An Arlington resident suggested city council members hear perspectives from transgender people and the parents of trans children after District 5 Council member Rebecca Boxall posted her disdain for a children’s book about a child’s coming out.
In a March 21 post on her official Facebook page, Boxall criticized the book “Jack (Not Jackie),” by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Holly Hatam. The book follows the titular character and his sister as he explores his hobbies, appearance and, finally, his gender.
Boxall said she’s fought against gender stereotypes her whole life, from eating bugs as a child through gender bias in architecture school.
“Fast forward to now. We have books in our library telling little girls that, based on superficial things like climbing trees, catching bugs or wanting short hair, they are not little girls at all. No, obviously you must be a boy!” Boxall wrote.
Sarah Hissin, who has spoken against calls for Mayor Jim Ross to nix the Pride month proclamation — a tradition that started under former Mayor Jeff Williams — and the library to cull LGBTQ-affirming displays, suggested council hear from a trans member of the Unity Council. She also offered her perspective as the mother of a child who identifies as genderfluid.
“There desperately needs to be an educational understanding of this vulnerable population,” Hissin said. “If we continue to make assumptions, judgments and decisions based off our own cisgender experiences and limited understanding, we’ll continue to do things that not only emotionally harm our trans community, but actually put them at greater risk of violence against their bodies.”
Boxall said in a phone interview she would be open to having the discussion, but balked at the idea that none of the council has received education about trans experiences. She added that Hissin had organized a meeting with Boxall, but Hissin did not attend.
Boxall said she made the post because people on both sides of the LGBTQ display and obscenity discussions have made assumptions about her beliefs, and she wanted to clear the air.
“I have no intention of asking for any books to be removed. That tends to make both sides unhappy,” Boxall said. “One side wants books removed, one side wants you to just totally sign onto their agenda. That puts me in the middle.”
Hissin said, in a way, she’s glad Boxall posted about the book. Hissin said the parents in the book do not force Jack to reckon with his gender identity but do affirm him as he comes out in his own time. Additionally, she found refreshing the perspective of a sister mourning the loss of what she thought was her sister.
“I just found it to be really lovely–a lovely resource for parents who are helping a sibling,” Hissin said.
Continued LGBTQ, obscenity discussion
Hissin’s suggestion to city council followed an April 11 update from Norma Zuniga, library director, about the measures she’s taken in the months since discussions about LGBTQ material and obscenity reached her department.
The library advisory board voted to limit LGBTQ Pride month displays to libraries’ young adult and adult sections but created year-long sections for books with LGBTQ themes, including in children’s sections.
Zuniga’s team created different limited and restricted access for library cards issued to minors.
Library employees have also moved graphic novels from the young adult to adult section of libraries. Graphic novels have accounted for most recently challenged books at Arlington Public Library for graphic depictions of sex.
Council on April 11 discussed adding another committee into the library’s request for reconsideration process, or the method for which members of the public can ask the library system to pull books from shelves.
That same evening, City Manager Trey Yelverton commended Zuniga’s work to address the public concerns after speakers for weeks called for her termination.
Boxall said in a phone interview she believed that both sides –the camp that has defended the library’s acknowledgment of the LGBTQ community and people who have opposed such measures– keep coming back, despite council’s attempts at compromise.
“Obviously with a compromise, both sides are not going to be 100% happy, and that was predicted. But this issue still seems to be recurring, so I’m wondering whether this will ever die down because both sides want a total win.”
David Hopkins, another supporter for LGBTQ inclusion, said the visibility of people including his daughter, a lesbian, is not up for compromise.
“It’s hard to think about this in terms of a middle ground because there is no middle ground where my daughter is concerned,” Hopkins said.
Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at email@example.com. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.