TAMPA, FLORIDA — Students as young as eleven-years-old at Pierce Middle School can continue reading about how to use gay sex apps and perform anal sex, and the school’s administration has no problem with it. After one parent submitted a formal challenge to remove This Book is Gay, a committee voted unanimously to keep the book in the school’s library.
In August, The Florida Standard reported This Book is Gay was one of dozens of books available to middle school students in Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), and exposed the lurid sexual material contained within its pages. The book features explicit instructions on anal and oral sex, hand jobs and how to use hookup apps – including one geared toward homosexual adults, Grindr.
SPEAKING OUT AND TAKING ACTION
Julie Gebhards, a mother in the Tampa area who pulled her kids out of HCPS two years ago, joined other parents in speaking out against This Book is Gay numerous times at school board meetings this summer. In response to these complaints, board members advised parents to fill out a challenge form. So that’s what Gebhards did.
The book challenge process on the HCPS website states that the school’s Educational Media Materials Committee (EMMC) convenes to scrutinize whether or not the book belongs in the library based on the HCPS guidelines. HCPS’s criteria for library book selections require that they support the individual school's needs and student pleasure reading, have been deemed age-appropriate via professional reviews and feature diversity in authorship, characters, experience and story.
FROM THE PAGES OF THIS BOOK IS GAY
This Book is Gay was written by James Dawson, a man who now goes by Juno and uses female pronouns. In the chapter “Ins and Outs of Gay Sex,” This Book is Gay features cartoon sketches of a naked man with facial and pubic hair to help provide young readers with guidance on best practices for sexual encounters. The diagram includes directional arrows pointing to the man’s penis, testicles, “bum” and nipples with instructions on good “blowies” and “handies.”
In the section that details how sex apps like Grindr work, Dawson writes: “It is a fact that that although grown-up adult types are sometimes looking for a serious relationship, sometimes they are just looking for a spot of sexyfuntime.” He goes on to say, “Remember, this is fine as long as you’re honest and always use a condom.”
THIS BOOK WILL STAY
On November 2, Gebhards received a letter via email from Pierce Principal Pablo Gallego informing her that the EMMC voted unanimously to keep the book in the library. Gallego was one of the committee members, along with teachers Rachael Clark, Lisa Gammons, school librarian Kenya Sutton and a few others.
The letter states: “The committee identified that it is an informative text, written by an author who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that can be a resource for an underrepresented community. The concepts are presented in a manner that is appropriate for the potential young adult reader.”
Based on the letter, it appears the committee believes it is an inevitability that all middle schoolers will discuss proper techniques for anal sex and gay hookup apps at some point. The letter noted: “Committee members pointed out that a resource such as this is better than word-of-mouth information shared by peers.”
The letter suggests that parents “should have a discussion with their child about what is appropriate to read,” but does not give any information about how parents might safeguard their children from walking into the library, picking up the book and flipping through its pages without ever formally checking it out.
When Gebhards received the verdict, she asked why the committee meeting took place behind closed doors where parents could not listen in on the discussion. In her response, head media supervisor Kimberly DeFusco wrote, “The EMMC meeting is open only to EMMC members to protect the objectivity of the deliberation.”
The Florida Standard contacted each of the aforementioned members of the committee, as well as DeFusco and district spokesperson Erin Maloney, asking for clarification about the decision. No one responded. HCPS Superintendent Addison Davis also did not respond to a request for comment.
Governor DeSantis signed HB 1467 during the 2022 legislative session, which requires “curriculum transparency.” Currently, school districts have procedures to review library materials that parents object to for inappropriate content. Beginning next summer, the law will require school districts to submit a list to the department of every book that was challenged and the outcome of the challenge.
“This book is clearly inappropriate for middle school children, and the fact there are those who disagree is shocking and raises serious questions about their judgment and ability to protect Florida students,” Alex Lanfranconi, Director of Communications at the Florida Department of Education, told The Florida Standard in an email. “The book describes graphic sexual situations, encourages unsafe practices, and solicits potentially dangerous interactions between minors and adults.”
“For a middle school to allow this is disgraceful,” Lanfranconi added. “It is clear that Hillsborough County Schools has consistently demonstrated a wanton disregard for the law, parents rights and age-appropriate content.”