Is There Any Limit on School Kids’ “Right to Read”?

Excerpts from “Gender Queer.” Most graphic elements of the pictures have been edited out. Parents objected to this book appearing in the Fairfax school libraries back in 2021.

by James A. Bacon

Tell us, Hannah Natanson and Lori Rozsa, are you OK with the graphic novel Gender Queer, shown above, being allowed in public school libraries, as it is (or was) in Fairfax County?

My sense from your article in The Washington Post today is that you would have no objection to stocking Gender Queer in public school libraries. What other conclusion can we draw when you frame your article this way:

The start of the 2022-2023 school year will usher in a new era of education in some parts of America — one in which school librarians have less freedom to choose books and schoolchildren less ability to read books they find intriguing, experts say.

And this:

“This is a state-sponsored purging of ideas and identities that has no precedent in the United States of America,” said John Chrastka, EveryLibrary’s executive director. “We’re witnessing the silencing of stories and the suppressing of information [that will make] the next generation less able to function in society.”

You go on to write: “Mounting book challenges, bans and clandestine removals, all of which reached historic highs during the past school year, are also eroding students’ freedom to read.”

You point to the Bedford County public school system here in Virginia as an example of the national “state-sponsored purging of ideas” because it notifies parents by email what books children are checking out of the library.

You manage to write this article while saying almost nothing about the content that parents wish to prevent their children from seeing. The one example you do  provide is The Bluest Eye, a novel by Toni Morrison, presumably because Morrison is a Nobel Prize Winner, as you remind us, and criticizing a Nobel Prize winner is something only troglodytes would do. While you do note in anodyne terms that conservatives complain about the profanity, derogatory terms, sexual assault and molestation, and inflammatory racial and religious commentary in the book, you avoid citing specifics like this passage:

Then he lift his head, turn over, and put his hand on my waist. If I don’t move, he’ll move his hand over to pull and knead my stomach. Soft and slow-like. I still don’t move, because 1 don ‘t want him to stop. I want to pretend sleep and have him keep on rubbing my stomach. Then he will lean his head down and bite my tit. Then I don ‘t want him to rub my stomach anymore. I want him to put his hand between my legs….

This is soft porn. It may be “literary,” but it’s soft porn. And some other books are a lot worse without any pretense of being literary.

You quote sympathetically a 16-year-old transgender who “loves to read” books with LGBTQ characters, as if there were no source of LGBTQ books outside the public school library. (I invite you to peruse the hundreds of LGBTQ books listed on You also quote a Bedford County student who frets about the parental notifications on the grounds that her hometown is “largely White, Christian and conservative,” and that parents seeking to protect their values will “shrink students’ understanding of the world.”

You evince no such empathy for parents who want to protect their children from objectionable material — just as, say, some parents would prefer not to expose their children to racist words, ideas, and concepts. It comes across clearly that the only people whose sensitivities warrant consideration are progressives and LGBTQs.

Any broad-minded assessment would acknowledge that America is undergoing a seismic change in thinking about sex and gender. Conflict is inevitable when “progressive” and “traditionalist” world views clash in public domains like school classrooms and libraries. Rather than explore the ways in which both sides can be accommodated — such as distributing LGBTQ books in informal channels outside the school — you frame the narrative as close-minded traditionalists purging books they don’t like.

I’m curious, Ms. Natanson and Rozsa, would you draw the line anywhere? Is there any content of a sexual nature that you’re not OK with appearing in schools? Books glorifying pedophilia and grooming, such as Gender Queer? Incest? To pick an extreme example, would you draw the line at books normalizing bestiality? I’m not equating bestiality with being transgender — I’m asking where you would draw the line. If there is a line you would not cross, what is it? And what would be your justification for banning such books that adolescents might find “intriguing,” even if it means violating their “right to read”?