartisan initiative to educate North Carolinians on a variety of issues. PEP participants share information so that citizens can make informed decisions about educating their children, caring for their families, and committing to issues in their communities.” Their website has a section titled “The Books” which divides a list of books into “Gender Books” and “Obscene Books.”
What are the books?
While Brooks did not specifically mention LGBTQ+ content, only referring to it as the “obscene books issue,” both books central to the complaint in Alamance County center on LGBTQ+ themes.
“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe, which is a memoir about the author’s journey coming out as nonbinary and asexual, often cited as a good resource for young people struggling with gender or sexuality, or family trying to understand them. The novel deals with a wide range of topics from coming out to pap smears to trauma, and does have some sexual content.
“Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison is a coming of age story about “a young man determined to achieve the American dream of happiness and prosperity — who just so happens to find himself along the way.” The main character, Mike, is gay and the book deals with his struggles around that as well as struggles with poverty and classism. According to the Washington Post, much of the controversy around the books stems from a character, as an adult, remembering a “sexual encounter” he had as a child, with another child, which critics call “pedophilia.”
The group on Friday issued a public statement: “PSA: We are NOT Anti-LGBTQ; we are against indoctrination and sexualization in our Childrens education system.”
The school system’s response
When reached for a statement about the complaints, a representative with ABSS said the following:
ABSS has a policy and process in place that allows for anyone to challenge a book that may be included in a school library. This starts at the school level as outlined in Policy 3210.
Western Alamance High School does have a copy of both “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. Our Librarians order books based on recommendations and reviews from publications including Booklists by the American Library Association. Many of these books represent diverse viewpoints and beliefs in addition to being part of the state curriculum.
The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that it’s a violation of a student’s First Amendment rights to remove books from school libraries based on content alone.
ABSS will consider any challenges to library materials as outlined in our Board policies. Additionally, a parent is entitled to excuse their student from checking out a book that they find questionable.Alamance Burlington School System
What does the law say?
The case Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982 determined that there are limits to what officials can remove from middle school and high school libraries based on complaints of content alone. In the case Tinker v. Des Moines, judges ruled that “students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” according to Cornell Law.
North Carolina law states that it is “unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to intentionally disseminate obscenity.”
Obscenity is harder to legally prove than one might think. For something to rise to the level of obscene, it must depict sexual content (that is not limited to sex acts, it also encompasses bodily functions in general) “in a patently offensive way” to the average person based on what’s considered socially acceptable by the larger community at the time of the complaint. A piece of media must also lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” and not be material that is protected or privileged by the US or NC Constitutions in order to be considered obscene.
FACTS Task Force 2.0’s Goals
When asked about the change that FACTS Task Force 2.0 hopes to see in North Carolina, Brooks said the state’s teachers “need to focus much more on fundamental learning, including reading, writing, and math. We are dedicated to that perspective and putting a halt to the runaway ‘woke’ abuse and intellectual corruption of far too many educators and school administrators in our state.”
When asked about the goals of the FACTS Taskforce 2.0, Mamie Brooks outlined “multiple” overall goals:
- “To create legislation for fingerprinting and deeper background checks for everyone within our schools to weed out pedophiles
- To take the obscene books issue to state court
- To stop the National Sex Ed agenda of teaching pre-k-5th
- To have the curriculum transparent, to rid it of Marxist ideology, and stop the indoctrination and sexualization of our children.”
“We want reading, writing, and arithmetic to be the main focus,” she said.
It’s worth noting that, while the books at the center of the complaint focus on LGBTQ+ issues, none of the FACTS Task Force 2.0 emails mention LGBTQ+ issues specifically.
However, the group specifically mentions weeding out “pedophiles” as well as “indoctrination” and “sexualization” of children. All of these claims have been used by other groups against the LGBTQ+ community in recent months.
Alamance Burlington School Systems’ 2022-23 curriculum is available on their website for anyone to read. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction also has its academic standards available for the public to review.
The academic standards for Kindergarten through third grade do not discuss “sex ed” in any way in the “health education” portion of the standards for those grade levels.
Starting in fourth grade, the academic standards recommend an overview of puberty. Fifth-grade academic standards have more in-depth education about the physiological effects of puberty. The “Healthful Living” section of the NCDPI website also breaks down what health education students receive by grade level. These standards do not explicitly mention sex acts, sexuality or gender identity, they only involved an anatomical overview of how puberty impacts children.
Where else is this happening?
Here in the Triad, a representative with Guilford County Schools says “GCS is aware of the ongoing efforts across the country to ban schoolbooks.”
During the 2021-2022 school year, Northern Guilford High School received complaints about two books: “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward and “Life is Funny” by E.R. Frank.
“Salvage the Bones” is a novel about the plight of a working-class Black family in the lead-up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. According to GCS, it was an option for an AP-level English Course. It features teen pregnancy as a major part of the plot.
“Life is Funny” is a Young Adult novel that follows a group of diverse young people in Brooklyn across the years, dealing with heavy topics like self-harm and poverty.
“In June, the Media Technology Advisory Council Committee at Northern Guilford voted to keep both books available for school use. Students reading the books for a class assignment have the option to choose an alternative book,” GCS writes.
The complainants have filed an appeal of that decision and Guilford County School’s District Review Committee will meet to discuss the books, which is a process outlined in GCS’s policy handbook.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, Brooks says that a branch of the FACTS Taskforce 2.0 based in New Hanover County is “preparing their complaints and we have reporting systems in place for several other counties working on theirs as well.” The Facebook page for FTF2.0 shows a launch event on August 17 for the New Hanover County branch of the organization.
These complaints directed at school systems, primarily targeting books that deal with issues of sexuality and gender, have been occurring nationally more and more recently.
In Virginia, delegates sought a restraining order against bookseller Barnes & Noble over the sale of “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” back in May, deeming them too obscene to be sold to minors. This legal move happened shortly after a school district pulled “Gender Queer” from its shelves due to complaints from a board member.
Across the nation
Outside of the world of school district-level complaints, extreme nationalist groups have taken to protesting LGBTQ+ events. June, nationally celebrated as Pride Month, was marred by frequent ugly clashes. In Texas, protesters disrupted a family-friendly drag show, where self-identified Christian fascists are heard on camera asking cops to shoot attendees. In Los Angeles, a Drag Queen Story Time event was interrupted by Proud Boys, and nearly three dozen white supremacists were arrested near a Pride event in Idaho with a U-Haul packed full of weapons.
These instances of protest all use similar rhetoric: painting LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender and gender non-conforming people, as “groomers” and “pedophiles,” including protests here in North Carolina. There was a small protest against Drag Queen Story Time in Winston-Salem in June, where protestors shouted “child abuse” at parents bringing their children to storytime.
Anti-trans legislation is being passed in multiple states. The Human Rights Commission reports show that hate crimes against the LGBTQ community have been on the rise year over year. In North Carolina, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” passed through the senate, similar to a bill passed in Florida that was dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
No specific legal action has been disclosed by the FACTS Task Force 2.0 against ABSS or any other school districts, but their stated goal is to take the “obscene book issue” to the state court, and they have an expressed interest in creating legislation. The timeline for such actions is unclear.