News - March 1996

Teacher asks school board to add gay book to library

In September 1995, the St. Louis chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN) mailed to every high school in the St. Louis City/County a letter indicating to them that we planned to send them the book "Becoming Visible" in October as part of our celebration of Lesbian and Gay History Month. This letter, along with educational information about gay youth was sent to the librarian, principal and head counselor at each school. A contact address number and address was provided in the event anyone had a question about the book, History Month or GLSTN.

Two of 85 schools informed us that they did not desire to receive the book. It was not sent to them The remaining 83 schools received the book in late October.

Mehlville School District Superintendent Robert Rogers arbitrarily ruled that the book would not be put on the shelves at the two high schools in the District. On December 11, openly gay history teacher Rodney Wilson appealed that decision to the School Board. As of this day, the book remains unshelved.

This is the speech Wilson delivered to the school board:

I am speaking to you this evening as a history teacher at Mehlville High School. In my six years here, I have never used this forum to address this Board. I do so now because I am deeply troubled that actions have been taken to prevent student access through our libraries to this book, "Becoming Visible." I am asking this Board to review that administrative decision and direct that this book be added to our high schools' collections.

"Becoming Visible" has been banned because it supposedly does not meet the needs of our approved curricula. I find this answer insupportable. I would argue that "Becoming Visible" indeed does meet the needs of our curricula. Furthermore, our libraries are full of books that would not meet a strict curricular interpretation .

I checked in Mehlville High School's library last week and found a myriad of books that should be in the library -- that should -- which do not meet the needs of our established curricula.

For example, this book, "Ten-Boy Summer," is about the quest of a few girls to see who can date ten boys before the summer ends. Does it meet the needs of our curricula? Absolutely not. Should this book be in our library? Absolutely.

"Hiding" is about first love, with the back cover asserting that 'the girls in my class at Fenton were afraid to start sleeping with boys because they were afraid they'd love it, it would be an addiction...' Does this book address the needs of our curricula? Absolutely not. Should this book be in our library? Absolutely.

And then there's this book which calls itself an 'epic romance and adventure' about 'two lovers who discovered their destiny.' And this, a self-described 'novel of love and intrigue.' And this book about space travel, and these on the techniques of surfing, sports car racing and tap dancing. Do these books meet objectives of our curricula? Absolutely not. Should they be in our library? Absolutely.

They should be on the shelves because the noble purpose of a library is to pick up where the school's curricula leaves off. It is a place for students to dig deeper and broaden their horizons. A library provides additional educational opportunities beyond the classroom. It is a supplement, a complement, to classroom instruction. As our District's policy states the library is designed to help 'implement, enrich and support the educational program.' Furthermore, our District's policy states that we must 'provide materials representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to our American heritage.'

"Becoming Visible" is banned from the shelves of our library as a result of viewpoint discrimination; viewpoint discrimination has been declared unconstitutional in several cases. A federal judge in Kansas two weeks ago ruled that a school district which banned a gay-themed book from the library was violating the First Amendment.

If we embrace the principles of academic freedom and free inquiry, principles supported in our District's policies, and if we believe in access to information on varying points of view for those in an academic setting, this Board must, I believe, direct that "Becoming Visible" be placed on the shelves at its two high schools. With chapters on gays in the Holocaust and during the witch hunts of the McCarthy era, as well as other topics, "Becoming Visible" is worthy of our libraries. Does "Becoming Visible" meet the objectives of our curricula? Unlike these books, it absolutely does. Should "Becoming Visible" be in our libraries? Like these books, it absolutely should.

Just today a student whom I do not know came to me and asked me for information about the gay rights movement for a paper she is doing in one of her classes; a good teacher must be able to point her to "Becoming Visible" in her own high school library.

I humbly ask that this Board consider this issue by the next Board meeting. Thank you for your time, for your patience and for your prompt consideration of this most serious matter.

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