In early June, the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the country, released a list of suggested reads specifically aimed at educators, not students.
The list, titled “Great Summer Reads for Educators!,” featured books covering various topics such as learning, literacy, and race. Among the titles included was “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, a graphic memoir that has been frequently challenged for its content and banned in some instances. The 240-page book explores themes of puberty and gender identity, featuring illustrations of nude characters and sexual situations.
However, there was some confusion in the media regarding the intended audience of the NEA’s list. Some news outlets erroneously reported that the book “Gender Queer” was recommended for children. For instance, a Fox News segment on July 5 featured a chyron stating, “Gender Queer on NEA Summer Reading List for Kids,” and host Julie Banderas described the book as being “about masturbation and oral sex.” Similarly, Fox News host Tomi Lahren referred to the book as “soft porn” in a July 6 article published on OutKick, claiming that the NEA had recommended it for students’ summer reading.
Contrary to these reports, “Gender Queer” primarily deals with the author’s personal journey of coming out as nonbinary and asexual. Additionally, the NEA clarified that their reading list was always intended for adults and not students. In fact, Fox News itself acknowledged in a separate online article published on July 4 that the NEA’s list was for educators. Due to the spread of misinformation and backlash, the NEA appended an editor’s note to the reading list on July 5.
The editor’s note stated, “Educators read diverse books so that they can better understand their colleagues, students, and families they serve. The books here are not recommended for students.” However, Fox News did not respond to requests for comment from PolitiFact.
Published in 2019, Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer” received two prizes from the American Library Association in 2020, including the Alex Award, which recognizes books published for adults that also have appeal for youth aged 12-18. PEN America, an organization that advocates for free expression and tracks banned books, labeled it as the most banned book of the 2022-23 school year.
While the book delves into Kobabe’s journey of coming to terms with their nonbinary identity, critics have criticized the sexually explicit illustrations in the book. Nevertheless, Kobabe maintains that the book explores important themes of gender, identity, and sexuality.
The NEA, representing 3 million members, supports liberal causes and predominantly donates to Democratic candidates, according to OpenSecrets, a research organization tracking political finances. The organization opposes book bans, arguing that restricting access to books puts both students and educators at a disadvantage.
An NEA spokesperson clarified via email to PolitiFact that the reading list was specifically prepared for education professionals. They also stated, “NEA will not stand for attacks on our freedoms.”
In conclusion, it is false to claim that the NEA recommended the book “Gender Queer” for kids. The NEA’s list was clearly intended for educators, as stated in the title and clarified in an editor’s note.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, a part of the Poynter Institute. The sources for this fact check can be found on PolitiFact’s website.