Downers Grove

Some parents want controversial ‘Gender Queer’ removed from Barrington High School library

Book caused similar controversy in District 99 before school board decided to keep it in libraries

Barrington High School is among the latest battlefields in a national debate over books in school libraries. (Daily Herald File Photo)

Controversy continues to swirl in Barrington Community Unit District 220 over the book “Gender Queer” as parents who object to its presence in the Barrington High School library and those who support it spoke out again July 12 before the board of education.

Meanwhile, district officials said they are proceeding with a formal review of the memoir to determine whether it belongs on the library shelves.

Written by Maia Kobabe, “Gender Queer” has ignited similar debates at schools across the country, including Downers Grove High School District 99 and Antioch Community High School District 117. Earlier this year, the American Library Association named it the most challenged book of 2021.

Delivering an update at the July 12 board meeting, Barrington Superintendent Robert Hunt said District 220 is following its procedures for evaluating the book, which is not part of the district’s curriculum, isn’t used in any instructional material and isn’t available in middle school libraries.

“The school review has been completed and has been shared with the board of education. And we are moving forward with the district-level review at this time. That process is ongoing,” Hunt said.

The district review should be complete in time for the school board’s September meeting, he said.

Board member Katie Karam said the big issue involves a discussion on how the district curates books for school libraries and what should be considered sexually explicit material.

The July 12 meeting was highly charged, with prolonged and often emotional public comment from those who view the book as pornographic, those advocating for the freedom to read and those who support LGBTQ+ students. Many carried signs with slogans such as “Our children need to be taught how to think not what to think.”

Jenna Shields, a parent in the district, said a petition being circulated expressing the need to “filter obscene and pornographic content across all media and resources” already has received more than 1,300 signatures.

“That content has been promoted by the teachers and is available to our students,” she said. “The idea of parents having to filter for this or routinely opt out is unacceptable. While many policies exist to address obscene or pornographic content, the school library policy still needs to be updated.”

She called for an independent task force that includes parents, as well as a rating system and “a way to report inappropriate content.”

Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison, the first openly LGBTQ+ commissioner in the county, said the “vitriol and rhetoric” heard during the meeting and previous District 220 board sessions shows the issue is about more than one book.

“The words we’re hearing are not different from what we’re seeing in other parts of the country with anti-LGBTQ legislation that’s being pursued,” he said. “And we know that this language is dangerous. It causes violence.”