BILLINGS — Citing district policy in two separate votes Monday night, trustees on the Billings School Board unanimously voted to keep two books, which drew concern from parents for their sexual content, on high school library shelves.
One book is “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison, which describes a sexual encounter between two fourth grade boys.
The other book is titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. The work is a collection of narrative drawings known as a graphic novel. The book contains drawings of two characters having gay sex.
"I would like to go back to the selection criteria and remind folks that selection of a work does not constitute agreement with its content and that material selected should be considered for the impact of each work as a whole and not in part. So I think by following those guidelines that are already accepted standard policy, it guides us to the decision we're about to make tonight," said Trustee Mike Leo.
In the background information presentation, the school district's attorney, Jeff Weldon, referenced a 1982 Supreme Court Case, Board of Education Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico. Weldon spoke of some of the merits the Billings trustees would be required to judge the books on.
"In brief, they held that a local school board may not remove books from the school library shelves simply because the trustees or the board members dislike the ideas contained in the books and they seek, by removal of the books, to prescribe which will be orthodox in politics, religion and other matters of opinion," Weldon said.
The father of a Billings West High School student, Nathan Mathews, first brought his complaint about the books in October last year. Mathews told a school board committee last week that the books constitute pornography.
“If I stood outside of that school and handed out pornographic materials, I would go to jail. And it seems odd to me that these books would be in our school libraries for everybody to access," Mathews said.
Matthews said his child wasn't assigned to read either book as part of classwork, nor had his child checked out the book themselves, but he learned of the literature by way of a news story that originated from across the country. The books were up for banning in a school district in Virginia and Texas late last year.
The books were bought in 2020 and were available at West High School and the Career Center, which serve students ranging in age from 14 to 18. "Lawn Boy" has been checked out twice since its addition to the library and "Gender Queer" has been checked out six times so far.
A representative from 406 Pride, a Billings LGBTQ+ resource center, supported keeping the books because they give voice to LGBTQ+ students.
"It's important for people, whether they are allies or they are part of the community or not to be aware of these perspectives. It could help someone who is in a rough place. or it could just help offer someone perspective that is not their own," said Katie Elam, board secretary for 406 Pride.