Parents in Oregon have voiced outrage after a book about a transgender boy was included in a statewide reading competition for third through fifth grades, and at least two school districts have opted out of the competition because of the pro-LGBT book's inclusion.
The book, which is written by Alex Gino and published by Scholastic, focuses on the story of a biologically male fourth-grader who goes by the name Melissa seeking to play a female role in a school play.
"We don't feel that it's an age-appropriate book for a variety of reasons, and more so than the transgender aspect, when they talk about dirty magazines and use the word 'porn,'" Pete Cakebread, a parent of a second grader at Turner Elementary School told The Statesman Journal. "For incoming third graders that could be as young as 7 years old, that's really the inappropriate aspect of that book. A lot of them will be curious and then go try to look that word up and we all know what can happen on the internet when you type in that."
At the beginning of May, the Cascade School District became the second district in the state (joining the Hermiston School District) to opt out of the annual reading competition due to concerns about the book.
Cascade School District Superintendent Darin Drill told the The Oregonian that the decision came after administrators from the district's three elementary schools ruled that the book was not suitable for their students.
"What they said was it's not so much about the transgender issue," Drill said. "There are a couple of scenes in the book that they felt aren't appropriate for third graders."
Maria Duron, a spokeswoman for the Hermiston School District, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the district chose to withhold its third through fifth grade students from regional Battle of the Books competitions because George didn't align with the curriculum's outline for what kids that young are supposed to be learning about health and their bodies.
"You're talking about 8-year-olds," Duron was quoted as saying. "The district is able to address certain things. But this particular content is not within the district curriculum for that age group."
Debbie Huffaker, a mother of five in Grants Pass, told The New York Times that she feels the state is "pushing an agenda" on the children with the book selection.
"I love Battle of the Books; I'm a huge advocate," she said. "That's why when George came on the list I was like, 'Why? Why did they do this?'"
Suzanne Gallagher, the executive director of the organization Parents Rights in Education, has also spoken out about the book.
"Children read these things and they take them on as their own," Gallagher told The Statesman Journal. "So as a parent, I would be very concerned about my child reading this book and possibly questioning their own gender because of that. This is serious business."
Korie Buerkle, a librarian and member of the competition's book selection committee, told OPB that in order for a book to be placed on the competition's reading list, it must be nominated by a student, parent, school faculty member or municipal librarian and be approved by at least three of the committee members.
Buerkle said that the nomination of George was approved by much more than three members.
"We liked the story," Buerkle admitted. "We liked that it was about a trans child — something we've never had on the elementary list before."
"Books are both windows and mirrors for kids. We want to have books on the list where kids can say, 'Hey, that child is like me,' and feel empowered," she continued. "And we want books on the list where kids can say, 'I've never considered somebody's point of view like that before.'"
A separate Change.org petition calling for the state to keep George on the competition list has been supported by over 2,000 people.
According to OPB, a public comment period was held in the winter on book nominations for the competition. During the public comment period, two parents voiced support for the book and one voiced concern.
Prior to the uproar in Oregon, George had also been the center of controversy at other school districts around the country.
Earlier this year, the conservative advocacy group One Million Moms warned parents that the publishing company Scholastic, which holds book fairs and events at schools across the United States, is "not safe for your child" because of pro-LGBT books like George.
Gino, the book's author and a self-proclaimed genderqueer, told The Wichita Eagle last year that those who oppose the book are "afraid of exposing children to reality."
"They're either afraid that the book is going to turn them trans — I promise you that doesn't happen — or they're afraid of uncomfortable conversations," he said. "People are afraid of talking about what they don't know how to talk about."