Conservatives Target Queer, Black Memoir, ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’

Conservatives Target Queer, Black Memoir, ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’
Image: George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue, the critically acclaimed young adult memoir by  George M. Johnson about growing up Black and Queer, has been removed from the shelves of Flagler County, Florida school libraries while the school board conducts a review of the book. 

The book, along with three other young adult titles, had previously  been the focus of a criminal complaint filed by Flagler County  School Board member Jill Woolbright. 

Woolbright’s complaint also included the books The Hate You  Give, Speak, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. 

School boards in seven other states have also removed the book  from their libraries. According to Johnson, the book has been banned in 10 states

 Students Protest Removal Of Book From Libraries  

The removal of the book from four Flagler County district schools  has prompted protests by students as well as parents and other  concerned members of the public. 

“I knew that I had to take action because I’m not going to allow  censorship to occur within my school district, and I’m going to fight as hard as I can with other students,” Jack Petocz, a 17-year-old  Flagler Palm Coast High School student told CNN. 

“When I read that book, I identified a lot with Johnson’s struggles,  (with) constantly having that conversation brought up as a young  kid — are you gay? and the fear of that resonated with it,” said  Petocz. 

“Removing books from them doesn’t stop them from having those  same experiences. It just stops them from being able to know what  to do when those experiences happen to them,” Johnson told  CNN. 

“I am talking about sexual education. I am talking about consent. I  am talking about agency,” Johnson told Time. “And I am using my story to teach kids about the mistakes that I made the first time that I was having sex, so they don’t make those same mistakes. I  am teaching kids about not feeling guilty when sexual abuse happens, and how to recognize sexual abuse—most teens don’t  even recognize they’ve been abused. And how to fight back  against those traumas that you can hold on to for so very long.” 

White Retired Teacher Files Criminal Complaint Against Book  

All Boys Aren’t Blue

In her complaint, Woolbright, who is White and a retired school  teacher, said, “I made it clear I wanted whoever was responsible  for putting those books in our Media Centers held accountable for  this crime committed on our children.” 

According to the police report, filed by the Flagler County Sheriff’s  Department, Woolbright was particularly “upset about chapters  eleven and twelve. Chapter 11 discusses in detail, and very  descriptive, about masturbation and oral sex. Chapter 15 ‘Losing  my virginity twice’ is also very descriptive and discusses masturbation, oral sex, and sodomy.” 

This is not Woolbright’s first attack on the LGBTQI community.  In 2020 Woolbright and fellow board member Janet McDonald  voted against a motion which would add gender identity to the  school district’s non-discrimination policy. The motion ultimately  passed. 

Book Found Not Harmful to Minors Under Law  

John LeMaster, the general counsel for the Flagler County Sheriff’s  Department said the content of All Boys Aren’t Blue “is not a  violation” of law and “does not warrant further investigation.” 

“This book is a widely recognized award winning piece of  nonfiction which deals with difficult subjects of both social and  political issues impacting this age group. The book is readily  available online and in public libraries. This book does not meet the  legal definition of harmful to minors.”

“Whether or not this material is appropriate for students of Flagler  County is an internal matter for the board and is best addressed  through their processes,” LeMaster said. 

“Unfortunately, in this world, stories that center anything other than cis-gendered, white, heteronormativity are unacceptable by  society’s standard,” Johnson said in defence of his book. 

The criminal complaint was not supported by all school board  members.  

Cheryl Massaro, writing on the Flagler School Board District 5  Facebook page, said, “Today I can no longer remain silent and  allow a rogue school board member to destroy the hard work of  our current and prior board members, as that of all of the outstanding administrators, teachers and staff who have  contributed to making Flagler Schools a top-notch, competitive  school district.” 

“First and foremost, Ms. Woolbright does not speak for the entire  School Board.” 

“Ms. Woolbright is advocating for the removal of a number of  books from the School District’s media centres based on her  perception of their content,” wrote Massaro. “Let me make this  abundantly clear – I do not support censorship of these highly  acclaimed and award-winning teen books!” 

TV Series Based on Book  

The book is being developed as a TV series by actress Gabrielle  Union.  

“Queer black existence has been here forever yet rarely has that  experience been shown in literature or film and television,” Union said to Deadline.

“Being a parent to a queer identifying daughter has given me the platform to make sure that these stories are being told in a truthful  and authentic way and George’s memoir gives you the blueprint for  that and more.” 

“What I love about this book is that it not only offers a space for queer kids of color to be seen and heard but it also offers those  who see themselves outside of that standpoint to be held  accountable and help them better understand what it takes to truly  have acceptance with someone who is considered other,” Union  said. 

Book Tells Important Stories of Race and Sexual Identity  

“I wrote this memoir and shared these stories because of the  importance and need to center black stories from the black perspective,” Johnson told Deadline. 

“I didn’t have stories like these growing up and honestly I don’t  have many now so I knew I needed to do my part to make sure the  next generation of black queer children had something they could  relate to and connect with,” Johnson said.

“There are days I look at  TV and film and still don’t see myself represented. So, my ultimate  goal was providing the story I didn’t have but always needed and  to be the vessel so that so many can feel seen and heard,”  Johnson said. 

In a self-penned essay for BET, Johnson wrote, “I know my fight to  protect the rights of Black storytelling, Queer storytelling, and students having access to the material will be long. I refuse to let the youth grow up in a world as I had to where I didn’t feel seen or  heard — only dooming them to make the same mistakes of the  past. Furthermore, these students have rights, protected by the  First Amendment, to have access to material they deem as  necessary for themselves.” 

 Critical Acclaim For All Boys Aren’t Blue 

Image: Facebook

All Boys Aren’t Blue has generated critical acclaim. Publishers  Weekly said, “In a publishing landscape in need of queer black voices, readers who are sorting through similar concepts will be  grateful to join him on the journey.” 

Kirkus Reviews said Johnson’s book was “A critical, captivating,  merciful mirror for growing up Black and queer today, while The  New York Times called it “An exuberant, unapologetic memoir  infused with a deep but cleareyed love for its subjects.”

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