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JCPS appeals board votes against banning ‘Gender Queer' book

Miranda Stovall (left) sitting in the VanHoose Education Center during Monday afternoon's SBDM Appeals Board meeting.
Miranda Stovall (left) sitting in the VanHoose Education Center during Monday afternoon's SBDM Appeals Board meeting.

The graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” which details a young adult’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, will remain on library shelves in two Jefferson County public schools.

Resident Miranda Stovall had filed a formal complaint with the JCPS School-Based Decision Making Appeals Board in July, arguing the book needed to be removed because it contained what she sees as graphic depictions of sex. The four-member appeals board voted unanimously Monday afternoon to keep the book and not restrict access to it in any way. 

“Gender Queer illustrates a lived experience that is not often represented in literature, especially in literature geared towards young adult or high school aged students,” the board said in its written decision. “Its inclusion in the libraries at [The Phoenix School of Discovery] and Liberty [High School] serves a valuable educational purpose in the schools’ efforts to educate the whole student.” 

Stovall attended the appeals board meeting but declined WFPL News’ request for an interview following the vote. 

Speaking before the board in July, Stovall’s attorney, Clinton Elliott, argued illustrations in the book qualified as “obscene matter” under Kentucky law and that schools carrying the book were engaged in “distribution of obscene matter to a minor,” a Class A misdemeanor.

The appeals board said in its decision that it does not believe “Gender Queer” by author Maia Kobabe is illegal under state law. They said it is not “patently offensive,” nor does it lack literary value. The board cited the book’s numerous awards, including the 2020 Alex Award from the American Library Association.

Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville-based LGBTQ rights group the Fairness Campaign, said he thinks the appeals board made the right ruling. Hartman said conservative activists have targeted “Gender Queer” and other books in schools and libraries across the country, simply because of their focus on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

“They’re only seeking out LGBTQ books because this is where they believe they can find footing for their anti-LGBTQ attacks,” he said. 

Stovall, who challenged the book, is a member of the Jefferson County Kids Matter Facebook group. The group’s activism and members share significant overlap with the Louisville Tea Party.

Hartman said he believes the “unfortunate reality” is that conservative activists will continue to target other books with LGBTQ authors or subject matter. He said the Fairness Campaign will be there to push back.

“We’re going to work to be certain that LGBTQ youth are represented in their schools, in their libraries, in the classroom," Hartman said, "and we’re going to fight in every way that we can.”

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.