Explicit Content: The following story and photos illustrate mature subject matter. Cowboy State Daily slightly blurred the nude images, but in the original books, both available at Kelly Walsh High School, the nude images are generally uncensored. Read at your own discretion.
By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
A contentious crowd at Monday’s Natrona County School Board meeting traded barbs, with one community member calling a substitute teacher a “pedophile” and others calling out book banners of worried parents.
The controversy stems from a district review of the board’s decision last month to keep the books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the library at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper. Cowboy State Daily reviewed and roughly summarized both books on September 29.
The school board may have to review the books and decide their fate if an appeal is filed against them, but no appeal had been filed as of Tuesday, according to the district spokeswoman. Critics of the books told the board on Monday that the appeals policy was unclear.
Stephen Delger, a substitute teacher for the school district and a self-described conservative, addressed the council, saying he had read “Gender Queer” and didn’t know why people called it pornographic.
“I saw pornography, I’m ashamed to say, when I was young. I know what it is and it’s not,” he said, adding that those trying to take the books down are “questioning marginalized students.”
Delger warned against “book banning”, asking “where does it stop?”
Casper City Council candidate Eric Paulson spoke after Delger and accused him of child molestation.
“That’s who makes the case for (bookkeeping),” Paulson said. “People who think they’re 13, 12 and other underage kids are ‘finding themselves out.’ You literally just brought in a pedophile to talk to you who told us he was a substitute teacher.
Delger responded, challenging Paulson.
“He told you openly that he wanted young kids to find out who they are right now,” Paulson said.
The council asked their police officer present to intervene and remove Paulson’s microphone.
As he lost his microphone, Paulson directed a parting shot at Delger: “OK, groomer.”
Rimming, Fisting, Sounding
The rest of the meeting’s public comment segment was more civil, but just as impassioned. The council heard from members of the LGBTQ community, victims of childhood sexual abuse, parents, counselors and political candidates.
Kara Hopkins, a 19-year-old Casper resident, held up a copy of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” and read it.
“Hopefully (this) should be appropriate, if we have 14-year-olds reading it,” Hopkins said.
“There are many ways we use our mouths to lick, suck or penetrate someone,” she said as she read aloud. “Depending on our partner’s anatomy, there can be a lot of parts to suck on. Anything that points or hangs from the body can enter our mouth. Rimming, also known as analingus, involves performing oral sex on the anus. Lots of people enjoy it. Fisting is when the whole hand is inserted into the body; this can provide a very pleasant sensation of fullness and pressure either in the anus or in a front hole.
Hopkins continued, “Penetrative anal sex can be very pleasurable and comes with the added bonus that we all have this part on our bodies. Probing or inserting objects into the urethra is most often performed by those of us whose urethral opening is located at the end of our external genitalia.
“Many of us have had fantasies that involve power, dominance, submission, or role dynamics, such as teacher/student, boss, and employee. Many people think these are just fantasies and never realize that such scenarios can be safely and responsibly enacted in real life.
Hopkins also read a part about working as a sex worker: “For some of us, it might be something we feel good about or enjoy.”
Better than Google
Erica Vander, a mother of two in the school district and a recent graduate, said it was “ignorant to judge the content of these books without all the context,” and noted that “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” contains hundreds of pages of detailed research, including an accurate description of the “legal and mental health implications of transgender health and relationships.”
“If one Googled the information, much more graphic and less specific information would be presented,” she said, calling the images in the book “similar to a sex education textbook on biology.”
Vander speculated that the community outrage was not about the books’ sexual depictions, but was actually about “the LGBTQ community”.
She challenged the community to adapt to new and uncomfortable ideas as, she said, she once had to do to embed LGBTQ acceptance into her childhood religious beliefs.
Manure in the pie
Erin Westminster, a nurse at Casper, countered Vander, saying “pornographic” books cannot be redeemed by their other content when it comes to minors. She said that as a nurse she could lecture the council on the effects of ‘pornography’ on children and their dopamine receptors, but did not have time in the three minutes allotted to each commentator .
“If I baked you a pie and put two teaspoons of manure in it, would you really want to eat that pie?” she asked. “Even though you took the majority of this book and it wasn’t (pornographic), the parts that are, are still there, and they affect a child.”
Another speaker, Darcie Gudger, said the issue was not about LGBTQ representation.
“Why the push for explicit sexual content?” she asked. “If it’s really about representation, why don’t we have stories of members of the LGBTQ community or other minority groups acting heroically (instead)?”
Gudger said “representation” is possible in a “healthy” way.
“I don’t care if a kid identifies as a penguin — make it the best educated penguin in America,” she said.
Kelby Eisenman, an 18-year-old high school student from Natrona County using pronouns, testified to being “worn out by the mundane conversation about books; two novels that haven’t been verified more than 30 times in the recorded past.
“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel; “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” is not a novel, but a manual-style compilation.
When the review panel reviewed the books in mid-August, “Gender Queer” had been extracted 16 times since its acquisition in 2019. “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” had been extracted twice since its acquisition in February 2017.
Members of the review panel are not named in their Sept. 30 report on the books, except for the panel’s chair, Dr. Charlotte Gilbar.
Gilbar is also the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the school district.
Eisenman said reading the books made no difference to a person’s sexual orientation.
“I’ve never read ‘Gender Queer,'” Eisenman said. “I’m still gay.”
Eisenman explained what it was like to attend the former high school of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered in 1998.
“This (attempt to remove books is ongoing) by this organization to erase my identity,” Eisenman said, adding, “The end goal of this extreme group is to completely ban the existence of minorities in our schools. and, ultimately, in our society.”
“Scary New Concepts”
Archie Pettry, an adviser to Casper, said critics of the book were afraid of the “frightening new concepts available to their children”.
“There have been many scary new concepts introduced to children over the years that have been proclaimed as moral degradations of society, including interracial marriage, women’s suffrage,” he said. “Anytime a group makes progress on civil liberties, there are people who see it as, ‘this must mean something is being taken away from me.'”
Pettry said that as a counselor he had seen “far more children hurt” by not being exposed to sexual explainers than by being exposed to them.
Natrona County School Board candidate Renea Redding said critics of the books weren’t trying to erase anyone’s identity or spread fear of alternative lifestyles.
“Fear? Afraid of what?” she asked. “I wouldn’t want any child – LGBTQ+ or heterosexual – to be exposed to sexual content. So I don’t know where you’re from.
Redding also said that since “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” has been borrowed so few times, it should not yet be in the library under the library’s policy of throwing out unpopular books.
A woman who identified herself only as Marlene, 66, said she was a retired law enforcement officer of 20 years and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Her husband, who is nearly 70, is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she said.
“What these books do is make our children vulnerable to being trafficked, to being abused by things they should never have to encounter,” Marlene said. “And I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that those scars never go away. … (My husband) still has nightmares. I still have nightmares.
Marlene addressed the board, saying she would be “devastated if any (of her grandchildren) or any of your children or grandchildren had to endure any of this victimization because ‘they were made vulnerable’.