CASPER — People filled the room. Students, parents, librarians, teachers, professors, counselors, psychologists. They sat in each of the approximately 40 seats. Some stood against the back wall.
Others watched the meeting from adjacent overflow rooms. Many of the people who came wore Wyoming Library Association pins illustrated with a rainbow and the phrase “Freedom to read’em.”
A number of attendees stood to the side of the room waiting to tell the Natrona County School Board why they think the school district should keep two books that some wanted to ban from their school libraries.
The two books in question are Gender Queer, a graphic novel memoir by Maia Kobabe that explores the author’s gender identity and sexuality, and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, a textbook-like resource guide for transgender people by Laura Erickson. Schroth.
The books are in the library at Kelly Walsh High School.
After a formal petition to the school district from community members who wanted the books banned from the libraries, the committee charged with reviewing the books ruled on September 1 that they should remain in the school. This prompted a group of parents and other community members to speak out against the decision at the school board’s last meeting on September 12.
On Friday, Casper PRIDE posted a Facebook message urging community members to show up and support the committee’s decision at Monday’s school board meeting.
The committee has 30 days to formally issue a written report to Associate Superintendent Walt Wilcox on the decision to keep the books.
After that, the school board could potentially take further action on the matter if an appeal is received against the committee’s decision, according to school district spokeswoman Tanya Southerland.
If no appeal is made, the decision of the committee stands.
“Recognizing the humanity of LGBTQ students by representing them in libraries affirms their dignity as human beings,” Tanis Lovercheck-Saunders, a history professor at Casper College and a parent of an LGBTQ person, told the Trustees.
Alexis Worthen, a senior at Natrona County High School and a member of the school’s GayStraight Alliance Club, told trustees that she had to stay home for two days after receiving death threats over her LGBTQ identity.
“I’m not alone in this,” she said. “There are so many kids out there who don’t see themselves represented in the media.”
Psychologists and counselors reiterated the message that it is important to represent the LGBTQ community.
“The two most powerful words in the dictionary are ‘me too,'” said Christy Jindrick-Tholl, a consultant in private practice.
Archie Pettry, another adviser, told the trustees that he “got out of count of the number of children who were feeling marginalized, bullied and neglected because they didn’t know what it meant to be trans or any of those issues .
“I really doubt that any of these books will negatively harm children, but they could positively help hundreds,” he said.
Charlie Powell, a former school board member, Casper Mayor and a psychologist who works with trans adults, said he’s seen his clients struggle with preoccupation and rejection, isolation and discouragement.
He said “every one of them” told him they thought they were the only ones living through their experience.
“And they just said, ‘I wish someone could have told me I’m not the only one.'”
Parents first raised their concerns about certain LGBTQ books with the school board in December. After the meeting, they filed a formal motion to challenge the books.
A seven-member committee was then appointed to review the application based on district policy.
The Natrona County School District isn’t the only place in Wyoming that has had a fight over certain LGBTQ+ books.
Parents in Laramie County’s #1 School District are targeting several LGBTQ-related books. (County officials said they have no plans to remove them.)
In Campbell County, community members filed complaints with the public library about more than 30 books on LGBTQ issues. A group linked to the Wyoming chapter of conservative anti-LGBTQ group MassResistance began protesting at board meetings and outside the library over the books.
These incidents reflect growing nationwide movements to rid schools of certain books.
A report by PEN America found that from July 2021 to June 2022 there were 2,532 cases of individual books being banned. These bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states.
The report found that 41% of banned books had LGBTQ themes. Politicians have also stimulated conversations about LGBTQ textbooks. The US PEN report found that at least 40% of bans are related to “proposed or enacted legislation” or “political pressure”.
Wyoming has not escaped this politicization; Trump-backed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder and State Superintendent nominee Thomas Kelly railed against “gender ideology” in schools during their primary campaigns for the post. (Kelly dropped out to endorse Schroeder, and Schroeder eventually lost the Republican nomination to Megan Degenfelder.)
Three of this year’s school board candidates running together — Renea Redding, Mary Schmidt and Jenifer Hopkins — were endorsed by Jeanette Ward, the far-right Republican nominee for House District 57. (Ward defeated Thomas Myler, a current school board member, in the August primary).
The three have regularly spoken at school board meetings in favor of getting rid of certain LGBTQ books in the district’s schools, and are members of a local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a group focused on “empowering parents to exercise their parenting rights at all levels.” to defend government.”
MP Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, spoke to the trustees at the meeting and urged them to accept the recommendations of the committee that reviewed the books.
“As we’re seeing across the country, this isn’t the end,” Sweeney said. “You can have your own beliefs, but can’t we just get to a point where we can get along and see different views for what they are and live together in a peaceful, civil way?”
Redding, one of the school board candidates who has regularly spoken out against the books at board meetings, read a passage from one of the books that contains sexual language and imagery to the trustees and said the books “appalled” them.
“I’m not asking, and neither are the other people looking at these books, that you ban books,” she said. “We’re asking about books that don’t contain what is called ‘erotica.'” (Hopkins and Schmidt discussed the issue at the September 12 meeting.)
Another school board nominee, Bernie Studer, told trustees that he was “not afraid of the books” but would recommend that “kids who want to switch” wait until they’re 21 to do so.
A parent of homeschooled children told trustees on Monday that she has a home library filled with books that go against her beliefs, but she doesn’t want her tax dollars to be spent on “pornography.”
“I want my kids to see the whole picture,” she said. “I have The Communist Manifesto, I have books by John Dewey, and I have The Origin of Species. My children have access to different beliefs so that they can form their own opinions and make informed decisions on their own. But what my kids don’t have access to in my library at home is pornography.”
Two young people in the audience shook their heads as she spoke.
“What’s wrong with you people?!” the parent said angrily to the school board and abruptly stood up and left the table.