In Canaan, 3 books with LGBTQ+ themes at center of controversy

school superintendents
Karen Conroy, left, Essex North superintendent. Photo by Bob LoCicero

Since March, three books in the Canaan Schools’ library have become the center of a controversy. 

The books — “How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual,” by Rebecca Burgess; “A Quick & Easy Guide To Queer & Trans Identities,” by Mady G and Jules Zuckerberg; and “Heather Has Two Mommies,” by Lesléa Newman and Laura Cornell — all deal with issues of sexuality and gender identity. 

Over the past few weeks, a group of parents and community members has sought to remove them from the pre-K-12 schools’ library, citing what they consider to be sexual material that is inappropriate for children. 

Although the school board voted unanimously on Monday to keep the books in the library, it’s not clear that the decision will end the controversy.

“I’m not comfortable with that (decision,)” said Ashlie Lynch, a Canaan mother who spearheaded the effort to remove the three texts. “A lot of people are very concerned about them.”

LGBTQ+-themed books and events in schools have drawn scrutiny recently amid a renewed focus from conservative politicians and media. Across the country, parents and community members have pushed school districts to remove books on LGBTQ+ issues from school libraries. 

For roughly the past two months, that trend has played out in Canaan. 

It started in late March, when Lynch filed complaints after her sixth-grade daughter sent her a photo of “A Quick & Easy Guide To Queer & Trans Identities.”

That book and the two others were inappropriate for students, Lynch said, saying the books’ colorful illustrations could appeal to children who were too young to understand the content. 

“I feel sexual orientation should not be taught or promoted to students in a school setting,” she wrote in her complaint against “How to Be Ace.”

In an interview, Lynch said the complaint “isn't a matter of me being against LGBTQ at all.”

“I'm not a monster,” she said. “I'm just a mother who thinks that things like that should be talked about at home.” 

In response to her complaint, school administrators assembled a committee of teachers, parents and administrators to discuss the books, as called for under school rules.  

The committee determined that “Heather Has Two Mommies” was appropriate for all age groups and the “Quick & Easy Guide” should be kept in the high school section, where it originally was located. “How to Be Ace,” however, should be removed from the library until the school board could issue a final decision, the committee said. 

It was not clear why committee members viewed that book differently.

Karen Conroy, superintendent of the Essex North Supervisory Union, disagreed with the decision on “How to Be Ace.”

“My recommendation would be to keep the books available in our library to provide resources that are equitable to the appropriate age group regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background and/or family income,” Conroy wrote to the Canaan Schools’ board. 

Lynch’s complaints, Conroy said in an interview, were the only ones she could remember from her nearly five-year tenure as superintendent. 

“I know it's a national problem,” Conroy said. “And it was just a matter of time for it to find its way to our small geographical location.”

On Monday night, the Board sided with Conroy, unanimously voting to keep “How to Be Ace” and the “Quick & Easy Guide” in the high school section of the library.

Although the school library is shared by all grade levels, younger students normally have to make a request to access the high school section, Conroy said. School administrators have discussed changing the library’s layout to control which books are visible to which students.

“I do think we need to just do a full review of our internal procedures,” she said. 

In an interview, Laurent Giroux, the chair of the school board, cited data about high levels of suicidal thoughts among LGBTQ+ youth. 

“If we're there to provide resources for the students and for the kids, and if this book can help one child realize that what they're going through is not abnormal,” he said, “it's well worth it.”

But Lynch doesn’t think the battle over the books is over, she said, noting that she plans to write to her local newspaper, the News & Sentinel in Colebrook, New Hampshire, about the issue.  

“I am not done, no,” she said. 

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Peter D'Auria

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