The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that on May 4th the Rancocas Valley Board of Education (in New Jersey) banned Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology. The board voted unanimously to pull the book from high school library shelves. In the same meeting, the board voted to retain two other challenged books, Love and Sex: 10 Stories of Truth and The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities. All three titles had been challenged by parents associated with conservative group 9.12.
According to the article, the board consulted attorneys who advised the board that they “had the legal authority to ban books because of obscenity but not on political grounds.” That is stating the obvious, and the board hardly needed to pay legal fees if that’s the only advice they got. What the article does not make clear is whether or not the lawyers evaluated this particular book to determine whether or not it fell into a category that the board could legally ban.
Having reviewed the book myself, it appears to me that the board has clearly crossed the line into illegal censorship. One can only hope that an aggrieved parent in the school district has the presence of mind to contact the ACLU and sue the school board for infringing upon their First Amendment rights.
Revolutionary Voices was written by youth and for youth. It was designed to give voice to individuals and groups often overlooked in anthologies for queer and questioning youth, specifically “youth of color, young women, transgender and bisexual youth, (dis)abled youth, and poor/working class youth.“ Many of the writers included in the volume have gone on to make a name for themselves as authors.
This is a serious work with serious literary and social value. As such, it cannot be classified as obscene. A critical legal detail that the school board seems to have overlooked is that the book must be evaluated as a whole, meaning that the decision to ban it cannot be based on isolated excerpts. Interestingly, the Inquirer describes the opinion of one of the parents who read the book this way:
“She said that for the most part, the stories and material were sensible and in good taste, the sort of thing that might help teenagers struggling to figure out their sexuality. But certain sections of Revolutionary Voices, including a piece about a ‘gay porn star,’ Lange said, were distasteful and ‘without educational value.’”
The parent/reviewer is acknowledging here that the book, as a whole, has serious value. This is the kind of analysis that will come back to haunt the school board, should they be sued on account of their decision.
Shame on the Rancocas Valley Board of Education for kowtowing to a small group bent on controlling public discourse! Once again, a school board earns an “F” in education.