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Billings school board votes to keep two LGBTQ-themed books in libraries

lawn boy gender queer diptych.jpg
Algonquin Press/Oni Press

Two LGBTQ+-themed books that were the target of parent complaints will remain in Billings high school libraries.

The Billings Public Schools Board of Trustees voted Monday night to keep “Lawn Boy” and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” in circulation at the high school level, saying both books meet the libraries’ selection criteria.

“We talk a lot about with the librarians is, make sure your collections resemble the students in your building,” said Kim Anthony, the district’s executive director for curriculum.

She said libraries serve a wide range of ages and developmental levels, and it’s up to parents and guardians to determine what’s suitable for their kids.

“What we ask of parents is, as you have conversations with your kids, you need to let your kids know what your values are and make sure that they know what books they should be checking out from the library,” she said.

The vote came after almost three hours of discussion and comments from the public. The original complaints filed last semester described “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison as “highly sexual in nature," and said Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel “Gender Queer” includes “details of sex acts along with pictures."

“These images, I don’t like them,” Trustee Russell Hall said of some of the illustrations in “Gender Queer.” “I don’t like that they’re available. But I saw the rest of the book.”

He said many students in the district will relate to the book, which described by the publisher as a “journey of self-identity.”

“If this book will help [students] and give them a guide,” Hall said, “I want that in our libraries, regardless of the content that is in there.”

A review panel last fall voted to keep both books in school libraries, but the decision was appealed. Last week an appeals committee made up of members of the Board of Trustees voted to recommend the district keep “Lawn Boy,” but remove “Gender Queer” from shelves.

Because of procedural rules, the committee’s head, Scott McCullough, said he was “handcuffed” to the recommendation that “Gender Queer” be pulled from the district’s libraries.

“I am desperately wishing some other member of the board of trustees would move a substitute motion to reject the recommendation,” he said.

The votes to keep both books in Billings high school libraries were unanimous.

“Lawn Boy” and “Gender Queer” have faced similar challenges in school districts and public libraries around the country. The ImagineIf Library system in Flathead County was also asked to remove both books and is currently reviewing whether to keep “Gender Queer” in circulation.

Nadya joined Yellowstone Public Radio as news director in October 2021. Before coming to YPR, she spent six years as digital news editor/reporter for the NPR affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, where her work earned several Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow award for Excellence in Social Media. Originally from Texas, Nadya has lived and worked in Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. She lives in Billings with her cat, Dragon, and dog, Trooper, and enjoys hiking, crocheting, and traveling as often as possible.