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Natrona school board decides LGBTQ books can stay, but adds new library restrictions

(Screenshot via NCSD, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo. — On Monday, the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees decided two books can stay in high school libraries but only with new restrictions.

Trustee Dave Applegate motioned that “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” by Laura Erickson-Schroth be allowed to remain in high school libraries on the condition that access to the books switch to an “opt-in” policy.

Prior to the decision on Monday, parents and guardians could request that their own children not be allowed to check out the books from the library. Under Applegate’s motion, parents and guardians will need to explicitly give permission for any minor-aged students to access either “Gender Queer” or “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” from either Kelly Walsh or Natrona County High School’s library.

Trustees voted 8–1 in favor of Applegate’s motion.

Trustee Kianna Smith voted against Applegate’s motion. Smith said she was not voting against the motion because she was against allowing the books to stay in high school libraries, but rather because she was against the new conditions switching to an opt-in policy.

Smith said she viewed the school board’s consideration on Monday as deciding on whether or not the two books are appropriate for a high school audience and whether or not they violate community standards.

“I think high school students are able to handle the content in both of the books,” Smith said. “I don’t think they are not appropriate.”

While some of the people challenging the appropriateness of the books have argued they contain “pornographic” imagery, Smith said she doesn’t think either contains images that fit the definition of pornography as the sexual illustrations in them were “not written with the intent to appeal to prurient interest.”

Sexual imagery in “Gender Queer” is in a literary context fitting the message of the books, while imagery in “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” is included for educational purposes, Smith argued.

Smith pointed out that the district has opt-out procedures that allow any parent or guardian to ask that their own children not be allowed to check out any library materials they think are inappropriate. Smith said she was in favor of upholding the decision of the school district’s reconsideration committee — which recommended both books be allowed to stay in the Kelly Walsh library after the appropriateness of the books was challenged — without adding any new conditions.

Other trustees characterized their vote in favor of Applegate’s motion as supporting the reconsideration committee’s decision. The committee was formed and its decision as reached pursuant to NCSD policy and Trustee Debbie McCullar said she wanted to uphold the committee’s decision and reject an appeal of that decision that placed the question directly before the school board.

Trustee Dana Howie said she is against censorship, though she supports the idea of parents paying attention to what their children are watching on television, accessing on the Internet or reading in books.

While some of the people speaking against the books said they were doing so because of the sexually explicit nature of the imagery and not because they address LGBTQ issues, Howie said she doesn’t buy that.

“This is not about sexually explicit books, not really,” she said. “To me it is about LGBTQ in general.”

Howie said she would rather see restrictions added due to sexually explicit imagery than removing books from school libraries entirely.

“I would much rather see them rated and restricted than removed,” she said.

Howie said she thinks there can be value in providing access to LGBTQ books and that some fears some may have about such materials are unfounded.

“Reading a book about LGBTQ is not going to make anyone become LGBTQ any more than reading the Diary of Anne Frank is going to make anyone Jewish, but if a student happens to be on that spectrum, it may make them feel less alone or help them figure themselves out,” Howie said. “As educators in the public schools, we need to educate all students and that means we need to accept them for who they are.

“I don’t want to see anyone in any diverse group treated poorly. Every student deserves to be treated with respect and not marginalized. It is tough enough without someone else’s parents telling you what you can and cannot read.”

Other trustees characterized their vote as a kind of compromise on a controversial issue. Trustee Clark Jensen said he thinks the new opt-in policy strikes a balance that he can get behind, crediting Applegate for coming up with something that might accommodate the concerns of both sides, albeit imperfectly.

In addition to the 8–1 decision about the two specific books, the school board adopted a new policy on a vote of 9–0 in regards to controversial materials during Monday’s meeting. While the two decisions were made separately and the board’s decision on the two specific books was made with previous policy in mind, it could signal a shift toward an opt-in policy more generally.

The new Board Policy 6233 gives general direction on NCSD policy for controversial materials while NCSD administrative staff will be able to set specific regulation pursuant to the board policy, Smith, who chairs the Board Policy Committee that worked on the new policy, noted.

“We really are just trying to give some general guidance to staff in crafting regulation,” she said, adding that there were some changes to the new policy from the draft considered at the school board’s previous meeting.

Changes included alterations to the definition of “sexually explicit imagery” and some other language, Smith said.

The new policy holds that NCSD should strive to avoid material with “sexually explicit images” if material covering similar educational areas is available that doesn’t include sexually explicit images. “Sexually explicit images” are defined in the new policy as “any picture, photograph, drawings, motion picture films, digital image, or similar visual representation depicting the human sexual acts of masturbation, intercourse, or direct physical stimulation of the genitals.”

The full policy can be reviewed below:

Full comments from trustees as well as from people who spoke for and against the new policy and the banning of the two specific books can be reviewed in the video recording of Monday’s meeting: