Athens book­store forced to re­move LGBTQ book from pri­vate school event

GA Voice - - Front Page -

“The Best Man” is the story of a mid­dle school boy with four male role mod­els, two of which de­cide to get mar­ried.

On March 7, “The Best Man” was part of a dis­play of Ge­or­gia Chil­dren’s Book Award nom­i­nees at the Athens Academy book fair put on by Avid Book­shop. Just as quickly as that dis­play went up, how­ever, the book came down.

“A par­ent came up to my co-worker, Kate, and he grabbed the book and started ask­ing about the age level. She thought he was ask­ing about the read­ing level,” said Caleb Hewett, queer chil­dren’s book au­thor and man­ager at Avid Book­shop. “Then he started say­ing things that made it clear he was talk­ing about the con­tent of the book.”

Hewett said Avid staff ex­plained the book was there as part of the award nom­i­nee dis­play, but a short while later, the head of the Lower School said the book needed to come off the floor. Later, the li­brar­ian in­formed them that the book needed to be in a box and out of sight.

Though ad­min­is­tra­tors and Avid’s owner came to a com­pro­mise — “The Best Man” could be dis­played out of reach of chil­dren — Hewett said by that point, he and other queer mem­bers on staff felt un­com­fort­able and un­wel­come. Af­ter fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion with school ad­min­is­tra­tors, the de­ci­sion was made to end the book fair.

An un­ap­proved book

“’The Best Man’ was not part of a pre-ap­proved list for our PreSchool [and] Lower School book fair,” Alan Weiler, di­rec­tor of fi­nance and op­er­a­tions for Athens Academy, told Ge­or­gia Voice. “’The Best Man,’ which is rec­om­mended by its pub­lisher as be­ing for ages 9 and up, has been part of our Mid­dle School li­brary col­lec­tion since it was pub­lished, along with other sim­i­lar ti­tles.”

March 16, 2018

To be ap­proved for sale at the book fair, a list of books is pre­sented to Athens Academy lead­er­ship.

“The fair was for chil­dren ages 3 to 9, so we ex­pect our par­ents to have more con­trol over what their chil­dren pur­chase. It was pulled from the reach of the chil­dren shop­ping af­ter sev­eral par­ents stated they would pre­fer to con­trol when they had con­ver­sa­tions with their young chil­dren,” said John Thorsen, head of school at Athens Academy. “In the mo­ment, we saw it as be­ing re­spon­sive to our par­ents. We cer­tainly did not in- tend to make any­one feel marginal­ized by this de­ci­sion. We are a di­verse and in­clu­sive com­mu­nity and deeply re­gret that any­one has been hurt by this in­ci­dent.”

In ad­di­tion to chil­dren’s books, the book fair of­fered an adult sec­tion, as well as young adult books for ages 9 and up. Out of those, “The Best Man” was the only one re­quested to be re­moved, Hewett said. To his knowl­edge, it was the only picture book with LGBTQ themes at this fair.

Thorsen said this is the first time any sort of sit­u­a­tion like this oc­curred — it’s usu­ally the op­po­site.

“A few years ago, our board dis­missed a re­quest from some­one ask­ing that a book, ‘And Tango Makes Three,’ to be re­moved from our Lower School li­brary. The board re­sponded that, based on our mis­sion and op­er­at­ing prin­ci­ples, we do not cen­sor books,” Thorsen said.

‘Athens Academy does not sup­port cen­sor­ship’

“This has been very, very dif­fi­cult for our com­mu­nity, as we have been por­trayed in such a harsh man­ner. That be­ing said, we will be work­ing hard to be bet­ter than ever for ev­ery­one in our com­mu­nity go­ing for­ward,” Weiler said.

In an apology let­ter Thorsen is­sued, he called the book fair in­ci­dent “an anom­aly” and “a deeply re­gret­table set of cir­cum­stances that is not con­sis­tent with our wel­com­ing, safe and in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment.” The let­ter states that “Athens Academy does not sup­port cen­sor­ship or dis­crim­i­na­tion in any form.”

Thorsen in­di­cated in his let­ter that Athens Academy will con­tinue to part­ner with Avid, though he told Ge­or­gia Voice “it is too raw for us to broach this sub­ject at this time.” Both Athens Academy and Avid lead­er­ship in­di­cate that they hope to learn and grow from this ex­pe­ri­ence mov­ing for­ward.

“If this truly is an apology, I am su­per ex­cited about that,” Hewett said of Thorsen’s let­ter. “If they are a school com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing their queer kids, that’s awesome.”

Hewett said the most dis­turb­ing part of the in­ci­dent for him was the quick­ness in which Lower School ad­min­is­tra­tors re­sponded to the par­ent by im­me­di­ately pulling the book with­out any other dis­cus­sion. Avid later re­sponded by hold­ing an in-store ben­e­fit sale with pro­ceeds ben­e­fit­ing the Athens LGBTQ Youth Group.

“It seemed ob­vi­ous to them that ‘the path of least re­sis­tance’ was to take the book away. I think the prob­lem here in gen­eral is too of­ten, the eas­i­est an­swer is to ca­pit­u­late to the peo­ple who al­ready have the power and the peo­ple who com­plain about the marginal­ized groups,” Hewett said. “[I hope] the next time that de­ci­sion will be a lot more dif­fi­cult, and next time the queer kids and the queer books will have a lit­tle bit of ar­mor.”

By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN

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