An 11th grader from the Hudson Valley is speaking out after a sold-out, award-winning book was banned from her school.
Recently, the Wappingers Central School District banned the book “Gender Queer: a Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, first published by Lion Forge in 2019 and now republished from Oni Press.
“Started as a way to explain to their family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere,” the description of the book reads on Amazon.
In 2021, The American Library Association awarded the book its Alex Award, an award given to 10 books each year that are written for adults but may have a “special appeal” for teenagers.
“I’ve been receiving almost weekly, and sometimes more than weekly, emails from readers thanking me for writing it, telling me how much it meant to them, saying it helped them understand themselves or that they gave it to a parent or a child or a friend or a partner, and that it helped their loved one understand them more, and that it opened up conversations they had not previously been able to have,” the book’s author told NBC.
Gender Queer Banned From Dutchess County School
The book was recently banned at Roy C. Ketcham High School. The book is one of the most banned books in the United States.
After the book was banned, Mandy Zhang, an 11th-grader at Roy C. Ketcham High School, and two other students launched a petition against the school district for banning the book. In just one week, over 1,000 people signed the petition, according to Zhang.
“The signatures were from parents, peers, teachers and librarians in the district, local public libraries, mental health professionals, NYT best-selling authors, world-renowned teen and YA authors, LGBTQ+ activists, Dutchess County Pride and Dutchess County Youth Council members , The New York Library League, the NYS English Council, and the National Council of Teachers of English,” Zhang told the Hudson Valley Post in an email.
Zhang describes herself as a top-performing student and an active leader in the community.
“I am a member of the Dutchess County Youth Council, so I represent and speak for youth across the county on important issues like racial and gender discrimination, climate change, and mental health. I started a non-profit STEM organization when I was 15 -years-old to provide robotics and coding programs to disadvantaged youth in the Hudson Valley, and currently help coach the Wappingers Junior High School Science Olympiad team, along with an abundance of other extracurricular activities, like the President of RCK Red Cross Club and Vice -President of Math Team,” Zhang said.
Book Challenged at Arlington, Carmel, Yorktown, New York
Zhang tells us the same book has been challenged at Arlington, Carmel, Yorktown, and other school districts in the Hudson Valley.
Recently, the Arlington Central School District voted (7-1) to keep the book at the school. The book was challenged in Arlington by the same person who challenged it at the Wappingers Central School District, according to Zhang.
Wappingers Student Speaks Out on Book Ban
Zhang spoke out about the book ban on Wednesday during a Wappingers Central School District Board of Education meeting.
“Students need the option to read books they want to read. We often enjoy books that connect to us and sometimes that may be a tough topic such as rape, violence or even gender identity. People in the LGBTQ+ community and in the minority groups use these books as an outlet and a way to connect to the world to feel support. This book ban silenced these groups, these people, resulting in making them not feel valid,” Zhang said during the meeting.
Dr. Dwight Bonk, Wappingers Central School District Superintendent of Schools, told Hudson Valley Post the book was removed over very sexual images.
“After reviewing the book itself, I have no objection to either the ideas or the messages in the book, but find that the book contains several extremely graphic, and sexually explicit images. Based on my concerns, the Board of Education also reviewed the book and voted to remove the book from circulation,” Dr. Bonk told the Hudson Valley Post in an email.
Hudson Valley Post was sent some of the images from the book which show two men involved in oral sex. Zhang spoke about the book’s images during her speech on Wednesday.
“I understand that you are concerned with the images, however, the book is integral to show readers an experience growing up outside of cisgender and heterosexual norms, as “we need to reduce the shame” about sex among teens. It is inappropriate to let one parent decides what is suitable material for all other students and families. In addition, not every student has the means of transportation to go to a public library, or the money to purchase a computer to read it online,” Zhang said.
The author of the book, Maia Kobabe, noticed the student’s efforts and the New York State English Council also signed it, according to Zhang.
Zhang says she was approved to start a banned book club at her local library adding the book is sold out at many local book stores and the Mid-Hudson Library System.
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