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.
From @IamGMJohnson, the author of All Boys Aren't Blue: "I am an author who decided to tell their Black queer story so that others could feel seen in the ways I didn’t as a youth. Trying to deny my story won’t deny my existence."https://t.co/TK0dE5Jbi4
— → Greg Lambert ← (@glambert) December 4, 2021
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.
— George M Johnson (Garçon) (@IamGMJohnson) November 15, 2021
“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
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
Had the opportunity to be photographed for the “All Eyes in Newark” exhibit. pic.twitter.com/UyHwnP8Xww
— George M Johnson (Garçon) (@IamGMJohnson) November 26, 2021
“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
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.”