- More than 600 Dearborn residents argued Thursday over whether sex-themed LGBTQ books should be available to college students
- Many argued the books were sexually explicit and had no place in schools
- Others countered that it was essential for LGBTQ students to see themselves in stories and for others to get to know those who are different from them.
DEARBORN—More than 600 people gathered in a Dearborn college auditorium Thursday night, cheering, booing and, for the most part, talking to each other in the latest battle of the book ban wars that have raged across Michigan .
Both parties said they were concerned about the safety of the children. That’s about all they agreed on.
Many members of the mostly Muslim crowd who took turns at the microphone for three minutes in front of the Dearborn Public Schools Board spoke passionately about protecting their children from what they described as “filth,” “pornography” and slights to their religious faith in the books. which were, until recently, accessible to high school students.
Others, many of whom were teachers, parents or who identified as part of the local LGBTQ community, spoke equally passionately about creating an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTQ students and offering books that open students’ minds to stories and people different from themselves. .
Thursday’s meeting was a redux of a regular board meeting that was scheduled to take place on Monday – a hearing with a agenda involving the usual local school board rate, including approving contracts for classroom projectors and asbestos removal.
But that meeting collapsed into chaos after hundreds of protesters showed up to demonstrate against books they considered inappropriate for students – mostly books with LGBTQ themes. The Dearborn Fire Marshal eventually called the meeting off due to the size of the crowd.
Thursday’s event was moved to Stout Middle School’s auditorium, where all 600 seats were filled to capacity and an overflowing crowd watched on a big-screen TV in a cafeteria. There were dozens of police and private security to help keep the peace, with mixed results. At several points the hour-long meeting seemed on the verge of chaos amid explosions but, unlike Monday, the meeting continued.
The protests are the latest in a series of battles this year over the inclusion of books with LGBTQ, sexual or race-related themes in Michigan school libraries as well as community public libraries.
In Ottawa County, a Jamestown Township public library was canceled by voters in August in a dispute over several LGBTQ-themed books. A fundraising campaign has raised $270,000 to keep the doors open for now, and a running mile for the library will be back on the ballot in November.
Here in Dearborn, where Arab Americans make up about 42% of the population, controversy has erupted over six books — two available digitally and four print books in district high schools. Following complaints from parents, the books have been temporarily withdrawn from circulation while the council reconsiders its review process.
The district has 550,000 books in the district of 20,000 students, including about 55,000 in its high schools.
None of the books were used in classrooms, but students could view them at district media centers, district spokesman David Mustonen said.
The books in question are largely teenage and young adult stories involving romantic relationships or sexual abuse, often with LGBTQ themes. Several have been critically acclaimed. They understand:
- “To pushfrom Sapphire, a novel about a 16-year-old black girl who is abused by her parents and later regains her voice with the help of a sympathetic teacher. It was later made into the movie “Precious”.
- “The beautiful bonesby Alice Sebold, a novel about a teenage girl who, after being raped and murdered, watches from the sky as her loved ones grapple with how to move on after her death.
- “Eleanor & Parkby Rainbow Rowell, about a romance involving two 10th graders. The girl lives with domestic violence at home and the two teenagers struggle with traditional gender roles. The novel contains profanity.
- “Red, white and royal blueby Casey McQuiston; a novel about a romance between the US President’s bisexual son and a gay British royal, both in their early twenties. The book contains sex scenes and foul language.
- “Not all boys are blueby George M. Johnson; a memoir of growing up black and queer, with stories that include sex, bullying and aggression.
- “This book is gay” by Juno Dawson, an irreverent, nonfiction manual on LGBTQ growth, tackling issues such as coming out, sex apps, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Some parents on Thursday expressed concern over overt sexual images in the books.
“I never thought I would bear to boycott the books, and yet here I am,” said Dearborn resident and parent Cliff Alawy. He said he was uncomfortable describing certain scenes from one of the books he read to the crowd. “I’m a 43-year-old man and I’m embarrassed to say this stuff, but you say it’s good to be in our schools,” Alawy told the council. “Shame on you.”
Several residents who spoke out against the removal of the books from the neighborhood said they were gay, leading some members of the public to boo.
Mustonen, the district spokesperson, told Bridge Michigan that the district is reviewing the books and reinforcing an existing policy that allows parents to deny their children reading or viewing library books that parents object to.
District librarians also inventory the system’s book collection for further examination.
These efforts did not quell the protests.
“You looked at us like we were crazy,” resident Nagi Almudhegi told the board. “We are a compassionate people, a tolerant people. (But) does anyone need a Ph.D. know that this book is not appropriate for children? It’s common sense. How did we get there ?
Several speakers protesting the books objected to being criticized as anti-LGBTQ or unwitting pawns in a Trump-inspired right-wing push to divide people and ban gay people from public life. It was not the sexual orientation of the characters in the book that they objected to, they said, but the graphic nature of the material made available to teenagers.
“We are not here to attack the LGBTQ community,” Amro Hizam said. But “grossly inappropriate content has no place in our public schools. It normalizes sexual content.
But other residents challenged this framework and argued that regardless of the motive for the protests, students of different sexual orientations felt marginalized and unsafe in the face of such protests.
“You hate gay people and it’s obvious because look how you behave when a gay man talks,” said speaker Brian Stone, who was reprimanded by the board for directing his comments at the crowd.
Dearborn resident Brandy Ahmed told the audience that “a lot of our LGBTQ students are watching. People say, ‘We’re not trying to cancel them’, but there were gay people standing up (at the meeting) and you hear boos, and it’s heartbreaking.
When Ahmed finished her remarks, she returned to her seat to a chorus of boos.
Many speakers spoke of growing up in Dearborn and acknowledged that controversy and chaotic meetings put the community in a bad light.
Speakers on both sides said the issue was about protecting children and charged forces on the other side of politics. That included one of the final speakers on Thursday, Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general Matthew DePerno. He was joined in the front row by GOP Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo.
The school board took no action on the books at Thursday’s meeting. The review process is ongoing.
“We agree with both parties,” said Mustonen, the district spokesman.
“We don’t want inappropriate material in our schools. And we want a wide range of materials for our students.