In October 2021, conservative advocacy group Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) produced a TV advertisement containing illustrations from a book found at a local public school library. The ad had been rejected as too explicit to run during late-night hours, with some stations unwilling to broadcast even with the images blurred.
“They wouldn’t run this ad because they said it was too explicit,” IWV Vice President Carrie Lukas said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “If you saw the pictures in this, most people will say, ‘That’s pornography.’”
The 30-second IWV ad features oral sex scenes from “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a graphic novel created by cartoonist Maia Kobabe. A semi-autobiography of its non-binary author, “Gender Queer” contains illustrations of sexual acts, masturbation, and sex toys. It is one of the titles that triggered widespread concerns among Virginia parents last year.
“So many parents were newly awakened to being interested in recognizing that they had a real responsibility to be following what was happening in their public schools,” said Lukas, a mother of five children in public schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County.
The parent-led movement, which has since gained momentum in many other states, has been labeled as “censorship” by those on the political left. In December 2021, a coalition of hundreds of organizations and individuals, headed by the National Coalition Against Censorship, condemned what they described as a “political attack on books in schools.”
“These ongoing attempts to purge schools of books represent a partisan political battle fought in school board meetings and state legislatures,” the coalition argued, adding that they were “deeply concerned” about the “sudden rise in censorship” and its impact on freedom of expression.
Lukas, however, told The Epoch Times that she finds it ironic when leftists decry censorship after spending years looking for and eliminating anything that doesn’t align with their political views.
“The Left complaining about conservatives or parents who are now associated with the Right as being book burners seems ironic, because this is very much the pot calling the kettle black,” she said. “Over recent years, the progressives are fighting to change the names of our schools, to eradicate any statue of a Founding Father because of the time period in which he lived and his association with outdated ideas such as slavery.”
“They’re removing books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘—both were obviously progressive in terms of taking a strong stance against racism and for equality, and recognizing the humanity of people who look different. But they’ve become such censors that they can’t stand it.”
This cancel culture driven by the leftist political agenda is different from parents’ effort to protect their children from exposure to sexually explicit material, said Lukas.
“It’s not censorship to try to keep our kids away from really graphic images,” she said. “I think that’s just that’s common sense.”
When asked whether schools should completely leave it to parents to teach their children about sex, Lukas said while she is not against the entire concept of sex education, there is a difference between explaining to children the human health and emotional development aspects of sex and exposing them to pornography.
“Pornography is different than a health book talking about the birds and the bees and presenting some of the facts of life,” she said, adding that she finds it “completely tiresome” and “disingenuous” when media portrays parents pushing back against certain explicit books as if they want to shield their children from learning about sex.
Fairfax County parents and residents protested against a library holiday display featuring the Bible next to Gender Queer and Lawn Boy—the two challenged books returned to Fairfax County school libraries after the Thanksgiving holiday—outside Dolley Madison Public Library in McLean, Va., on Dec. 11, 2021. (Lisa Fan/The Epoch Times)
Lukas noted that the same tactic is also used during the debate on critical race theory (CRT), an outgrowth of Marxist critical theory that interprets society through the lens of a power struggle between races. Parents who raise concerns about CRT at school board meetings usually find themselves accused of trying to restrict the teaching about race and racism, although they simply don’t want children to be taught to believe that they are oppressed or guilty of oppression because of their skin color.
“The idea that somehow I don’t want my daughter to learn about the Civil War is obviously completely insane and disingenuous. And the Left absolutely knows that’s not what anybody is talking about,” she said.
Another problem in portraying concerned parents as authoritarian enforcers of censorship, according to Lukas, is the fact that parents lack leverage when they are put on the receiving end of school board decisions made with no regard for their interests.
“The parents who are pushing back have so little power,” she said. “The schools hold all the cards. Our only options are to go and complain to our school boards, which give us two minutes to speak before cutting off the mic, and then patting us on the head and ignoring us.
“We’re not an authoritarian group trying to suppress information,” Lukas added, noting that many parents can’t afford to pull children from the public school system that continues to frustrate them. “For most families, that’s really not a workable option. So we need to either give all parents the ability to escape these schools or make the schools better.”
At the time of this publication, “Gender Queer” remains on library shelves in Fairfax County Public Schools. After briefly removing the title alongside young adult novel “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, the school district in November 2021 reinstated both books, saying that the move reaffirmed an “ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters.”
“The books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journeys,” the district said.
Bill Pan is a reporter for The Epoch Times.