'LGBT kids deserve to be seen': Orange County School Board votes to keep controversial books

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Orange County school board votes to keep LGBT books in libraries
After a weeks-long review, the Orange County Board of Education voted unanimously to retain three high school library books which have raised the ire of parents who say the books are obscene and sexually explicit.

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After a weeks-long review, the Orange County Board of Education voted unanimously to retain three high school library books that have raised the ire of some parents who labeled the books as obscene and sexually explicit.

The OCS superintendent recommended the school board keep the books on library shelves for at least another two years. However, school board support for the controversial books was so strong, the panel didn't just vote to retain the books for the short term, it voted to keep the books on bookshelves indefinitely.

The three books on the potential chopping block at OCS high school libraries were "Gender Queer," "Lawn Boy," and "Out of Darkness." They've won national awards in the literary world and have been celebrated for their LGBTQ+ inclusiveness.

But the parental complaint being considered by the OCS school board Monday night wanted the books banned for being obscene.

"As a librarian, I don't ban books," said OCS Vice-Chair Brenda Stephens.

Every member of the board voted in favor of keeping the books. Board Chair Carrie Doyle read statements from some of the county's LGBTQ+ students.

"Seeing these books on the shelves makes me feel like there's a place for me. LGBT+ kids deserve to be seen," Doyle quoted. "No one wants to feel alone and keeping these books will ultimately save lives."

The meeting did not include public comment. ABC11 spoke on the phone with Sarah Snipes. She's the mother of two Orange high school students who said she and hundreds of other parents share the same view: That the books have no place in their child's school.

"They're extremely harmful," Snipes told ABC11. "The content of these books is completely inappropriate. It's very sexually explicit. There is no need for us to have pornography in middle school and high school libraries."

The board's attorney advised the panel that under the law, material can be sexually explicit without being obscene. Board members agreed the books do not lack in seriousness or literary value.

"If you read the book and take it as a whole, it describes the author's genuine struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation while growing up," said board member Sarah Smylie. "That's not salacious or pornographic."

Stephens added, "We're not talking about putting 'Gender Queer' or any of these books in the hands of a 6-year-old. We're talking about our high school here."

Board member Hillary MacKenzie said, "If this was banned from our collections I honestly cannot imagine what would follow. I support keeping it. I support LGBT+ representation in our media centers."

These books have become the center of a culture war playing out across the country. Parents have been showing up at school board meetings in several states to complain about them, including in Wake County -- where parents took it a step further. They filed a criminal complaint against Wake County Public School System for distributing pornographic material. Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman declined to file charges.