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Ogden school officials pull 2 books dealing with LGBTQ issues off shelves

By Tim Vandenack - | Mar 30, 2023

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021. The wave of attempted book banning and restrictions continues to intensify, the American Library Association reported Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

OGDEN — Ogden school officials have pulled two children’s books from the district’s elementary schools, one about transgender girl Jazz Jennings, the other about the history behind the rainbow-colored gay pride flag and gay social activist Harvey Milk.

A third book that had faced a challenge, “Julián is a Mermaid,” will be kept on school shelves, according to Ogden School District spokesperson Jer Bates.

A parent submitted a challenge asking that all three books be removed from school shelves but later withdrew the request, Bates said. Still, he added, the three books faced evaluation and the team handling the task “determined that two of the books would no longer be included in our elementary collection.”

The two books being pulled from Ogden grade schools are “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” by Rob Sanders. Both touch on issues related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer communities and are geared to younger children. “I am Jazz” is geared to kids aged 4 to 8, according to its Amazon review, while the Sanders book is geared to kids aged 3 to 9.

Ogden school officials, like many in other districts around Utah, revamped their policy governing library books last year in response to House Bill 374. That’s the measure approved by state lawmakers in 2022 that’s meant to root out “sensitive materials” in public schools, notably books with overtly sexual content.

Davis School District officials had pulled 33 books from school shelves there as of last week per their new district book policy and had 32 more books to review, including the Bible.

Bates didn’t provide specifics about why the Herthel and Sanders books were pulled, but the district policy points to the new state code governing “sensitive materials” in schools.

A decision about whether to retain library books and other school material in schools “may be based upon the concern that the material is a sensitive material as defined in Section 53G-10-103, or upon concerns … with (the) age-appropriateness of content,” the Ogden policy reads.

In pinpointing “sensitive materials,” Section 53G-10-103 singles out “pornographic or indecent material” and points to Section 76-10-1235 of state code. Among many other things, Section 76-10-1235 points to other code sections that single out material that “appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors” or contains depictions of “illicit sex or sexual immorality.”

A blurb about “I am Jazz” on the website of book publisher Penguin Random House says the book tells the story “of a transgender child based on the real-life experience of Jazz Jennings, who has become a spokesperson for transkids everywhere.”

A blurb about “Pride,” also from the Penguin Random House website, says “young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’s world.” Milk, who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and was assassinated in 1978, was one of the first openly gay candidates for public office in the country, according to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

“Julián is a Mermaid,” by Jessica Love, which had faced a challenge but was retained, tells the story of Julián and the inspiration he draws one day on seeing three “spectacularly dressed up women,” reads its Amazon review.

“When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress,” reads the review.

School review committees that consider book challenges in Ogden are made up of a school administrator or designee, a district library specialist, a teacher and two parents or guardians from the school where the challenge originated.


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