Or at least that’s what I hoped.
Turns out, my hope was in vain. Rancocas Valley Regional High School District Board of Education, in Mt. Holly, NJ, banned a book this week. Which book? Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, edited by Amy Sonnie (who, by the way, is no stranger to controversy – looks like she’s all over this). According to one local resident, Beverly Marinelli, the book is “pervasively vulgar and obscene.”
In addition to Revolutionary Voices, Marinelli unsuccessfully attempted to have two other books banned: Love and Sex: 10 Stories of Truth, and The Full Spectrum: A new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender questions and other identities. Apparently those were pervasively vulgar, too.
But let me ask you a question: when was the last time you met a high school student who hadn’t already been exposed to something vulgar in his or her life? Or a high school student who hadn’t said or done something vulgar? Most teenagers, by the time they reach high school, already know about sex, queerness, and language their mothers perhaps wouldn’t like them to use. Some of them (a large percentage, I’d say) use this language already. Some of them are having sex, some of them are coming out, some of them are doing the things that these books talk about. Which means that these books will have little impact on how they are sexualized – especially if they’re removed from the school library.
But it also means that teenagers who are searching for answers, for people like themselves, will be unable to find it.
In case you forgot: it’s hard to be a teenager. It’s lonely and scary and frustrating. People–usually other teenagers–are mean to each other for no reason. They target each other over simple, ridiculous things like clothes, hairstyles, patterns of speech, academic or intellectual ability, hobbies, sporting prowess. The physical and overt verbal bullying that took place on the playgrounds and in the lunchrooms in grade school continues into high school, sometimes remaining overt, but sometimes morphing into something more subtle, more terrifying because of its difficulty in identifying and explaining. Behavior like this can make it difficult for teens who are struggling with some aspect of their sexuality to talk about it – and books tend to be a good resource. They’re a private, quiet way of letting kids know that there are other people in the world just like them.
And now this Beverly Marinelli has started weeding out these hugely important resources.
I was incensed when I heard the news yesterday, for a few reasons. Obviously, the censorship issue is first and foremost on my mind: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I do not support censorship in any form. The idea of restricting access to ideas is horrifying to me, reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 and symptomatic of our partisan culture in which, it seems, the right wants to homogenize society as much as possible. And it pains me, as a parent, that some one who doesn’t know me or my family is trying to make decisions that will impact my child as he grows up. But too, I was frustrated to learn that Marinelli is a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, an alarmist, right-of-center organization with a mission statement that indicates:
“This is a non-political movement. The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001.”
So, Mr. Beck, you want to bring us back to a place of incredible fear and grief and anguish?
(it seems to me, too, that some of the 9 principles and 12 values directly contradict each other.)
It’s a complicated little tie-in, but here are the basics: last year, Beck verbally attacked Kevin Jennings, former director of GLSEN and current member of the Obama Administration, for a number of reasons (not least of which because of the fact that Jennings, who is openly gay, was appointed to the position of Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools). The 9/12 Project, picking up on Beck’s alarmist behavior, started challenging books that appeared on GLSEN’s recommended reading book list- including Amy Sonnie’s Revolutionary Voices.
Marinelli and Co. have further plans to continue petitioning local school districts to remove books like Revolutionary Voices, and they’re going to Lenape Regional High School District next.
While I understand the identifying work and art that is vulgar or obscene is a judgment call, I believe wholeheartedly that it’s a judgment call that needs to be made by individual families, not by one person who is seeking to apply the decision to an entire student body. The information I choose to share with my son is different from what my friends might choose to share with their children, and the time frames for sharing info is also different. Jacob has spent the past several years knowing what it means to be part of a non-traditional family: his parents are divorced; his father has a new, blended family; his mother is in a same-sex relationship; he has learned that family can be both the people you are related to, and the people you choose. It is my responsibility to teach Jacob these things when and how I feel it’s appropriate, and to allow him to make his own choices at the pace I feel is appropriate. It is not Beverly Marinelli’s or Glenn Beck’s decision – and yet, Marinelli has ensured that, in at least one circumstance, I will not get to make that choice.
Are you as frustrated as I am? Feel free to leave a comment here, or send me an email (rachel [dot] bunting [at] gmail [dot] com). I happened, in some strange fashion, to end up on Beverly Marinelli’s email list, which means I now have her personal email. While I won’t publish her email here, I’ll be happy to forward your comments on to her.