School Board Cancels Reading List Rather Than Allow Lesbian Novel

Illustration for article titled School Board Cancels Reading List Rather Than Allow Lesbian Novel

A coming-of-age novel about a teenager's struggle with being sent to an ex-gay conversion camp has not only been removed from a summer reading list, but the entire list has been canceled rather than allow the book to be included.


In The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, a young lesbian is shipped off to an ex-gay conversion camp by her conservative aunt after her parents die in a car crash. While at the camp, she develops a relationship with another girl who becomes her best friend. It's a lot like But I'm a Cheerleader except a lot less campy and a lot more depressing. It takes place around the same time as the cult classic movie, beginning in 1989. It was the year I started elementary school, and if the world was a different place for LG and B youth, trans youth didn't even "exist." Don't expect the novel to be painless if you grew up queer in the 90s. Having read the novel, I can attest to its impact, since I did grow up queer in the 90s.

The Cape Henlopen School Board in Delaware removed the novel from its summer reading list after the board claimed some parents complained about the langauge included in the novel. Of course, given the language of many other novels on required reading lists (The Catcher in the Rye comes immediately to mind, but it's hardly the only example, to which Miseducation has some similarity) many others have called bullshit, asserting the book was pulled because of its emphasis on homosexual identity and Cameron's defiance of and resistance to "re-education."

Danforth and her allies called on the school board to reverse its decision, especially as critics claim the board didn't even follow its own rules. So how did the board respond? Oh, only by canceling the reading list program in its entirety. Because of course, if students can't possibly deal with lesbian teens with potty mouths and adolescent sexual appetites, then the answer is clearly to just not make them read anything at all!

Danforth, rightly pissed by the seemingly transparent actions by the school board, penned a scathing open letter to the school board.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post was included on a librarian-developed list that was part of a summer reading program for incoming freshman. You took the drastic action of removing the book from that list, thereby eliminating it as one of the books students participating in that program might choose to complete their assignment. Yes, my book is (apparently) still available in the school library—which is wonderful—but it is no longer a part of this important summer reading program because of a direct action taken by this school board. Period. That's the very definition of censorship, Mr. Brittingham. But surely you know this. (It does seem that this board rather likes to hide behind its rhetoric.)

Just because the novel is still in school libraries doesn't necessarily make it as accessible to students as it would be if it was part of the summer reading list. In many cases, when it comes to junior high school or high school reading lists, the books on those lists are mandatory. At least in my own experience, both as a student of English and a teacher of English, the lists I have been familiar with have not been optional. Many students who would otherwise never come in contact with certain subject matter by choice receive a deeper education because of mandatory reading lists. This is especially important when the topics are still as controversial as the mere existence of LGBT adolescent peers seems to be in many places around the United States.

Cameron's story is important for LGBT teens now to understand my generation's history, cut off from internet or wider resources, but it's also important for straight teens to understand the role of "conversion therapy" and other forms of abusive and violent discrimination of teens, not so different from themselves, save for who those teens crush on or how those teens see their self identity.


Cape Henlopen, that is education. So, educate.

Image via Shutterstock.


Mistakes were made

As a librarian I love when school boards (or any other governmental body) tries to do this. We stand on our heads trying to get non-readers to read. "Ban" a book? Everyone wants to read it now.