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RENTON WEATHER

KSD Committee Rules Against LGBTQ-Themed Book

The results of the Instructional Materials Committee (IMC) in the Kent School District were shared, which ruled on March 31st in favor of banning Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev AC Rosen from middle school library collections. Last week, Renton Progress revealed emails showing that the principals at the school challenging this book had created a list of LGBTQIA+ books to screen. Staff with the district also reported that an additional member was added to the IMC who had openly opposed the book; the district did not respond to questions when asked about this process.

Reports from the American Library Association show that LGBTQ-themed books are being banned at extraordinary rates, making up almost the entire top 10 banned books. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson ranks the third most banned book, and it was also one of the books screened and challenged by Principal Hanson in the Kent School District. The ALA has issued a statement condemning this uptick in censorship describing it as an “effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed orthodox in history, politics, or belief.”

The efforts to ban LGBTQIA+ content within Kent School District come at a time when a wave of attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights and visibility is taking place. States across the country have banned transgender girls from participating in school athletics matching their identity, ended gender-affirming care for transgender youth, restricted classroom discussions on queer and transgender families, and most chillingly in Texas the state has used the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate supportive families with transgender youth. Kent School District has thrown its hat into the ring with its screening of LGBTQ+ books and challenges on LGBTQ+ content.

On December 9th, a student at Cedar Heights Middle School allegedly reported that they found Jack of Hearts to be inappropriate for their school. Principal Hanson reportedly read the book overnight and drew the same conclusion. She then took initiative to remove the book from the library collection, but faced resistance from the school librarian. Around January 6th, the principal and assistant principal created a list of all recently purchased LGBTQ+ content to screen, which several were attempted to be challenged but only Jack of Hearts would be fully pursued.

When Principal Hanson first began screening LGBTQ+ books, several comments at the school board meeting in February expressed criticisms of these actions, but some commenters leaned on the “protect/save our children” narrative. This phrase is intertwined in LGBTQIA+ history extending back to the 1970’s when infamously Anita Bryant led an anti-gay extremist organization by the same name hoping to strip away early non-discrimination laws protecting gay and lesbian communities.

The IMC deals with controversies on instructional materials, and there is concern that library collections are not “instructional materials” as they are not used in a classroom or presentation setting which if true would be a misuse of this process. Questions also arise to the makeup and outreach of the committee. Is there LGBTQIA+ representation? Who would be consulted for LGBTQIA+ cultural competency? The school board, superintendent, and principal did not respond when asked. But the results seem to show clear bias and lack of initiative from this committee in communicating with LGBTQIA+ communities on any questions or concerns. It was also shared by Kent School District staff that a last minute oppositional member to the committee was added for “diversity of viewpoints”. The IMC ruled 12-3 against Jack of Hearts.

EDIT: it was later clarified that the new member added to the IMC did not have a vote on this matter; questions remain as to why this member was added.

The book, written by a queer author, was described by the IMC as inappropriate for the audience, prurient, and a “cliched representation of… hypersexual and promiscuous gay culture”. They also stated it was “impossible to say… [the book’s elements] reflect lived experiences of LGBTQ+ youth”. It is important to mention that the comments were ranged with one member saying, “this is one of a very few print resources that had frank advice/stories regarding LGBTQ+ sex that centered on joy rather than fear/warnings”.

Lev AC Rosen wrote this book using real questions from teenagers and vetting from sex educators. It appears the IMC neglected this information or refused to believe it. Part of the book’s purpose is to provide an informative resource to LGBTQ youth, especially in regions where sexual education is not comprehensive nor covers LGBTQ topics. I can state personally this book would have been extremely useful for me coming from West Michigan where LGBTQ topics in sex ed were absolutely avoided, except, unfortunately, only in regards to HIV/AIDS. To ban this book in KSD would have chilling impacts not limited to the school district where it will ripple beyond and embolden anti-LGBTQ extremists here and elsewhere. It should not go without saying that at local libraries, like Fairwood Library, extremists demonstrated with firearms to show opposition to a Teen Pride event and Drag Queen Story Hour.

The school librarian has stated they plan to appeal to the Kent School District board after the decision by the IMC was released. The board has the power to repeal the IMC decision. It is unclear how long this process will take before it reaches the district’s school board, or how the board will rule on this matter.

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