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Resident voices grievances as Dothan library continues reconsideration process

A Dothan man expressed frustration with the library’s decision not to remove the book “Gender Queer” from its adult collection.

To do list reminder to read a banned book, along with a pile of books frequently on censorship lists.

A single Dothan resident spoke up Wednesday at a board meeting of the Dothan Houston County Library System to express displeasure with two library books.

One of those books, Gender Queer, has already been reviewed following the library’s reconsideration policies, with the committee deciding to keep it in the adult section.

The other, This Book is Gay, has not been formally challenged according to library director Chris Warren.

Local pastor Paul Thompson asked the board to reconsider its decision on Gender Queer, although library policy states the results of reconsideration decisions stand for five years.

“We’re concerned about certain content in our local library that we consider to be obscene; pornographic even by definition, and harmful to the healthy, normal development of children, emotionally, intellectually, physically,” Thompson said. “And while we’re grateful that this content represents but a fraction of the library’s total collection, nonetheless, its inclusion at all troubles us.”

Thompson also claimed that Gender Queer had previously been in the young adult section, but Warren said it has been in the adult section since being added to the collection.

“One of things we kept in mind, this book has been described, reviewed and marketed as a book for young adults, but due to the nature of the book we felt it was better suited in the adult collection. It has never been in young adult.”

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The most challenged book in the country, records show three separate individuals challenged the book in Dothan.

One such review noted they had only read the book in part, but argued “the entire book has no place in a civilized society” and added “it goes against all Biblical doctrine and offends me as a Christian.”

Thompson on Wednesday said he is challenging the book, not on religious grounds, but instead appealed to “common decency and common sense.”

“We are neither book burners nor book banners as some would claim,” Thompson said. “We are pastors and parents, teachers, farmers, businesspeople, retirees, stay-at-home moms. We’re your neighbors. We’re people that love this community, and we love the people that we live among in this community.”

One of the other two reconsideration forms said the book is “not appropriate for general consumption” and that it should not be”be in the library at all.” The challenger states they had read about the book in the Wall Street Journal and purchased their own copy of the book.

Warren said in his reconsideration response that the book “is a valuable part of our collection.”

“‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ is an autobiographical account, in graphic novel format, of the author’s experiences with gender and sexuality, with a focus on the confusion and uncertainty of gender dysphoria in particular,” Warren said in his reconsideration response. “The book was recognized with a starred review in School Library Journal, which praised the book as ‘a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual, as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand’ (2019). The book was also praised in the Journal of  the American Medical Association for its explanation of ‘gender nonbinariness in highly personal, intimate, patient, and deliberate ways,’ which provides ‘a valuable opportunity to understand the experiences of [gender nonbinary individuals] … taken as a whole, the book has significant artistic, creative, and cultural merit. For these reasons, ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ is a valuable part of our collection, and as such, we will retain it as cataloged.”

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Thompson questioned the five-year moratorium on reconsidering books, and the library’s direct involvement in the process.

“A five-year moratorium on receiving or engaging in legitimate concerns of citizens seems arbitrary and even draconian to meThompson said. “And while I understand the intent is to protect the limited resources of staff, time and budget, the perception from those who have submitted these requests and been denied is that the policy is only intended to silence any opposition…

“It seems inherently counterproductive for library leadership to be tasked with the responsibility with reconsidering their own actions and decisions and be possibly asked to correct themselves.”

However, the reconsideration process has led to five out of 18 titles reviewed so far to be moved from the young adult section to adult.

The library committee has voted to move four books in the “Court of Thorns and Roses” series by Sarah J. Maas, as well as “Boy Toy.”

There is discussion among the book community about whether the Maas series was written for a young adult audience or if the publisher simply miscategorized the author’s work based on her previous younger-skewing novels. Boy Toy tells of a 12-year-old boy molested by a schoolteacher.

Some of the other books challenged were for sexual content, including some long-challenged books such as “Forever” by Judy Blume and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. Some were challenged strictly for LGBTQ content.

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“Pride flag is representative of the LGBTQ population,” a challenger wrote of “Rainbow: A First Book of Pride.” “I object to it being used to indoctrinate our little ones. This book is saying ‘be OK’ with this philosophy; the child doesn’t understand it … If book was about a ‘real’ rainbow it would be just fine.”

The book shows illustrations of children with same-sex parents, but does not explicitly mention sexuality at all. It says the rainbow flag is about being proud of oneself.

A challenge of “Two Boys Kissing” states the concern simply as “homosexuality.”

“Should not be in the juvenile area to put thoughts in their head because of the front page,” the challenger wrote on the form.

There is very limited sexual content in the book, less than four sentences in the entire novel.

“The Wishing Flower” was challenged for portraying a young girl apparently having a crush on another girl.

“I’d like to say they become friends, but the author includes elements of ‘more than friends,’” the challenger wrote. “This author deliberately writes to promote LGBTQ ideology. Children should not be groomed for unnatural perspectives. Please care enough to remove grooming books.”

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“Jacob’s New Dress” was challenged for showing a boy who wants to wear a dress to school.

“We all have to blend in with socially acceptable norms in effect during our short time on Earth, the challenger wrote.

Some books have a mix of sexual content and LGBTQ content.

A challenge of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” calls the book a “how-to guide to drinking, sex act, profanity, rape, homosexuality—everything decent people should not read.”

“Reading material like this is partially responsible for the moral decline of America … whoever chooses these books should have a guilty conscience.”

“Juliet Takes a Breath” contains everything from “alternate sexualities and gender identities” to “controversial historical and inflammatory, derogatory terms” according to its challenger.

A challenger wrote about “Looking for Alaska” that it “does not promote moral Christian living principles!”

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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