Natrona County School Board Votes To Keep Sexually Graphic Books In High School Library

The Natrona County School Board voted to keep the books "Gender Queer" and "Trans Bodies, Trans Selves" in the Kelly Walsh High School library but parents will have to let the school know that their children can have access to them.

Clair McFarland

November 29, 20227 min read

Gender queer book 11 29 22
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Natrona County School Board voted Monday to keep two sexually graphic books in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with some caveats on students’ access.  

Board Treasurer Dave Applegate made a motion during the regular meeting to affirm the earlier decision by an appointed reconsideration committee to keep “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the high school’s library.  

But he attached to his motion a statement that the books are “most appropriate” for students 17 and older. He also attached an opt-in system: While usually parents may opt their students out of the right to check out certain books, parents who want their teens to have access to these two books will have to opt students in to access them.  

Applegate said his motion also was informed by the board’s legal counsel, which cautioned that the decision to keep or discard the books must be based on board policies that existed when they were first challenged.  

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a draft policy prohibiting librarians from buying books with sexually explicit images.  

Easier Not To Buy 

Trustee Kianna Smith also expressed concerns around legal challenges that could come from discarding the books. She said it’s more complicated legally for a school district to remove books than it is for them to not buy them in the first place.  

“Students have First Amendment rights when it comes to their access to information,” said Smith. “That includes in school libraries, because they’re public.” 

Smith voted against Applegate’s motion, saying she agrees with its basic gesture of keeping the books, but she couldn’t vote for it because she thought the opt-in caveat could cause problems in the future.  

Smith, who graduated high school about 10 years ago, said that judging from her recent high school experience, both books are age appropriate.   

“I think that high school students are able to handle the content in both of the books,” she said.  

Policy Accepted 

The board also voted to adopt a new policy addressing controversial issues. The policy directs librarians to avoid inappropriate material, especially where materials with “similar content” but without sexually explicit images are available. 

Policy language defines sexually explicit images as any picture, photograph, drawings, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting the human sexual acts of masturbation, intercourse or direct physical stimulation of the genitals.  

The policy also directs each school library to keep a list of its materials onsite or on the school library website because, the policy states, parents and guardians “hold an essential role in the education of their student(s) and a have the right to guide what their minor student(s) read.”  

Grace For Librarians 

Applegate said he spoke with the Kelly Walsh High School librarian about a month ago, and he believes the librarian “has not, and does not, intentionally purchase books with such imagery,” and that book reviews don’t always indicate whether those images will be present.  

Applegate said the new policy will “take effort” to implement because of the size of the collections and the lack of comprehensive book reviews.  

“I am asking that grace be extended to our librarians,” he said.  

Policy Rebuked 

Before the board voted to accept the new policy, numerous people spoke out against it, and against the possibility of the board discarding the two challenged books.  

Alex Petrino, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Casper, said removing the books would signal to students that school authorities are untrustworthy. She said many of the youth she’s counseled pronounce a lack of trustworthy adults to be a large problem in their lives.  

“We when as adults take away access to information, refuse to have uncomfortable conversations, speak to our students with judgment and distain and don’t encourage curiosity with our students, we are signaling to them that we are untrustworthy,” said Petrino. “This scares me as a mental health professional and as well as a parent.”  

‘Ban The Bible’ 

The Rev. Dee Lundberg, of the United Church of Christ in Casper, also spoke against removing the books. She said she believed the book challenge was a veiled attempt to censor the LGBTQ community.  

Lundberg referenced Genesis Chapter 19 in the Bible, in which Lot, the nephew of religious patriarch Abraham, is considered the only good man in the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

To spare two angels from being raped by the wicked men of Sodom, Lot offered the villagers his virgin daughters instead.  

“Would we like to condone that?” asked Lundberg. “Is anybody asking you to remove the Bible from the library?”  

Ultimately, the angels spared Lot’s daughters by striking the would-be rapists blind. 

Lundberg offered the board an ultimatum: “If you choose to ban those books, I respectfully request that you ban the Bible. Thank you.”  

No Parental Right? 

Brent Pickett, political theory professor at the University of Wyoming, said he believes heterosexual parents have no right to restrict their children’s access to books about homosexuality.  

Pickett emphasized that his views are his own, not the university’s.  

He rebuked the policy draft, saying the board was adding work to the “already overwhelming job” of being a school administrator or librarian.  

He said librarians shouldn’t be tasked with monitoring students’ book selections, and that “we live in a deeply pluralistic society” with no one correct lifestyle.  

“My children were raised in a home where they were not exposed to organized religion, and when the subject came up at home, it was often negatively,” he said. “Should I have had the power to compel school libraries to withhold from them books about Christianity or Islam or Judaism? No, of course I shouldn’t have had that power.” 

Pickett continued: “But also a straight parent shouldn’t have the power to have the library withhold a book about homosexuality from a child.”   

Sex Toys And Sex Workers 

Renea Redding, who supported efforts to remove the books, said speakers who claimed book challengers were discriminating against LGBTQ people were mistaken.  

“We’re not looking to erase a community. What many of us in this community are looking for is to remove sexual content from books in a school library,” said Redding. “Sexually explicit content does not belong in a school district that is meant to teach academics.”  

Redding said it was “interesting” to hear from many teachers who approved of the books. “Books that talk about sex workers and how to use sexual toys – how can we be OK with this in a school district?” 

Read More On This Subject

Nov. 15: Natrona School Board Hears Draft Policy On Sexually-Graphic Books, Vote In Two Weeks

Nov. 10: Voters Oust Wyoming School Board Members In Wake Of Debate Over Sexually Graphic Books

Oct. 25: Degenfelder Says Sexually-Explicit Books ‘Not Suitable For Minors’

Oct. 18: Conservatives Declare War On ‘Sexualizing Children’ At Rally In Cody

Oct. 14: Furor Over Sexually Explicit Books Misguided, Says LGBTQ Advocate And State House Candidate

Oct. 12: Casper School Board Asks For Police To Intervene After Teacher Gets Called ‘Pedophile’ In Book Debate

Oct. 5: Books In Wyoming School Library ‘Groom’ Children, Says Sex Crimes Investigator

Oct. 4: Legislators Disagree How To Address ‘Pornography’ In Schools If School Boards Won’t

Sept. 30: What Is Pornography? Casper Residents Clash At School Board Meeting Over Library Books

Sept. 29: Controversial Books ‘Gender Queer’ and ‘Trans Bodies’ Remain In Casper High School Library – Here’s What’s In Them

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter