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GOP Politician Targets Barnes & Noble With Legal Action for Queer Book

Del. Tim Anderson and Barnes & Noble store

A Virginia Republican politician is threatening legal action against Barnes & Noble for carrying the award-winning book Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe in its Virginia Beach store.

State Del. Tim Anderson, who is also an attorney, wrote on Facebook that due to the Virginia Beach Circuit Court finding probable cause that the book and Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass “are obscene to unrestricted viewing by minors,” a client of his is looking to seek a restraining order against Barnes & Noble and local schools to ban selling or lending them out to minors without parental consent.

That client is Tommy Altman. Altman is a congressional candidate for the district that is around Virginia Beach, according to local TV station WGHP.

“We are in a major fight. Suits like this can be filed all over Virginia. There are dozens of books. Hundreds of schools,” Anderson wrote.

The lawmaker shared images in the post to show why he believes the books should be banned. They include an image in Gender Queer where Kobabe is discussing masturbation with eir sister. And in Mass’s book, Anderson included images of pages that describe a sex scene.

In response to the action taken by Anderson and Altman, a spokesperson for Barnes & Noble told The Advocate in an email, “As booksellers, we carry thousands of books whose subject matter some may find offensive. We live in a diverse society, and that diversity of opinion is reflected in the books we carry on our shelves that cater to the wide range of interests of our customers. We ask that our customers respect our responsibility to offer this breadth of reading materials, and respect also that, while they chose not to purchase many of these themselves, they may be of interest to others.”

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America, said in a statement that the suit is "a worrying escalation" of attempts to censor literature across the country. 

"It is, of course, illegal to transmit obscene materials to minors; however, the term “obscenity” in the legal context is subject to a particular test, to which we would expect this Virginia court to adhere. But even if unsuccessful on the merits, the lawsuit and the specter of others like it are likely to have a chilling effect on booksellers as they consider what to stock for their patrons," Friedman said. "The scale and force of book banning in local communities has expanded dramatically in recent months, with a profound increase in both the number of books banned and the intense focus on books that touch on racism or contain LGBTQ+ subjects. Every American should be concerned about this wholesale effort to remove books from the shelves, and to return the United States to a past era when governments regulated the sale of specific books with punishing scrutiny.”

The publishers have 21 days to respond to the court’s decision that the contents within them are “obscene,” according to The Virginian-Pilot. If not, the court will issue a formal decision on the case.

Related: 18 LGBTQ+ Books That Are Banned in Schools in 2022

Last week, Virginia Beach schools decided to remove Gender Queer from school libraries after a complaint from school board member Victoria Manning. The book initially passed a review, but Manning appealed the decision with chair Carolyn Rye, resulting in the book's removal.

In a letter explaining her decision, Rye said she brought together several board members to read and discuss the book. The members recommend removing the book, which Rye accepted.

A description of Gender Queer on Simon & Schuster’s website reads, “Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.”

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