Liberty Lake City Council votes to keep controversial book ‘Gender Queer’

An award-winning book that some Liberty Lake City councilmen consider inappropriate for children will remain on the city library’s shelf.

The council voted 4 to 2 to uphold the decision of the Liberty Lake Library board of trustees to keep the book after lengthy discussion by council members and members of the public Tuesday night.

Some council members expressed displeasure with the book Gender Queer, but ultimately felt it was consistent with library policy and did not see fit to ban it. It is a graphic novel in which author Maia Kobabe writes and draws what it means to be asexual and non-binary.

Council member Annie Kurtz said she was uncomfortable reading the book but didn’t think it was the council’s job to hide it from the public.

The Liberty Lake effort reflects a national trend.

The American Library Association reports that efforts to ban books in 2021 have risen to their highest level in 20 years.

Gender Queer is the book that drew the most ire.

Locally, the book caught the attention of Erin Zasada of Liberty Lake. She admitted that she had not read the book in its entirety, but described it as pornographic and pointed out what she described as graphic images depicting oral sex.

Interim director of the Liberty Lake Library, Joanne Percy, responded to Zasada’s request to withdraw the book last December.

She noted that the book is a well-reviewed title and an award winner. She also said that the book is housed in the adult section of the library, and in her reply dismissed Zasada’s answer.

Zasada appealed the decision to keep the book, pointing out that the book received an award from School Library Journal, which focuses on children’s literature.

The book has received multiple awards, including the Alex Award from the American Association of Libraries.

In her appeal, Zasada asked the library managers to spend five minutes with the book.

“If you can publicly state that this book is not pornographic in nature and deserves to remain on the shelves of our public library, then I guess my perception of pornography is way off the mark,” she wrote to the library board.

She also wrote, “I fight for the children who don’t have parents to protect them and educate them about our country’s pervasive sex-focused and ‘sexual identity culture’ in an age-appropriate way.”

Zasada told the council Tuesday night that her appeal, which the library committee rejected, was not an attack on the LGBTQ community, but a fight against sexually explicit behavior.

Eight local residents, including Zasada, expressed differing views on the issue during the public statement.

One woman called the ban on books “fascism” and suggested it wouldn’t stop children from finding information in books elsewhere.

Another woman said libraries are a place to explore different life experiences and cultures and no one requires children or adults to read the book.

“Just because it’s offensive to someone doesn’t mean it should be removed,” she said.

One man said images in the book were unsuitable for a teenage audience and called for the book to be removed from the library, or at least to limit who can borrow it.

Fifteen residents submitted written comments about the book without specifying their position on the book’s status in the library.

The New York Times described the book as a memoir by the author addressing issues affecting “sexuality and gender identity and the process of coming out as gender non-conforming.”

Many of the arguments for banning the graphic novel relate to masturbation and, as the Times reported, “an illustration based on an erotic image of an elderly man and boy depicted on a Greek urn.”

The author has said that the memoir generates controversy because it discusses gender fluidity.

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