Debate continues over graphic novel ‘Gender Queer’ in Antioch School District 117

Lakes Community High School freshman Lia Neveu addresses the Antioch Community High School District 117 board Thursday, March 24, 2022. Neveu and other students have started a petition to put "Gender Queer" back on library shelves.

The debate over a graphic novel that some suggest is a valuable resource for students and others contend should be removed resurfaced March 24 during the Antioch High School District 117 board meeting.

At issue is “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which depicts author Maia Kobabe’s journey involving sexual orientation and gender identity.

The book has been targeted for removal in school districts across the country, including in Downers Grove Community High School District 99.

Book supporters regard the movements as dangerous to free speech and thought. They contend that the push to remove books limits educational options and marginalizes LGBTQ+ students.

After some parents expressed concerns, the district, in what was termed a compromise, removed the book from the shelves at Lakes and Antioch high schools and placed it at the library circulation desks, where students have to ask to check it out.

The controversy has been percolating in District 117 since December. About 80 parents, students and observers were at the board meeting March 24 to continue the discussion.

Many said the book should be back on the shelves.

“By placing the book behind the counter, you are telling these students that they need to hide, they need to change themselves to make others more comfortable,” said Krista Schumow, who has a daughter at Lakes.

Dozens of people attended the Antioch Community High School District 117 board meeting Thursday, March 24, 2022, which included public debate over the book "Gender Queer."

“You came up with a ‘compromise’ that pleased only one group. ... That is caving and all of your LGBTQ students can feel it.”

A group called Indivisible Western Lake County Community had called for members to turn out March 24 “to support our schools and the books they select for their libraries.”

On the other side, members of a group called Parents of Antioch Community Committee again urged the board to remove “Gender Queer” from the district.

“It’s apparent to us their particular agenda is to keep this material available to kids, and we just don’t agree with that,” Chris DiLullo, an active member of the group, said.

“Our problem with it is it’s available,” he said. “It’s very graphic. It’s pornographic.”

After the December board meeting, the district convened its Book Review Committee, which found the book had won several awards, was not pornographic by definition and should remain part of the schools’ library collection. The committee also found the book was a valuable resource to support the LGBTQ+ population and its availability supports equity efforts.

An online petition describes “Gender Queer” as a “powerful book that needs to be put back on the shelf to teach teenagers that being transgender is valid.”

Lia Neveu, a freshman at Lakes, and other students started the petition against the decision to put the book behind a counter. Overall, 521 have signed the petition in just over a week.

“I created this petition because, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I felt that this decision should have more awareness,” Neveu told the board.