Casper residents are clashing over the definition of pornography.
The Natrona County School Board during its regular meeting Monday allowed public comment on a board subcommittee’s Sept. 1 decision, to keep two books containing images of sex and nudity in the Kelly Walsh High School library. The books are “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.”
“Gender Queer” also is available in the Natrona County High School library, according to the school’s card catalog.
Community members who still seek to remove the books by filing an appeal with the school board argued that the books contain pornography and are not a good use of taxpayer money.
Advocates for the books argued against “censorship” and urged the school board to disregard appeals, saying LGBTQ youth want to be represented on the shelves of their school libraries.
“Gender Queer” follows a nonbinary person from childhood through sexual experiences, gender confusion and discovery.
“Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” is a textbook-like guide to facets of transgender and gender-expansive living, and contains multiple nude and sex-act photographs, along with instructions on making pornography and having sex as a trans person. Cowboy State Daily reviewed and roughly summarized both books Thursday.
‘No Parent Has The Right’
Numerous parents and professionals spoke in favor of keeping the books available at Kelly Walsh High School.
“A parent has the right to determine reading, viewing or listening matter for his or her own child,” said Pam Brondos, a Casper attorney and parent of three children in the district. “No parent has the right to determine reading matter or listening matter for other students.”
Brondos said removing books from public school libraries “at the behest of one parent or group” allows that group to determine what other students may read in school. Brondos said she disagrees that the books are obscene.
“If we ban this book, we’re showing every transgender and nonbinary student they don’t belong in this district,” she said.
Dr. Brent Pickett, a University of Wyoming political theory professor speaking on his own behalf, told the school board that to ban the books would send a message of “hate.”
“While those voting in favor of a ban may tell themselves they’re protecting kids, the truth is that access to reliable information protects them,” said Pickett, adding that “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” is a “great reference for teens and their parents.”
‘Come Together In Support Of Democracy’
Alexis Worthen, a Natrona County High School senior and LGBTQ alliance advocate, told the school board to “come together in support of democracy” and defend the books.
“These types of literature is exactly representative of what children should be able to experience,” she said, adding that their removal could lead to removal of more books. Worthen said her activities as an LGBTQ ally have led to death threats that compelled her to stay home from school.
“We are exposing ourselves to a wide range of ideas,” said Worthen. “Ideas that parents might not necessarily agree with, but that’s OK. That expands our critical thinking skills and encourages us to grow.”
Tanis Lovercheck-Saunders, a history professor at Casper College and a parent of an LGBTQ teen, echoed other advocates, saying removing the books would threaten LGBTQ students’ “sense of wellbeing.”
State Rep. Patrick Sweeney, R-Casper, likewise urged the board to disregard any appeals challenging the books. Sweeney lost his bid for reelection to his seat Aug. 16 to Bill Allemand, who won the Republican nomination.
‘People Disagree With Representing My Existence’
Jayden Wright, a Casper teen using he/him pronouns, said Wright’s early homelife wasn’t conducive to transitioning until “I was able to move into high school and find an environment that did support me in, in a school environment.”
Wright said that, “I’ve recently been given the opportunity to transition,” which was a long-sought “privilege” despite a childhood lack of exposure to transgender-affirming books.
Wright did not plan to speak before the board but decided to after “seeing people disagree with representing my existence.”
‘Stay With Academics’
Kyle True, a longtime local resident and Natrona County High School graduate, said the schools are out of their lane.
“For us to rush to adopt (gender expansion) and think we can find a place for it in a system clearly designed for academics – not social activism – is challenging,” said True. “Banning is the wrong terminology. There are materials that are beneath the dignity … of this school district.”
True pointed to earlier commenters’ concerns over higher suicidality rates among transgender people. He said given the higher suicidality, the school should not lightly embrace pervading the library with expansion-affirming literature.
Later, Casper family practice Dr. Caroline Kirsch countered, saying suicidality among trans people is caused by society not affirming transgender presentation.
‘Nothing To Do With LGBTQ’
Michelle Sabrosky, a homeschool mom and parental-autonomy advocate, said even though she homeschools her children, she doesn’t want her tax money spent on “pornography.”
Sabrosky said she has gathered a home library for her children that contains books with which she disagrees, such as “On The Origin of Species” and “The Communist Manifesto.”
“But what my children do not have access to in my home is pornography,” she said. “Why am I forced to buy (for the high school) something that goes against my core beliefs, my values – something I find damaging to children?”
Sabrosky said society may be in for a surprise, as “no one has actually figured out what the end result (of sexualized children’s literature) is going to be years and years from now.”
Another community member, Vincent O’Connell, said he was “disgusted and appalled” at the books and their politicization.
“This has nothing to do with the LGBTQ community at all,” he said. “We’re literally showing our kids sexual content and allowing it. Are we going to allow ‘Hustler’ in the schools and ‘Playboy’ in the schools?”
Renea Redding, who is running for a seat on the Natrona County School Board, read scenes from “Gender Queer.”
“I can’t wait to have your cock in my mouth,” she read aloud, then said, “I’m appalled. I ask you all to get that book and read it.”
Redding said she and the other detractors are “not asking (the board) to ban LGBTQ books. We’re asking for books that don’t have what’s called erotica in them.”
At an earlier meeting of the board Sept. 12, school board chair Raymond Catellier had asked public commenters to “refrain from the vulgar or foul language – nobody wants to hear that.”