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Billie Jean King says a Massachusetts challenge to a kids book about her is ‘so very sad’

Billie Jean King Childrens Book Parent Reaction
Penguin Random House; Shutterstock

A mother has asked her child’s school to remove the book because it mentions LGBTQ+ people and divorce. The lesbian tennis legend had thoughts.

Cwnewser

Out tennis legend and LGBTQ+ advocate Billie Jean King has expressed her dismay after a parent challenged a book detailing her life at Memorial School in the Massachusetts town of Medfield, about an hour southwest of Boston. The book I Am Billie Jean King by Brad Meltzer was initially deemed appropriate for the school’s library collection but is now facing an appeal.

The controversy began in December when a parent, Courtney Hannigan, discovered the book in the school library. Hannigan’s six-year-old daughter had brought the book home, drawn to its cover illustration of a tennis player, according to the mother. After reading the book together, Hannigan raised concerns about its content, specifically passages discussing King’s realization of her sexuality and her divorce from Larry King.

The contested passage reads: “Around this time, I also realized I was gay. Being gay means that if you’re a girl, you love and have romantic feelings for other girls—and if you’re a boy, you love and have romantic feelings for other boys. Eventually, Larry and I stopped being married, and I fell in love with a wonderful woman named Ilana. You can’t choose who you fall in love with. Your heart will tell you.”

Hannigan argued that such topics were inappropriate for young children and could be confusing or distressing. She claimed that she voiced her concerns to Memorial School principal Melissa Bilsborough, who defended the book’s inclusion, writing that it met the publisher’s criteria for kindergarten suitability and aligned with the school’s commitment to providing a diverse and age-appropriate collection.

On Tuesday, Brad Meltzer addressed the issue on Threads, writing, “Can’t believe we are still fighting book bans like this. ‘I Am Billie Jean King’ was challenged in [Medfield], MA and was deemed appropriate, but now the parent is appealing.”

King, 80, a prominent figure in the fight for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, responded succinctly.

“So very sad,” she wrote.

The Medfield Public Schools Reconsideration Committee reviewed the challenge and ultimately recommended retaining the book in the library. The committee cited state and local policies supporting culturally responsive social-emotional competency development and the importance of representing diverse perspectives in educational materials.

In a March 19 letter, school superintendent Jeffrey J. Marsden addressed Hannigan’s concerns and outlined the review process. He noted that Meltzer’s book is part of a series aimed at highlighting heroes and their contributions in a way accessible to young readers. Marsden wrote that the book aligns with the district’s core values of respect and inclusivity and emphasized that students are not required to read it. He assured parents they could limit their child’s access to certain books by contacting the school principal.

Despite this reassurance, Hannigan has appealed the decision. In a letter to the Medfield School Committee dated March 22, she disagreed with the decision, arguing that it oversteps her right to protect her child. She cited Massachusetts law, which allows parents to exempt their children from instruction on human sexuality, including LGBTQ+ topics. Hannigan questioned why she was not informed that the book was on display and requested a list of all books in the library with similar themes. She also criticized the committee’s justification for retaining the book, arguing that the resources cited do not explicitly support the inclusion of topics such as sexual orientation and divorce for young children.

Hannigan contended that these subjects are not age-appropriate and should be addressed at the parents’ discretion, not in a school setting. She requested that her appeal be placed on the agenda for the next school committee meeting so she could defend her position in person.

The Advocate was unable to reach Hannigan for comment. However, Marsden explained what to expect at the hearing.

“The May meeting of the Medfield School Committee will vote to uphold or not uphold the superintendent’s decision. This is the third such request we have had in the past 18 months,” he told The Advocate.

He added, “We have no indication that any outside groups are a part of these reconsideration requests.”

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a similar case occurred in June 2023 when Katie Lyons, a Florida mother, filed a complaint against the same book after her second-grade daughter brought it home. Lyons argued that the book’s discussion of King’s sexuality was inappropriate for young children and infringed on parental rights. This case cited Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, known as the “don’t say gay” law, which restricts the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Lyons stated that the book’s content was against state law and inappropriate for the age group, arguing it infringed on parents’ rights. She emphasized that such discussions should be at the parents’ discretion and not introduced in an educational setting for young children. Lyons’ concerns were met with defenses similar to those in Medfield, highlighting the importance of inclusivity and diverse representation.

An appeal hearing for the case is set for May 23.

Cwnewser
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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).