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'This Book is Gay': Wasilla library mulls future of LGBT sex-ed book

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 24, 2015

WASILLA -- A young-adult sex education book that sits on Wasilla Public Library's juvenile nonfiction shelf has sparked calls to relocate the book -- if not remove it altogether.

"This Book is Gay" is a rainbow-covered guide for LGBT teens written by U.K. young-adult author James Dawson and published last year.

The copy in Wasilla is one of two public copies in Alaska. The other is in Barrow, where it's shelved with adult nonfiction.

The book drew sudden attention in recent weeks after Wasilla resident Vanessa Campbell's 10-year-old son pulled it off a shelf in the library's lower-level children's area. Campbell, shocked by what she considered vulgar language and graphic sexual concepts, started the unusual process of getting the book "reconsidered" by the library director because she wanted it moved.

"This Book is Gay" mostly focuses on broader messages about safe sex, bullying, coming out and other aspects of life as a homosexual young adult. It's written in a casual and humorous -- though sexually explicit -- style, with cartoon drawings and nicknames for body parts along with anatomically correct ones. It's one chapter -- "Ins and Outs of Gay Sex" -- that's getting most of the attention. Among the passages: "Oral sex is popping another dude's peen in your mouth or, indeed, popping yours in his."

Move it

Campbell filed a formal "reconsideration" request with library director Kathy "KJ" Martin-Albright to move the book, but Albright found the book should stay. She didn't return numerous calls for comment this week. Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle couldn't provide an explanation for the library director's decision. The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reported Albright spent two weeks on her review, reading the books and reviews, before determining the location was appropriate.

Campbell appealed that decision, which put it before Wasilla's three-person library reconsideration committee. That committee is expected to make a decision by next week.

The debate attracted a crowd of about 50 frustrated families who packed Wasilla City Council chambers at a regular meeting Monday night that didn't even feature the library situation on the agenda.

Nathan Campbell, the 10-year-old boy's father, on Monday night called the book "borderline pedophilia" and told the council that parents are worried about taking their children to the library now.

"If anything, this experience has taught them that they can't trust their library, that they can't trust their public schools," Campbell said.

Cottle plans to review the city's 9-year-old book reconsideration process.This marks the third time a library patron has started the book reconsideration process, but it's the first that made it to the appeal stage, he said Tuesday.

"It's probably time that we go back and revisit how you do the reconsideration phase," he said. "That seems to be part of the problem."

Verdict's not in

About 15 or 20 people came out to a reconsideration committee meeting last Thursday but were turned away by city officials who said the meeting wasn't public and a small conference room couldn't hold them all.

"They literally locked the door on us," said Christina Hancey, one of the parents at the meeting.

Tempers ran high ahead of the meeting, agreed David Cheezem, owner of Fireside Books in Palmer and one of the three library committee members. But the meeting wasn't advertised as public, so it wasn't fair or legal under open meetings law to admit a select few.

The actual session with Campbell, Martin-Albright and the committee was very productive because she's not asking to ban the book, Cheezem said.

"I wish people would wait until they heard what the committee decided before they got upset," he said Tuesday. "I would just say the meeting we had, it was really interesting … I think people are going to like what we came up with."

Even the book's author believes the book needs a better location.

"I love librarians with all my heart and I trust they will find an appropriate shelf to stock 'This Book Is Gay' where younger readers can't get to it, but those who desperately need it can," Dawson wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Broader backlash

Most at Monday's council meeting emphasized that they didn't want the book banned, only moved to a more appropriate part of the library. Most pressed the city not to shelve all nonfiction books together at a new library currently under construction, as Albright has said she plans to.

But several school-age children told the council Monday night they didn't want "gay books" or books about gay people in the library at all. The mother of two girls who testified likened the library offering "This Book is Gay" to making available a fictional book called "Hey, So You Want to be a Druggie?"

Dawson, a Londoner with four young-adult novels to his name, said the book's tone is meant to steer lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young adults, parents and caregivers away from a gloomy tone about their sexuality. He said there's no one correct age at which to read "This Book is Gay" but that it depends on maturity levels.

Dawson said he gets an average of two letters a day from young people or parents thanking him for writing something that's helped them have honest conversations about sexuality. He called requests for the book's removal from Wasilla's library disheartening, citing statistics on the social isolation and homophobia that can lead young LGBT people to higher rates of self-harm, substance abuse, truancy and suicidal thinking.

"The people who probably aren't speaking up are the scared, young LGBT+ people who are very clearly hearing from all this that there is something shameful about them, something that needs to be censored," he wrote in his email. "The goal of the book is to make young LGBT+ people feel less isolated and alone. I would imagine that in Alaska there are numerous young people who keenly feel that solitude."

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