A Michigan county prosecutor has threatened to file criminal charges against public library workers for allowing minors to check out an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel that contains, in the prosecutor’s words, “child sexual abusive material.” The county’s library director has said the prosecutor is welcome to arrest her whenever he likes.
Lapeer County Prosecutor John Miller (R) says the book, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir, “borders on … child sexual abusive material,” according to Bridge Michigan because it allegedly contains “drawings of sex acts [that] appeared to involve ‘prepubescent boys.’” He said he began investigating the book after several county commissioners approached him about it.
Miller says the book’s presence in the county’s eight public libraries may violate a law against enticing anyone under 16 “to commit an immoral act, to submit to an act of sexual intercourse or an act of gross indecency or to any other act of depravity or delinquency.” The charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a $4000 fine.
The law is usually used to prosecute child sex abusers. But Miller says the book, written by an asexual and nonbinary author, entices young people to have sex. He says he’ll consult with community members before deciding to press charges, though he doesn’t know whether he’d charge the county library director, library board members, library employees, or the author of the book.
Miller also says he’ll speak at a Thursday evening Lapeer District Library board meeting to suggest removing the book from county library shelves. If Miller does decide to press charges, it’ll mark the first time in the state’s history that a prosecutor has taken such action against a librarian.
“My job is to take a position that protects our innocent and our youth,” Miller told the publication. “While I hope not to prosecute someone over this book, I feel it’s part of the community’s decision…. This isn’t about LGBTQ, this is about the exploitation of children.”
However, Amy Churchill, director of the Lapeer District Library, doesn’t seem particularly threatened by Miller’s bluster.
“He’s trying to intimidate us,” Churchill told the aforementioned publication.“I am not hard to find. If Mr. Miller wishes to arrest me, I am in my office working for the patrons and staff of the Lapeer District Library Monday through Friday.”
Churchill pointed out that Miller is only targeting Gender Queer but not The Joy of Sex, another library book with illustrations of heterosexual sex acts. She also said Miller first inquired about the book in January by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking the county library system for information about the consideration, approval, and purchase process for the book.
“A FOIA is an extremely aggressive way to communicate with someone,” Churchill said. “Usually you’d try to talk to them first.”
LGBTQ+ books in libraries have drawn anger from conservatives, leading to threats of defunding libraries and violent threats against library workers nationwide.
Gender Queer: A Memoir was the most banned book in school libraries in 2022, according to PEN America.
The graphic novel covers Kobabe’s experience of discovering and accepting that e is both nonbinary and asexual. The book also doubles as an instructive guide for those exploring their identities. In it, Kobabe discusses eir journey toward a less-gendered world where e felt freer from social gender expectations and more confident about expressing eir gender identity.
“By high school, I had met multiple out gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but I didn’t meet an out trans or nonbinary person until I was in grad school,” Kobabe wrote in The Washington Post. “The only place I had access to information and stories about transgender people was in media — mainly, in books.”
Michigan state Republican legislators have also introduced House Bill 4136, a bill that would require public libraries to keep “obscene” books in an area that children can’t access. However, most public libraries aren’t constructed or arranged in ways that would accommodate this law, Deb Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told MLive.