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Wash. school district bans novel about gay teens

By The Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. — University Place school officials have removed a book about gay teens from the district's library shelves following parents' complaints.

In banning Geography Club, Superintendent Patti Banks said she was alarmed by the "romanticized" portrayal of a teen meeting a stranger at night in a park after meeting the person — revealed to be a gay classmate — in an Internet chatroom. She said her decision was not due to the homosexual theme of the novel by Brent Hartinger of Tacoma.

"We want to send a strong consistent message to all our students that meeting individuals via the Internet is extremely high-risk behavior," Banks wrote in a letter Nov. 2 to two parents who requested the book's removal.

"To the extent that this book might contradict that message, I have determined it should not be in our libraries, in spite of other positive aspects (e.g., a strong anti-harassment theme)."

Parent Connie Claussen disagrees with Banks' decision and says she plans to appeal to the district school board.

"It is about gay students. However, the most important part of the book is that it's about bullying, outcasts, about tolerance," she said. "This is a really good book for any student to read."

In the 2003 book, a teenager thinks he's the only gay student in his high school until he learns that his online, gay chatroom buddy is a popular athlete at his school. The teen meets others, and they form the school Geography Club, thinking the name will be so boring no one else will join.

Banks had Geography Club withdrawn from Curtis Junior High and Curtis Senior High school libraries after a University Place couple with children in both schools filed a written complaint Oct. 21 asking the district to remove the book.

The parents wrote that reading the book could result in a "casual and loose approach to sex," encourage use of Internet porn, and the physical meeting of people through chatrooms.

Curtis High librarian Judy Carlson helped Banks make the decision on the book, even though she had selected it for the library's collection based on reviews.

Students often checked the book out, Carlson said, but after reading it, she felt it should have more strongly emphasized the dangers of meeting people through the Internet.

Geography Club is one of 10 nominees for the Evergreen Young Adult Book Award 2006. It has received favorable reviews and been placed on numerous adolescent reading lists.

Although the novel has been challenged in other schools for its sexual content, Hartinger said this issue with his book is a first.

"The reason gay teens are drawn to the Internet is that's a safe place to explore their identity without being harassed or bullied," Hartinger said. "It's ironic my book would be pulled for this reason, contributing to this atmosphere of silence and gay intolerance."


Challenges to library books rise in 2004

Attempts to have works removed from shelves increase by more than 20% over previous year, according to American Library Association study. 09.02.05

Banned books
Book censorship

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