Books in question for ‘vulgar’ material can be sold to minors in Virginia Beach for now, but ‘fight is far from over,’ delegate says

Books in question for ‘vulgar’ material can be sold to minors in Virginia Beach for now, but ‘fight is far from over,’ delegate says

A former congressional candidate who had tried to have two books declared obscene for children decided not to appeal the judge’s decision to dismiss the case, which means the decision stands.

Judge Pamela Baskervill found in August that “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas are not obscene under state law. Therefore, the court could not restrict children’s access to the titles in libraries and bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, as the petitioner requested.

Tommy Altman, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress earlier this year, and his attorney, Del. Tim Anderson, had 30 days to appeal the finding.

“This puts an end to a case that should never have been filed,” Robert Corn-Revere, an attorney for Barnes & Noble, wrote in a statement. “Hopefully, this outcome will serve as a lesson for others who would use the law to restrict what people can read.”

During the Aug. 30 hearing, the authors, publishers, booksellers and advocates argued that “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” did not meet obscenity standards under state and constitutional law. Anderson argued that separate standards were needed for children and adults.

Baskervill had previously supported Altman’s petition to have “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” considered “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors” and ordered the authors and publishers to defend their works.

However, she said the order was “made on an incomplete record,” so it was vacated.

“While Mr. Altman elected not to appeal, the fight is far from over,” Anderson wrote in a statement. “Mr. Altman will continue to explore every option available to restrict school librarians from providing access to sexual materials until consent from the parent of the student is obtained.”

Anderson also said he will propose legislation to support this goal. The petition he and Altman originally filed involved “limiting booksellers,” but Anderson’s legislation will specifically look at school libraries, he said.

Booksellers such as Prince Books in Norfolk and Read Books in Virginia Beach, as well as advocacy groups like the Association of of American Publishers, Virginia Library Association and others, appeared in court in support of the books.

“We were really happy with Judge Baskervill’s assessment of the situation, so we aren’t surprised an appeal wasn’t filed,” Lisa Varga, executive director of the Virginia Library Association, said.

Book challenges have been occurring all over the country with a focus on books in school libraries containing what complainants describe as sexually explicit content. “Gender Queer,” which is a graphic novel, was No. 1 on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021 list. Virginia Beach has seen many of the complaints come forward.

The graphic novel was removed from Virginia Beach school libraries after a school board workgroup determined last spring that it was “pervasively vulgar.

Jeff Trexler, Kobabe’s co-counsel in the case and interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, said the challenges have been “picking up” in weeks leading up to the election, but it is a relief to see the Virginia Beach case come to an end.

“I’m hopeful that Virginia Beach is just the start of a number of decisions around the country and school districts, local communities, local courts, state courts, federal courts, where they all resoundingly agree that this freedom is a fundamental part of American life,” Trexler said.

Kelsey Kendall, kelsey.kendall@virginiamedia.com