Five students from Community High School District 99 are the recipients of the 2022 Illinois Library Association’s (ILA) Intellectual Freedom Award in recognition of their efforts to prevent the banning of the book “Gender Queer” at their schools.
The award, presented by the ILA Intellectual Freedom Committee, recognizes the group for “their outstanding contributions in defending intellectual freedom,” according to an ILA news release.
When parents of students in District 99 tried to ban “Gender Queer” from District 99 libraries due to its LGBTQ+ themes, the five student organized and rallied classmates and parents to support keeping the book in the collection at the Downers Grove high schools.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” written by Maia Kobabe, who is nonbinary, is a 239-page graphic novel designed to help others who are struggling with gender identity to feel less alone. The book also explores questions around pronouns and hormone-blocking therapies.
The book has been banned in Florida and Virginia school districts and challenged at schools in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Ohio, Washington and Texas.
The students: Lauren Pierret, Tabitha Irvin, Julia Hanson, Josiah Poynter and Emily Hernandez attended school board meetings to speak out against censorship and support intellectual freedom. They also advocated for intellectual freedom by publishing articles about the book challenge in the school newspaper, the release stated.
Pierret, “who bravely spoke to the school board, was verbally ridiculed by members of the Proud Boys, a national white supremacist group,” the release stated.
Facing an organized and well-funded effort to censor books, “these five high school students courageously supported their LGBTQ+ classmates and refused to allow hatred and bigotry to intimidate the school board members and students,” according to the release.
“Through the organizing and advocacy efforts of the five students there was a large number of supporters of intellectual freedom at the school board meetings,” according to the release.
Following school district policy, a committee was formed to address the challenged book. The committee and principals from both Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South high schools, District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele and legal counsel recommended to the board that “Gender Queer” should remain in the library collection. The school board voted unanimously in to retain the book.
The ILA Intellectual Freedom Award will be presented at an awards ceremony during the 2022 Illinois Library Association Annual Conference in October in Rosemont. The award was established in 2007 in honor of former ILA Director Robert P. Doyle.