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Virginia Beach, Chesapeake school divisions remove 'Gender Queer' from school libraries

There are other books people are challenging, including a book series called “Saga” and a title called “A Court of Mist and Fury."

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Tucked away on Main Street is a cozy bookstore that’s a Downtown Norfolk staple. From modern biographies to classic titles, Prince Books has a little of everything.

But there’s one display that stands out. Behind bright yellow caution tape and a sign that says “banned” are books that, at some point, were off-limits in schools across the country.

A few titles might sound familiar, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel about a future American society where books are banned and firemen burn them. 

Sarah Pishko, the owner of Prince Books, puts the display up every year, but this time, it has a little more meaning.

“You know everything got so crazy with people wanting to ban books that I just thought, we’re going to pull this thing out and put it up now," Pishko said.

School libraries across the country are under fire as the debate over what books should be banned from schools heats up.

There’s one book title in particular that leaders at Virginia Beach City Public Schools and Chesapeake Public Schools removed from school libraries. It's a best seller on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It’s a personal story about gender identity, called "Gender Queer."

Virginia Beach City Public School Board member Victoria Manning petitioned for school leaders to remove "Gender Queer." She said the content in the book is inappropriate for children.

“It showed explicit sexual scenes," Manning said. "And I think that people when you say sexually explicit, they don’t understand how sexually explicit – like Rated-X.”

After a review, the school board agreed. In a letter from Virginia Beach City Public School board Chair Carolyn Rye, she wrote: “I will direct staff to remove … 'Gender Queer' from School Division Libraries.”

Over at Chesapeake Public Schools, Great Bridge High School Assistant Principal for Instruction Elizabeth Haskins wrote in a letter to a parent: “As a result of … review, the book will be removed from circulation.”

Manning said she's not trying to "ban" the book, she just wants to keep them away from minors.

“If an adult wants to look at pornographic materials, I am not about banning books, they can go get those books. These books are still available at the public library," she said. "I’m just asking that minors not be given these books in our schools.”

The heated debate over books has divided communities across the country. Those on the other side say people are looking at the book out of context.

Pishko said the book bannings may have the opposite effect on readers.

“Unfortunately, many people read a passage out of context,” Pishko said. “It’s ironic because books like 'Maus' have now become a best seller.”

Republican Delegate Tim Anderson describes the content of “Gender Queer” as "extremely vulgar."

He also takes issue with the book, “A Court of Mist and Fury," a young adult fantasy book that's part of a longer series.

Anderson said all of the books are too obscene for children.

“Basically, they’re adult books, they have adult content, they’re not appropriate for minors, and minors shouldn’t have access to them, just like an R-rated movie," Anderson said. "A minor can’t walk into an R-rated movie in a movie theater without their parent’s consent, [and] kids shouldn’t have access to extremely sexual material without their parent’s consent.” 

He said the content of the books are "too sexual" for children.

But Anderson said he doesn’t want anyone to label this move a “book ban." Anderson said this is about parent choice, echoing a major talking point of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political campaign last year.

“It’s not about banning books, it’s not about burning books. It’s just saying books that are super sexual, super explicit. Parents [should] have consent before the children have access to them," Anderson said. “What we’re asking the court to do is basically while this case is moving forward, those who are distributing the books to minors - the VB public school system, Barnes & Noble - that they are restricted from doing so.” 

Manning and Anderson also have an issue with a sci-fi comic series called "Saga." Similarly, Manning said the sexual contents of the comic are not appropriate for young students. She's petitioning the Virginia Beach School Board to keep that book out of school libraries, as well.

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