A Florida mom is trying to get “I Am Billie Jean King” banned in elementary schools
Author: John Russell
A school district in Florida is reviewing I Am Billie Jean King, a children’s biography of the out tennis legend, after a parent filed a complaint objecting to its LGBTQ+ content.
In her formal complaint, filed on April 25 to Leon County Schools, Katie Leon — a parent of a child who attended Hawks Rise Elementary School in Tallahassee, Florida — wrote that she objects “to material that discusses being gay and what it means to be gay” and that she did not think the material was “suitable for elementary students.”
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Leon’s then-second-grade daughter brought the book home from the school library where, Leon wrote in her complaint, it was deemed appropriate for her daughter’s reading level. Written by author Brad Meltzer as part of the series “Ordinary People Change the World,” I Am Billie Jean King is intended for children ages 5–9 years old, according to its publisher Penguin Random House.
Leon took issue with a single page of the 40-page illustrated book, which describes King realizing she 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,” the page reads in part.
At a Tuesday morning hearing with Leon County Schools officials, Lyons claimed that the book violates Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, popularly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction on topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
“This book discusses sexual orientation, a topic that is prohibited by Florida law, is inappropriate for this age group, and ultimately infringes on our rights as parents,” she said.
“Because my child had access to this material, I was forced to have a discussion with her about sexual orientation,” Lyons said at the meeting. “The right for me to decide when my child learned about this topic was taken away from me. Neither my daughter nor myself were prepared for this discussion.”
While “Don’t Say Gay” bans classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ topics, another Florida law addresses books. The state’s H.B. 1467, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March 2022 and known as the “Curriculum Transparency Act,” requires school districts to catalog every book on their shelves and put a formal review process in place for complaints.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Leon County Schools assistant superintendent of academic services Shane Syfrett noted that the Florida Department of Education issued a clarification to the Parental Rights in Education Act, stating that “incidental references in literature to gay and transgender persons are not prohibited.”
“This book series contains stories of many exemplary people, and the exclusion of one of these profiles just because of the identification of the main subject as homosexual is not the intention of any law or statute passed by the Florida Legislature,” Syfrett said.
Syfrett said that banning the book would “limit all students and families from accessing this material freely when it may only be objectionable to some families.”
“We thoroughly believe in a parent’s right to address certain topics when and how they choose, but the job of our system is to protect that right rather than remove rights from others,” he added, noting that the district would be implementing a new process for parents to approve the books their children are allowed to check out of school libraries.
Following Tuesday’s hearing, retired principal D.J. Wright, a third-party selected by the district, has 14 days to make a recommendation to the school board based on what he heard from Lyons and district officials. The Leon County Schools board will then make a final decision.
After news of the book challenge broke in May, both King and the book’s author weighed in. At a press conference, King called the challenge “sad,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Meanwhile, Meltzer, the author, took to Twitter to blast Lyons’s complaint as “frivolous & meritless,” and to criticize the political climate in Florida that has led to so many book challenges and bans.
“Sadly, my home state of Florida has created a system where our limited educational resources are spent dealing with challenges to books rather than doing the essential work of teaching our children,” he wrote. “What our kids are learning from this process is the exact opposite of what our books are intended to teach. The world needs more tolerance, not less. Our kids are smarter than people think. They’re watching us right now — and seeing how we react. If you really want to protect children, teach them critical thinking.”
“At the heart of this meritless challenge is the idea that it’s somehow inappropriate to teach that one of America’s great heroes is gay,” he continued. “Let me be clear: there is nothing shameful or inappropriate about being gay.”
Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: John Russell