Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) & Library Censorship

The GENDER QUEER controversy began in the United States in 2020.

It was targeted in Australian libraries in early 2023, with the protest soon expanding to include manga and comic books.

The following books, manga and graphic novels are covered on this page or have been mentioned in media reports or by activists.

  • 7TH GARDEN (2014-17)
  • A.I. LOVE YOU (1994-99)
  • BOOF GOES TO BEAUTY SCHOOL (2018)
  • BOOK OF HUMAN INSECTS, THE (1970-71)
  • BOYS, THE (2006-12)
  • CROSSED: BADLANDS (2012-13)
  • EMBRACING LOVE (1997-09)
  • HIPS ON THE DRAG QUEEN GO SWISH, SWISH, SWISH. THE (2020)
  • LET’S TALK ABOUT IT (2021) LOVE HINA (1998-01)
  • NEGIMA! MAGISTER NEGI MAGI (2003-12)
  • NICK AND CHARLIE (2020) PREACHER (1995-00)
  • SHANGRI-LA FRONTIER (2017-Present)
  • TENJHO TENGE (1997-10)
  • UQ HOLDER! (2013-22)
  • WARRIOR NUN AREALA: RITUALS (1995-96)
  • WELCOME TO SEX (2023)

Gender Queer: A Memoir

Author Maia Kobabe / Publisher Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group / 2019 / USA

On 27 February 2023, an article drew attention to the availability of GENDER QUEER and Alice Osman’s NICK AND CHARLIE (2020) in libraries in Sydney’s Sutherlandshire.

Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

The second title, NICK AND CHARLIE (2015), was in the news after the father of an 11-year-old complained after his son borrowed it from his school library in the US state of Maine.

Nick and Charlie (2015) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

Both were described as graphic and repulsive and questioned why ratepayers were funding Australian libraries to stock them.

March 5, 2023
In an email to councillors on Friday, a Sylvania resident called on the council to remove the book from the library, declaring it did not represent “the vast majority of reasonable people in the Shire”.

“GENDER QUEER should be removed from Sutherland Shire Council libraries completely. This should happen today.”

Councillor Jen Armstrong wrote back to defend the “memoir”…As for objections to references to sexual behaviour, [she] said the library may as well also remove Prince Harry’s book given he detailed how he had lost his virginity “to an older woman” and nearly lost his penis.

– Fury over ‘obscene’ library book
dailytelegraph.com.au

At the same time, a protest at Queensland’s Logan City Council library saw it removed from the shelves but remaining available on request.

A complaint was then made to the police on March 4 about it and four other titles, which included manga and graphic novels.

March 16, 2023
[GENDER QUEER] referred to the Australian Classification Board (ACB) after a complaint made by a conservative activist saw the book removed from the shelves of a Queensland library.

Following a four-day investigation, Queensland Police confirmed to 9news.com.au that on March 9 they flagged GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR to the federal government’s Department of Communications and Arts, which runs the ACB.

9news.com.au has seen correspondence from Logan council stating the council was not breaking any laws by stocking GENDER QUEER, because there had been no ruling or review from ACB dictating otherwise.

– Gender identity memoir removed from Queensland library shelf, referred to classification board
article @ 9news.com.au

March 17, 2023
A federal arts department spokesperson confirmed the department was contacted by Queensland Police on March 9 regarding GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR. The department told police the book had not been classified, nor had an application for classification been received.

The department then advised the board’s director, Fiona Jolly, of “concerns raised regarding this book”. Jolly determined to call in publication on March 15. Classification may take five weeks.

– Censor to assess ‘Gender Queer’ graphic memoir after activist’s complaint
article @ smh.com.au

March 17, 2023
It is unknown whether all [GENDER QUEER] copies have been removed while the council investigation is under way.

Since the initial complaint on March 4, four others books have been targeted.

Logan City councillor Karen Murphy said the council review had already started.

“This review will be undertaken with reference to council’s Library Collection Development Policy,” Ms Murphy said online.

“This policy is consistent with national public library standards and guidelines.

“Council will make no further comment until the review is completed.”

– ‘Porn’ comic book taken off SEQ library’s shelves
couriermail.com.au

March 20, 2023
[Queensland] Police investigated the complaint for several days, and then contacted the federal government’s Department of Communications, which runs the ACB, on March 9.

The department told police the book had not been classified at that time and nobody had, so far, lodged an application for classification.

It is not unusual for a book to not be classified.

The department then flagged the situation to the ACB.

After assessing developments, on March 15 Fiona Jolly, director of the ACB, officially “called in” the book from publisher Oni Press.

The publishers were given the standard three days to comply.

At Jolly’s discretion, a single board member or a group panel will read the publication in order to reach a decision.

– Clock ticking on ‘Gender Queer’ censorship decision
article @ 9news.com.au

Policing your comics

On 15 March 2023, the NSW Police received ratings for four American comic books they had sent to the Classification Board. The background to these seemingly random submissions is unknown. However, it is interesting they came at the same time as library censorship began to take hold in Australia. Please e-mail us if you have any information about this case.

Benn Dunn’s WARRIOR NUN AREALA: RITUALS ran for six issues between August 1995 and June 1996. Three issues were submitted.

No. 3 (Dec. 1995) received an ‘Unrestricted’ rating.

Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 1 (December 1995) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 3 (1995)

No. 1 (Aug. 1995) and No. 5 received ‘Unrestricted’ ratings but with added consumer advice of ‘M – not recommended for readers under 15 years’. The National Classification Database lists No. 1 (Aug.1995) as BOOK II.

Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 1 (August 1995) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 1 (1995)
Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 5 (April 1996) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 5 (1996)

The fourth submission, CROSSED: BADLANDS No. 41 (2013), received a Category 2 rating. It restricts it to people 18 years and over and sale in certain places in opaque packaging. Queensland prohibits the sale of all Category 1 and 2 publications.

Crossed: Badlands No. 41 (November 2013) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 41 (2013)

This decision has been mentioned on social media by the activist behind the GENDER QUEER complaint so may prove a link between the cases.

Policing your library

In late March, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph visited Surry Hills Library in search of titles to complain about.

March 29, 2023
Comic books with graphic sex scenes and violent pornographic imagery have been pulled from the shelves of the “Teenage Fiction” section of a major Sydney library, as questions are raised about the classification of explicit material in Australia.

And the City of Sydney library late Tuesday began removing some of the books from the shelves of their Surry Hills branch after the Daily Telegraph uncovered explicit material in the teenage fiction section, including a copy of THE BOYS VOL 1 by Garth Ennis, which includes bestiality and rape scenes.

… a different book [CROSSED: BADLANDS No. 41] by the same author was declared Category 2 pornography on March 15 by the classification board after the NSW Police brought it to their attention.

A council spokeswoman said the novels were catalogued as adult graphic novels but “unfortunately they were located very close to the young adult graphic novels at the Surry Hills library”.

The same Sydney library shelves also contain Japanese manga books depicting sex, including a series about two Japanese porn stars “engaging in a 10 day sexual romp” called EMBRACING LOVE by Youka Nitta.

– ‘Extreme, degrading, violent’: Graphic teen library books under fire
dailytelegraph.com.au

The full article quotes the anti-GENDER QUEER atavist, which explains why the journalist singled out THE BOYS.

It is another title at the centre of attention in the censorship push.

Unrestricted in Australia

On April 3, the 240-page GENDER QUEER was rated Unrestricted M (M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years).

Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) - Book Cover 2
Book Cover – Deluxe Edition

April 3, 2023
On 3 April 2023, the Classification Board (the Board) classified the publication, GENDER QUEER A MEMOIR, Unrestricted, with consumer advice of ‘M (Mature)—Not Recommended for Readers under 15 Years’.

When classifying a publication, the Board is required to consider the impact of classifiable elements within the publication in the context of the publication’s narrative and artistic merits. The Board applies the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005 (the Guidelines) when classifying publications.

The Director of the Classification Board, Fiona Jolly, stated: ‘In the Board’s view, this publication can be accommodated in the Unrestricted classification as, within the context of the publication, the treatment of themes is not high in impact or offensive, and the treatment of sex and nudity is also not high in impact and is not exploitative, offensive, gratuitous or very detailed. Given the context of the publication’s narrative and its literary, artistic and educational merits, the Board does not consider that the publication contains material that offends a reasonable adult to the extent that it should be restricted.’

‘While considering that the publication should not be restricted, the Board noted that some content within this autobiographical text may offend some sections of the adult community and may not be suitable for younger readers. For this reason the Board has classified GENDER QUEER A MEMOIR ‘Unrestricted’ with consumer advice of “M—not recommended for readers under 15 years of age”.’

Ms Jolly reiterated: ‘This consumer advice does not constitute a legal restriction on its sale or availability.’

– Classification of the publication Gender Queer A Memoir
– Fiona Jolly, Director. Classification Board

Full Classification Board report

April 3, 2023
Title: GENDER QUEER
Alternate Titles:
Publisher: Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group
Author: Maia Kobabe
Year of Production: 2020
Number of pages: 240 pages
ISSN/ISBN: 9781549304002, 9781637150726
Version: Original
Format: Paperback
Country of origin: USA
Language: English
Application Type: New Publication
Applicant: Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia

Dates:
Date application received by the Classification Board: 22/03/2023
Date of decision: 3/04/2023

Decision:
Classification: Unrestricted
Consumer Advice: M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years
Conditions:

Synopsis:
GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR is an autobiographical non-fiction graphic memoir, written by Maia Kobabe, that explores the author’s path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual. This 240-page edition was published in 2020 by Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group.

Reasons for Decision:

In making this decision, the Classification Board has applied the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act), the National Classification Code (the Code) and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005 (the Guidelines).

In the Board’s view this publication warrants an Unrestricted classification, in accordance with item 4 of the Publications table of the Code.

Pursuant to the Guidelines, this content is classified Unrestricted as it does not include material that is likely to offend a reasonable adult to the extent that it should be restricted. A ‘reasonable adult’ is defined in the Guidelines as, “possessing common sense and an open mind, and able to balance personal opinion with generally accepted community standards”.

Publications classified Unrestricted may include material that is not recommended for some readers, including those aged under 15 years. Publications classified Unrestricted that contain material that is not recommended

for readers under 15 may be required to carry consumer advice of M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years.

The Unrestricted classification encompasses a wide range of material. Generally, descriptions and depictions of classifiable elements in publications classified Unrestricted may contain some detail. However, the impact will not be so strong as to require legal restriction.

The impact of covers of Unrestricted publications will be low.

In the Board’s view, this publication can be accommodated in the Unrestricted classification as, within the context of the publication, the treatment of themes is not high in impact or offensive, and the treatment of sex and nudity is also not high in impact and is not exploitative, offensive, gratuitous or very detailed. Given the context of the publication’s narrative and its literary, artistic and educational merits, the Board does not consider that the publication contains material that offends a reasonable adult to the extent that it should be restricted.

The examples described below do not represent an exhaustive list of the content that caused the publication to be classified Unrestricted.

ADULT THEMES, SEX and NUDITY

Descriptions and depictions of adult themes should not have a high impact or be offensive. The treatment of themes with a high degree of intensity should be discreet, low in impact and not exploitative. Generally, the stronger the theme, the more discreet the treatment. Descriptions and depictions of sexual products and services that are restricted to adults should be discreet and have a low impact.

Descriptions and depictions of, and references to, sexual activity involving consenting adults should not be exploitative or offensive. Realistic descriptions of sexual activity involving adults should not be gratuitous or very detailed. Sexual activity involving consenting adults may be discreetly implied in realistic depictions. It should not be high in impact. Descriptions and stylised depictions of sexual activity involving consenting adults may be more detailed than realistic depictions if this does not increase the impact.

Descriptions and depictions of, and references to, nudity should not be exploitative or offensive. Realistic depictions of sexualised nudity should not be high in impact. Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis. Prominent and/or frequent realistic depictions of sexualised nudity containing genitalia will not be permitted. Realistic depictions in which sexual excitement is apparent are not permitted. Stylised depictions of nudity may contain more detail than realistic depictions if this does not increase the impact. Descriptions of nudity may contain more detail than depictions if this does not increase the impact.

The classifiable elements of themes, sex and nudity are inextricably linked in the publication, which is an autobiographical non-fiction graphic memoir that explores the author’s path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual. The content is depicted through stylised illustrations, which are presented sequentially, and accompanying text. The Board notes that the Guidelines define ‘stylised’ depictions to ‘include cartoons and other unrealistic illustrations and images.’

The publication details on page 2 contain the statement, “This is a work of non-fiction.” The memoir begins with an introductory section, which notes that the author began work on the text while enrolled in a subject covering autobiography as part of a master’s degree in comics at the age of 24 years. The text then recounts anecdotes from the author’s childhood, adolescent and young adult experiences with ideas of gender.

On page 60, the author recounts a memory, explaining, “I was 11 or 12 years old the first time I can remember fantasizing about having a penis. I was lying, fully clothed, on a hillside under an open sky. I held a folded handful of grass between my legs. Safe in the knowledge that, if discovered, I could release my imaginary member and it would disintegrate back into scattered stalks.” The text continues on the following page: “For years my standard method of masturbation was stuffing a sock into the front of my pants and manipulating The Bulge. This would evolve into hip-thrusting while thinking of my latest gay ship.” (In this context ‘ship’ denotes a fantasy in which people, typically fictional characters or famous people, are believed to be involved in a relationship whether or not the romance actually exists.) The comment about a fantasy relationship is accompanied by a drawing that depicts two people in an embrace and kissing. The image includes partial buttock nudity of a dark-haired character who is lying between the legs of a blond character but does not include any genital detail or depict any explicit sexual activity. The lower third of page 61 features a cropped image of a person depicted from chest down with a hand resting between their legs as they drive a car. The image is accompanied by the text, “Memorably, I got off once while driving just by rubbing the front of my jeans and imagining getting a blow job.”

On page 62, the author’s sister asks, “It really never occurred to you to put something into your vagina, not even a finger? … So you’ve never tasted yourself? … You should try.” A drawing then depicts the author holding up a finger with a white substance on the fingertip and a caption identifying the substance as ‘vagina slime’. The author contemplates the substance before commenting, “I have an extremely low sex drive compared to pretty much all my friends. As a teen I got bored of masturbation.”

On page 63, the author comments, “The main trait I’ve always been attracted to is androgyny.” On page 64, the author continues, commenting, “My deepest emotional relationships have always been with women. Did that mean I was a lesbian? But my fantasies involved two male partners. Was I a gay boy trapped in a girl’s body? The knowledge of a third option slept like a seed under the soil.” On page 71, the author quotes from a diary entry written as a 15-year old: “I don’t want to be a girl. I don’t want to be a boy either. I just want to be myself.”

The narrative then covers the author’s adolescent interest in queer literature, discomfort with ‘girly’ activities and attributes, and embarrassment related to romantic ‘crushes’. On page 123, the author commences an anecdote about a pap smear. On page 124, a small drawing in the lower left-hand corner depicts the author standing nude in an image that includes breast nudity and pubic hair covering genitalia. On page 127, the pap smear is described as “45 seconds of the most excruciating pain of my life”. On the following page, a drawing depicts the author crouched over with a large metallic blade protruding through the abdomen. This image is accompanied by the text, “I felt as if I had been stabbed through my entire body and with this came a wave of psychological horror at the realization [sic] that things can go inside my body.”

On page 134, the author at age 14 is depicted telling a friend, “I think I’m asexual.” On the following page, the author writes about masturbation, commenting, “I discovered it at around the same age, followed by the further realization that my ability to become aroused was governed by a strict law of diminishing returns. The more I had to interact with my genitals the less likely I was to reach a point of any satisfaction. The best fantasy was one that didn’t require any physical touch at all.” These comments are accompanied by a highly-stylised drawing that depicts two nude male figures in the style of ancient Greek red-figure pottery. In this pottery illustration, a bearded male with an erection kneels before a smaller male figure, cupping his hand beneath the smaller figure’s penis. The highly stylised illustration of the pottery is identified as ‘An elaborate fantasy based on Plato’s SYMPOSIUM’.

On page 138, the author discusses the purchase of a ‘$10 bullet vibrator’. The vibrator is depicted in a drawing as an egg-shaped object attached by a cable to a control with a heart-shaped switch. On page 140, a series of drawn panels depict the author’s face as the vibrator is implicitly used. The author does not enjoy the sensation, turns off the vibrator and comments, “That was not for me!”

On page 157, after asking for help setting up a Tinder profile for research, three illustrated panels outline some of the other avenues of research that were undertaken by the author. These include, “Watched 10 hours of modern college dance performances,” “Spent several days driving around San Francisco scouting locations” and “Toured the SF Armory, which at the time housed the filming studios of Kink.com”. The picture accompanying the reference to ‘Kink.com’ is a stylised drawing of a building. No further references are made to the website or the content it hosts.

In the two panels at the bottom of page 157, the word ‘autoandrophilia’ is defined as ‘refers to a person assigned female at birth who is sexually aroused at the thought or image of having male genitalia or being a man’. The author comments, “Wow. I never knew there was a word for that. For me.”

On page 160, a section of the narrative commences that features the author’s relationship with a woman known as ‘Candidate Z’. On page 166, the author writes, “Fast-forward: We’ve been dating for two months, we’ve made out, we’ve had sex, we’ve moved on to sexting at work.” Drawings then depict a series of messages from Candidate Z to the author, featuring the text, “I got a new strap-on harness today. I can’t wait to put it on you it will fit my favourite dildo perfectly. You are going to look so hot. I can’t wait to have your cock in my mouth – I’m going to give you the blow job of your life. Then I want you inside me.” The author is depicted blushing and thinking, “This is the most turned on I’ve ever been in my life. I am dying.” On page 167, Candidate Z is depicted from the author’s perspective as she kneels and performs oral sex on a phallus that protrudes from the author’s unzipped pants. This image is accompanied by the text, “This is the visual I’d been picturing.” Below this, another drawing depicts the author wearing a strap-on dildo as Candidate Z kneels and sucks on the sex toy. This image is accompanied by the text, “But I can’t feel anything. This was much hotter when it was only in my imagination.” The author tells Candidate Z, “Let’s try something else.”

On pages 169 and 170, the author is depicted thinking about the sexual experience depicted on page 167. A series of thought bubbles feature the text: “I think the fact that I don’t see myself as, or understand myself as, a female person but that most of the people I interact with do is actually damaging all my relationships, even ones with friends and family. Sex just throws this into high relief because it involves contact with genitals. This whole dating thing is making me more and more confused and less and less happy. I don’t think I want to do it anymore.”

On page 189, the author speaks with Jaina Bee, explaining, “I’ve been thinking about switching to they/them pronouns but for some reason that doesn’t feel quite right. What pronouns do you use?” Jaina answers, “I use the Spivak pronouns e, em, eir, as in, ‘Ask em what e wants in eir tea.'” The author replies, “I love those pronouns! I just got the biggest tingle down my spine.” On page 191, the author writes, “As I pondered a pronoun change, I began to think of gender less as a scale and more as a landscape. Some people are born in the mountains, while others are born by the sea. Some people are happy to live in the place they were born, while others must make a journey to reach the climate in which they can flourish and grow. Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.”

The Board notes that the examples above outline descriptions and stylised depictions of themes of gender identity, sexuality and other themes which are inextricably linked with the elements of sex and nudity. In the Board’s view, the depictions of nudity are stylised and do not increase the impact to high. The descriptions and depictions of sexual activity are also stylised and are not high in impact. The Board notes that there are references to sexual activity, such as masturbation, by a minor, however the Board considers that these references do not deal with matters of sex in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. The Board also considered that the depiction of an erect penis is stylised and can be accommodated within the Unrestricted classification.

The Board notes that on page 134 there is a highly-stylised drawing of a work of ancient Greek art depicting a sexual encounter between an ancient Greek scholar and his student. However, given the historical context of the artwork, the narrative context of the publication and the stylisation of the imagery, the Board is of the opinion that this image does not depict a child under 18 years in a way that offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified.

[On July 5, the Classification Review Board report determined the Classification Board was referring to the panel image at the bottom of page 135 and not to an image on page 134. The Review Board determined that this was a typo made in error. They also found that poor wording in the above paragraph had led misinterpretation by the Applicant.]

The Board recognises that some content within this autobiographical text may offend some sections of the adult community. The Guidelines state that, “in considering each element, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.” Thus, specific content that may be accommodated within a certain classification within one context, may fall into a different classification within another context.

The Code (Clause 1) states that adults should be able to see, hear, play and read what they want, while minors should be protected from material that is likely to harm or disturb them. The Board is of the opinion that, in this publication, the treatment of themes, sex and nudity does not impart an impact so strong as to warrant legal restriction to adults. However, some of the events and recollections by the author may not be suitable for younger readers. Therefore, the publication is classified ‘Unrestricted’ with consumer advice of “M – not recommended for readers under 15 years of age”. This consumer advice does not constitute a legal restriction.

FRONT AND REAR COVERS

Covers must be suitable for display in public. The impact of any descriptions, depictions and references on covers should be low. Publications with covers which are not suitable for public display will not be permitted in the Unrestricted category.

The front cover is low in impact, therefore it is suitable for public display. The cover features the title GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR and mirrored images of figures standing in water. The upper figure has short hair and is wearing a t-shirt and shorts while the lower figure has shoulder-length hair and is only wearing shorts. A circular marker notes that the publication has been recognised as a ‘Stonewall Honor Book’ by the American Library Association.

The rear cover is low in impact, therefore it is suitable for public display. The cover features a blurb, which reads in full: “In GENDER QUEER, MAIA KOBABE has crafted an intensely cathartic autobiography about eir path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual, and coming out to eir family and society. By addressing questions about gender identity – what it means and how to think about it – the story also doubles as a much-needed, useful and touching guide.”

Decision:

This publication is classified Unrestricted with a consumer advice of M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years.

– Classification Board report

Background to a classification

Despite the involvement of the Queensland Police and Fiona Jolly’s promise to ‘call in’ the book from Oni Press, neither was named. Instead, Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia were the applicant.

Following the decision, they wrote a blog post explaining how this became the case.

April 5, 2023
On 17th March Kinokuniya received an email from The Classification Board of Australia “calling-in” GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR for classification within three business days.

It is one of the most challenged and banned books in the U.S. right now, and the conservative challenge to it here in Australia should ring alarm bells and make us all more vigilant.

Once a title as been called-in we essentially have three options. The first is to approach the local publisher/distributor of the title and ask them to submit it to the board. In the case of GENDER QUEER there isn’t a local supplier. We have recognised the importance of this title and we import it ourselves, which makes us (and anyone else who sells it in Australia) the ‘publisher’, in the Classification Board’s terms.

Our second option is to remove it from sale and write-off the stock. Why would we do that, you might ask? We would consider doing that, as we have done before, because the cost to have a single book classified for a single store is prohibitive – in this case, based on the number of pages, it is $560. The process could take several weeks, and there is no guarantee of The Board’s decision.

So, there you have our third option – to pay to have it classified ourselves. And we feel so incredibly passionate about being able to represent and champion this title in Australia that we paid the fee, and then waited.

– Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe allowed to be sold “Unrestricted” in Australia
article @ kinokuniya.com.au

Queensland crackdown

Following the Unrestricted rating, Logan City Council moved the book to the biography section of the adult collection.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) continued investigating Logan’s libraries to see if they had breached the state’s Classification of Publications Act 1991.

May 7, 2023
…formal complaints [had been made to] with the council and OFT about GENDER QUEER – one of America’s most banned books – and comic book THE BOYS (VOLUME I).

…police told him [the complainant] they were powerless to act as the book had not been classified.

…OFT confirmed it was investigating his complaint about whether books being loaned by the library were prohibited publications.

– Office of Fair Trading investigates pornographic books and comics at public libraries
dailytelegraph.com.au

Rating review

An appeal was announced seven weeks after the GENDER QUEER classification.

The applicant was the conservative Catholic activist responsible for initiating the campaign. Having been denied a fee waiver, he reportedly paid the $10,000 application fee himself.

May 22, 2023
The Classification Review Board has received an application to review the classification of the publication GENDER QUEER by Maia Kobabe.

GENDER QUEER was classified Unrestricted with consumer advice ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’ by the Classification Board on 3 April 2023.

The Classification Review Board will meet on 29 May 2023 to consider the application. The decision and reasons will later be published on www.classification.gov.au.

If an individual or organisation wishes to apply for standing as an interested party to this review, please write to the Convenor of the Review Board. The names of interested parties will be disclosed in the Review Board’s final decision report, unless requested otherwise.

Submissions should be emailed to crb@classification.gov.au

The closing date to lodge your application for standing as an interested party and any submissions is 26 May 2023. Please note that the Review Board can only consider submissions about GENDER QUEER itself and not any other matters relating to publication classification policy or issues generally.

The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. The Classification Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board.

– Classification review announced for the publication Gender Queer
– Classification Review Board

May 25, 2023
In March, The Classification Board called-in GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR by Maia Kobabe for classification from Kinokuniya. This was due to a complaint that was made by a very vocal proponent of book-banning. We were very pleased when The Board determined that GENDER QUEER should be available Unrestricted, with a recommendation for Mature readers, over 15 years. However, The Classification Board’s decision has been appealed (it appears by the same complainant) and they are now reviewing the decision.

If you believe that it is important for people to be able to access GENDER QUEER, unrestricted, then please see [Classification Review Board Media Release] for information about how to make your own submission to the Classification Review Board.

– The Classification Board’s decision to allow “Gender Queer: A Memoir” to be sold “Unrestricted” has been APPEALED
– kinokuniya.com.au

How are library books classified in Australia?

The controversy reached Canberra in time for the Classification Board’s appearance before senate estimates.

Alex Antic (Liberal) was keen to discover why library books were not rated. He used the example of the graphic novel LET’S TALK ABOUT IT (2021) by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan.

In 2020, the hard-right Christian senator had questioned the board about CUTIES (2020).

May 25, 2023
Senator ANTIC: I want to ask a few questions about how publications, books in particular, are classified in Australia. I have a few concerns about books that are showing up in public libraries. It is my understanding that under the classification act, or a truncated version of that title, publishers of books don’t need to seek classification for them unless they met the definition under the act of a submittable publication. That is broadly—

Ms Jolly: That is correct.

Senator ANTIC: It is a bit complicated. The onus, therefore, is on the publisher to seek classification for the material if they think it is potentially fitting into that submittable publication category?

Ms Jolly: Or otherwise if they would like to have the publication classified.

Senator ANTIC: Or if they would like to have the classification. That would by definition include publications that appear in public libraries. There is scope, I think, for unclassified material to hit public libraries. What happens if a publisher doesn’t seek classification for material which arguably and objectively might fit that submittable publication categorisation?

Ms Jolly: The classification scheme is enforced by state and territory governments. If there is material that would be considered, or likely to be considered, a submittable publication, it is up to state and territory enforcement agencies to put in an application to give the publication to the Classification Board.

Senator ANTIC: So the onus has been on a local authority or a minister or a public official of that nature? They have to hear about it, find it and put it through?

Ms Jolly: Under the Classification Act, I have the power to call in a publication.

Senator ANTIC: Or yourself, of course. I say this because I am getting an increasing number of concerns and complaints about books that are showing up in public libraries. This is one. It’s a book called LET’S TALK ABOUT IT: THE TEEN’S GUIDE TO SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND BEING A HUMAN, which all sounds a bit innocuous. The index contains chapters on sexting, kinks, fantasy and porn. I won’t actually hold any of this up because it’s pretty graphic in many senses. It is rated for 14-year-olds and thereabouts. That may be an American classification—I don’t know—or wherever the book is from. There are sections here telling kids basically how to go about sexting. It states:

‘Before you start sending your naughty masterpieces around the world, take some time to get friendly with photo editing software or apps. Digital photos are permanent and are impossible to retract once they are out there.’

This is the broad splash of it. It’s currently unclassified, as I understand it. It has a target audience of 14 years plus and is available in libraries in South Australia. My view is that it would meet the category of a submittable publication as it particularly unsuitable for minors. With that in mind, are you aware of any applications that have been made to classify that book?

Ms Jolly: No, not that book.

Senator ANTIC: Having heard that, would there be any scope for that to be done? Is there a process for that?

Ms Jolly: There is a process for that. If in my opinion a publication is likely to meet the definition of being a submittable publication, I can ask the department to assist me in calling in that publication. But I would only do that if it met the definition of a submittable publication. The threshold for that in the context of publications is: whether the publication is likely to be classified RC, refused classification, which is a very high standard or low standard, depending on your point of view, to meet; whether it is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult to the extent that the publication should not be sold or displayed as an unrestricted publication; or if it is unsuitable for a minor to see or read. A minor is a person under 18 years old. We also have to look at the context of a submittable publication under the criteria set out in the code. The first one is that adults should be free to read, hear and see what they want. We balance that with the requirement that minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them.

Senator ANTIC: You are stuck with the legislative framework you have. It does strike me that there is a serious gap in the powers afforded whereby this and others can just slip through. This is just one example of what I would say is inappropriate material going through public libraries on public display around the country and around my state. There are surely gaps in your legislative powers, then, if the process is for someone to find it, potentially take it out of their child’s bedroom if they had borrowed this book from the library and have it referred. I understand that process is onerous. Maybe there are costs associated with it as well. They could have it referred to a power. Would you say that there is need for reform in this area if that is the only mechanism? These things are showing up in libraries. It is almost like you have to let a crime happen before it gets stopped. That is a bad example.

Ms Jolly: I won’t comment on that book. I won’t make any personal comment on what I think about the content you have described. It is interesting to note, though, that the publications guidelines haven’t been reviewed since, I think, 2015. They were developed in the context where really the largest bit of the board’s workload for publications was classifying adult content. They are really focused on what is okay and giving information about protecting minors from explicit adult sexual content.

Senator ANTIC: Could it be that perhaps this is more prevalent now, this sort of material, these how-to guides coming out of the US, and, therefore, this is a new material problem—I say problem; others might disagree—which perhaps the legislative framework hasn’t yet catered for? If that is the process and these books are going out into public libraries, do we need a bit more of a look at the powers that are afforded?

Ms Jolly: It’s possible that the guidelines were created in a different context, yes.

Senator ANTIC: Thank you. That’s all from me.

– Alex Antic (Liberal)
– Fiona Jolly, Director, Classification Board
– Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

Next up was One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, who focused on the recent classification of GENDER QUEER.

May 25, 2023
Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for being here today. I think these questions will probably go to Mr Sharp. I will leave that to you, Ms Jolly. My questions reference the book entitled GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR. Are you familiar with it?

Ms Jolly: Yes, indeed.

Senator ROBERTS: Amazon lists this book as suitable for people only 18 years of age and over. The Classification Board has reviewed the book and given it a rating of M, which is a recommendation only. It is not legally binding. According to your website, ‘M’ is, and I quote:

‘Unrestricted classification, meaning any child of any age can access the book with a recommendation that it not be made available to under-15s.’

Is that correct?

Ms Jolly: That’s correct.

Senator ROBERTS: The material in GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR is what we would have called a cartoon book; it has a fancy name these days.

Ms Jolly: Graphic novel.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. This is very graphic. It has full oral sex depiction between two people. Is my accurate representation of the classification of GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR correct?

Ms Jolly: It’s what the classification board gave, yes. It is an unrestricted publication with a rating of M and consumer advice that it is not suitable for readers under 15 years of age. Yes, that’s correct.

Senator ROBERTS: Queensland commonly has a child’s library card for under-12s. It is probable a child under 12 years could view this in a public library but not borrow it. New South Wales has no such children’s card, so a child of any age could borrow this book. If a child even under 10 years, for the sake of argument, were to borrow this book and check it out using the automated checkout, with no adult supervision required, would the library have broken an actual law?

Ms Jolly: I’m not in a position to answer that.

Senator ROBERTS: This book is commonly read to children as part of a Drag Queen Story Hour event. If a drag queen chose to read this book to an audience of children, would that person have broken any law?

Ms Jolly: I can’t answer that question.

Senator ROBERTS: Minister, this is a matter of policy. The next step up from ‘M’ in your classification system for written works is ‘R’, which is restricted to sale in a sealed wrapper. I note that you have more options for video material but only limited options for classifications in written work. Is there nothing in between that for kids having exposure to this book and books only able to be sold in a sealed wrapper? Are you coming up with another classification, or will you, to protect children?

Senator Carol Brown: The classifications are as you outlined, Senator Roberts.

Senator ROBERTS: It allows graphic material through that is not suitable for young children. Will you protect those children?

Senator Carol Brown: The book that you referenced, GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR has consumer advice for children. It is not recommended for children under 15 years.

Senator ROBERTS: But children under 15 years old can still access it.

Senator Carol Brown: I’m not sure what you are saying to me about access in Queensland.

Senator ROBERTS: I will make it clear, Senator Brown. My intention is not to get this book banned. Adults can have a look at it. Will you introduce a new classification for graphic novels, as for videos, of 15-plus?

Senator Carol Brown: Well, I can say to you that I think the classification system that we have is robust. The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review board. I don’t see any need to introduce another step or another level.

Senator ROBERTS: How can you say that when I have said that this is a graphic book? It is a well and truly graphic novel. It is available to children under 15. They can get hold of it in libraries just like the previous book.

Senator Carol Brown: The advice is that it’s not recommended for readers under 15 years old.

Senator ROBERTS: That is probably an enticement for a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old. Can’t something be done about this?

Senator Carol Brown: I have responded, Senator Roberts.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Ms Jolly: I will go back to your question, Senator, about breaking any laws. The ‘M’ unrestricted classification, as I think you are trying to allude to, is not a legally enforceable classification.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you for that follow-up. I appreciate that, Ms Jolly.

– Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), Carol Brown (Labor)
– Fiona Jolly, Director, Classification Board
– Tristan Sharp, Deputy Director, Classification Board
– Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

Banned in Queensland

In early March, complaints were made about THE BOYS: OMNIBUS VOLUME 1 after it was found on the shelves of Logan City Council libraries. An investigation was launched by Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading to see if it broke the state’s classification law. By the end of the month, The Daily Telegraph was discovering a copy, containing ‘bestiality and rape scenes’ at Sydney’s Surry Hills library.

In May, it was reported a complaint had led to the Brisbane City Council removing all six of Dynamite Entertainment’s omnibus volumes from their library shelves.

On June 6, they were rated by the Classification Board. The applicant was Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney General.

Volumes 2, 4 and 6 received Unrestricted ratings.

The Boys Omnibus Vol 2, Vol 4, Vol 6 (2019) - Comic Cover 1
Omnibus Vol 2, 4 & 6 (2019)

Volumes 1, 3 and 5 received Category 1 ratings.

The Boys Omnibus Vol 1, Vol 3, Vol 5 (2019) - Comic Cover 2
Omnibus Vol 1, 3, 5 (2019)

Unlike the rest of Australia, Queensland prohibits Category 1 and 2 publications.

On the same day, a protest was held outside Beaudesert Council Chambers. A borrowed copy of THE BOYS: OMNIBUS VOLUME 1 was displayed and described as the property of the Scenic Rim Regional Council that was now illegal to own in Queensland.

The activist displayed a Japanese manga [title unknown], a genre previously described as ‘…a particularly large problem’.

Delayed review

The Classification Review Board convened on May 29 to examine GENDER QUEER.

On June 22, the Board announced that a final decision would not be made until later in the year.

June 22, 2023
… GENDER QUEER will remain on bookshelves as a review of its age restriction is postponed indefinitely.

‘Due to the volume of submissions received, the convenor of the Classifications Review Board has determined that the review is sufficiently complex that it cannot be concluded by 22 June,’ a spokesman for the board told AAP.

– There were calls for this queer book to be banned, but supporters may have saved it
article @ sbs.com.au

Another Unrestricted rating

On July 11, LET’S TALK ABOUT IT (2021) by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan was passed as Unrestricted by the Classification Board. Penguin Random House published the 240-page edition.

They found it had ‘…clear educational merit and is unlikely to cause offence or harm to the person or class of persons to whom it is intended or likely to be published’.

Let's Talk About It: The Teen's Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human (2021) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

The Director of the Classification Board had been asked on May 25, in Senate estimates, if it would meet the criteria of a submittable publication.

It was later revealed the applicant to be an Adelaide-based activist. She paid $790 to have the book rated after being denied a fee waiver by the Classification Board.

Gold Coast campaign

On July 12, a petition circulated in Southport calling on Gold Coast libraries to restrict access to certain books.

It included images of BOOF GOES TO BEAUTY SCHOOL (2018) by Caroline Tuohey and THE HIPS ON THE DRAG QUEEN GO SWISH, SWISH, SWISH (2020) by Lil Miss Hot Mess.

July 13, 2023
Gold Coast City Council spokeswoman.
“We are not a censoring body and as such we continually work to assist customers in their awareness of what is in our collection, and we encourage all parents and carers who visit our libraries to actively engage with their children when choosing any of our resources.”

– A homophobic petition is targeting Gold Coast library books
article @ qnews.com.au

A 52 day wait

The Classification Review Board usually announces their decisions in less than a week of meeting. In the case of GENDER QUEER, it took over seven weeks.

Their full report was dated July 5. However, it took until July 20 to announce the outcome.

July 20, 2023
The Classification Review Board (Review Board) has classified the publication GENDER QUEER Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’.

In the Review Board’s opinion, GENDER QUEER warrants an Unrestricted classification because the content of the publication is justified in context, is appropriate for its intended audience of people who are interested in the author or interested in the subjects of gender identity and asexuality, and has a positive tone and character as well as many layers of positive messaging. The Review Board found that the publication’s depictions of sex and nudity were justified in the context of a non-fiction memoir describing the author’s lived experience.

Also, in the Review Board’s opinion, consumer advice of ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’ is warranted as some content within the publication may offend some sections of the adult community, and may not be suitable for younger readers; therefore, the publication is not recommended for readers under fifteen years of age.

The Review Board convened on 29 May 2023 in response to an application from Mr Bernard Gaynor to review the decision made by the Classification Board on 3 April 2023 to classify GENDER QUEER Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’. This Review Board’s decision replaces the decision made by the Classification Board.

The Review Board is an independent merits review body. In reviewing a classification decision, the Review Board applies the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005. This is the same framework used by the Classification Board.

– Gender Queer classified Unrestricted (M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years)
– Classification Review Board

Full report

Unlike previous reports, this does not document the number of people on the panel and their names.

July 5, 2023
Applicant: Bernard Gaynor
Business: To review the Classification Board’s decision to classify the publication GENDER QUEER, Unrestricted (M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years).

Decision and reasons for decision

1. Decision

The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) classified the publication GENDER QUEER Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘(M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years).

The decision was made by a majority of the Review Board members. These reasons reflect the reasons of the majority, which is the decision that prevails pursuant to s 79(1) of the ‘Classification (Publications, Computer game and Computer Games) Act 1995’ (Cth) (the Classification Act).

2. Legislative provisions

The Classification Act governs the classification of publications and the review of classification decisions.

The Review Board

Part 5 of the Classification Act outlines the provisions relevant to the Review Board and its procedures.

Section 42 of the Classification Act sets out the persons who may apply for review of a decision:

a) the Minister
b) the applicant for classification of the publication, or the likely classification of the publication under section 33
c) the publisher of the publication, or
d) a person aggrieved by the decision.

Section 43 sets out the conditions regarding the manner and form of applications for review, including time limits. Under section 44, the Review Board must deal with an application for review in the same way that the Classification Board deals with an application for classification of a publication.

Classification of publications under the Classification Act

Section 9, subject to section 9A, provides that publications are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines. Section 9A states that a publication that advocates the doing of a terrorist act must be classified RC.

Section 11 of the Classification Act requires that the matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a publication include the:

a) standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults, and
b) literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the publication, and
c) general character of the publication, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character, and
d) persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.

The National Classification Code

Relevantly, the Publications Table of the National Classification Code (the Code) provides that:

Publications (except RC publications, Category 2 restricted publications, and Category 1 restricted publications) are to be classified Unrestricted, and the Code also sets out various principles to which classification decisions should give effect, as far as possible:

a) adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want
b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them
c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive
d) the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence and,
(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

The Guidelines

Three essential principles underlie the use of the Guidelines for the ‘Classification of Publications 2005’ (the Guidelines), determined under section 12 of the Classification Act, the:

importance of context
assessment of impact, and
the six classifiable elements—themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

3. Procedure

Three members of the Review Board met on 29 May 2023, in response to the receipt of an application from Mr Bernard Gaynor on 5 May 2023, to conduct the classification review of the publication, GENDER QUEER, which had previously been classified Unrestricted with consumer advice of ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’ by the Classification Board. The Review Board determined that the application was a valid application.

The Review Board was provided a written submission from the Applicant.

The Review Board read the publication.

The Review Board was provided written submissions from interested parties.

The Review Board heard an oral submission from the Applicant.

The Review Board heard an oral submission from a representative of the Australian Library and Information Association.

The Review Board then considered the matter.

4. Evidence and other material taken into account

In reaching its decision, the Review Board considered the following:

(i) Mr Bernard Gaynor’s application for review
(ii) Mr Bernard Gaynor’s written and oral submissions
(iii) The written and oral submissions from The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)
(iv) The written submissions from members of the public
(v) The publication, GENDER QUEER by Maia Kobabe
(vi) The relevant provisions in the Classification Act, the Code and the Guidelines, and
(vii) The Classification Board’s report.

5. Synopsis

GENDER QUEER is an autobiographical non-fiction graphic memoir, written by Maia Kobabe, that explores the author’s path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual. This 240-page edition was published in 2020 by Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group.

6. Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board found that the cover of the publication was suitable for public display for the following reasons:

The front cover is low in impact; therefore, it is suitable for public display. The cover features the title, GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR, the author’s name, and a mirrored image of figures standing in water. The upper figure has short hair and is wearing a t-shirt and pants or shorts that have been rolled up above the knees. The lower figure has long hair reaching below the shoulders and is wearing shorts. A circular marker notes that the publication has been recognised as a ‘Stonewall Honor Book’ by the American Library Association.

The rear cover is low in impact; therefore, is suitable for public display. The cover features a blurb that describes the focus of the publication with the following statement: “In GENDER QUEER, Maia Kobabe has crafted an intensely cathartic autobiography about eir path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual, and coming out to eir family and society. By addressing questions about gender identity – what it means and how to think about it – the story also doubles as a much-needed, useful and touching guide.”

The Review Board found that the publication contains aspects or depictions of importance under various classifiable elements:

(a) Themes—the publication details the author’s journey toward identifying as nonbinary and asexual. The exploration of these themes is clearly signalled to a prospective reader by the use of the words ‘gender’ and ‘queer’ on the front cover, rear cover, and spine; the illustration on the front cover; and the blurb on the rear cover.

The impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the Unrestricted level.

(b) Violence—not present in the publication.

(c) Sex—there is a pervasive narrative element of sex throughout the publication that is consistently mitigated by multiple contributing factors:

Descriptions and depictions of sex are justifiably interlinked with the publication’s central premise of a memoir recounting how the author struggled to make sense of gender identity and sexuality.

Descriptions and depictions of sex are highly stylised and contain little or no realistic detail.

Descriptions and depictions of, and references to, sexual activity involving consenting adults is not exploitative, or gratuitous.

The presence of sex and nudity in the publication is justified in context, specifically that of being a non-fiction memoir describing the author’s lived experience.

Sex and nudity are justifiably interlinked with the publication’s core themes of gender identity and asexuality. These themes are clearly signalled to a prospective reader by the use of the words ‘gender’ and ‘queer’ on the front cover, the illustration on the front cover, and the blurb on the rear cover.

The impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the Unrestricted level.

(d) Language—the publication contains infrequent strong coarse language, some of which is used with sexual connotations that are justified by context.

The impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the Unrestricted level.

(e) Drug Use—not present in the publication.

(f) Nudity—the publication contains infrequent, highly stylised depictions of male and female nudity, including full-frontal nudity. These depictions are lacking in detail and justified in context.

The impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the Unrestricted level.

7. Reasons for the decision

Summary

The publication is an autobiographical memoir, as indicated by the front and rear covers, and the statement on the title page that reads, ‘This is a work of non-fiction’. The publication contains recollections of the author’s lived experiences presented using the visual style of a graphic novel.

The Review Board found that the publication contains highly stylised depictions of classifiable elements that are consistently justified by context and appropriate for its intended audience. The Review Board recognises that the intended audience for this publication are readers interested in the author, and/or interested in the publication’s central themes of gender identity and asexuality.

The Review Board found that the publication contains highly stylised depictions of nudity and sex that, when considered within the broader context of the publication, are no higher than moderate in impact, and are not exploitative, offensive, gratuitous, or very detailed.

Given the context of the publication, the character of the publication, its recognised literary and educational merit, and the likely intended audience of the publication, a majority of the Review Board considers the treatment of the classifiable elements to be no higher than moderate in impact, and not depicted in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that this publication should be legally restricted.

The application by Mr Gaynor

Mr Gaynor summarised his submissions in his application as follows (at [4]):

a) The Board wrongly applied the Act, Code and Guidelines to the findings that it did make about the contents and effects of GENDER QUEER and that the correct test required the Board to refuse classification to this publication;

b) the Board further made errors in relation to its findings about the content and effects of GENDER QUEER that were not open to it based on the evidence before it and/or failed to consider necessary elements of GENDER QUEER under the under the Act, Code and Guidelines which provided additional reasons for this publication to be refused classification or to warrant restricted classification;

At the outset, the Review Board notes that its role is not to determine whether the Classification Board made an error or applied the wrong test. As noted above, under section 44 of the Act, the Review Board must deal with an application for review in the same way that the Classification Board deals with an application for classification of a publication.

The submission by ALIA

A representative from ALIA provided written and oral submissions in favour of an Unrestricted classification for GENDER QUEER. ALIA’s submission detailed the well-established artistic, literary, and educational merit of the publication, and the praise and recognition it has earned from authorities within Australia and overseas. ALIA listed the myriad nominations and awards attributed to the publication, as well as the high acclaim and praise it has received from well-respected literary organisations, journals, schools, and educators. ALIA referred to the positive character and tone of the publication and how it sensitively treats complex themes and subjects, such as menstruation anxiety and masturbation. ALIA submitted that the publication contains infrequent sexual references that are not presented in a way that is exploitative, offensive, gratuitous, nor detailed, rather are used to explore themes such as gender identity and self-expression. The Review Board acknowledges ALIA’s submission that GENDER QUEER has an important role in our community as an LGBTQIA+ text, especially for people who may have experienced, or are experiencing a similar journey to the author.

The Review Board notes ALIA’s submission that a growing backlash exists against the LGBTQIA+ community, and that attempts to restrict or remove GENDER QUEER and other LGBTQIA+ materials forms part of that agenda. The Review Board also acknowledges ALIA’s concerns that removing or restricting GENDER QUEER and other LGBTQIA+ from library shelves denies access to affirming materials for vulnerable members of our community who are non-binary, transgender, and/or asexual, many of whom are subject to prejudice and are at risk of self-harm and suicide.

Written submissions from interested members of the public

The Review Board received a large number of emails in response to this review. Overwhelmingly, those in favour of restricting or refusing classification for GENDER QUEER contained statements that the Review Board considered to be broadly anti-LGBTQIA+. The Review Board gave little weight to these submissions as they contained little or no evidence that the writers had read GENDER QUEER, or that they understood the content within the context of the publication. The submissions did not demonstrate engagement with the publication.

Most of the written submissions in favour of an Unrestricted classification contained clear and detailed evidence that the writers had read the book and understood the impact of the classifiable elements. The Review Board gave more weight to these submissions as they appeared to have been written by members of the intended audience of GENDER QUEER who had read and considered the content within the context of the publication.

The Classification Board’s Decision Report

The Classification Board provided a comprehensive summary of reasons for classifying GENDER QUEER Unrestricted, paying particular attention to the treatment of themes, sex, and nudity, which the Review Board also determined to be the most classifiable elements of GENDER QUEER. The Review Board notes the Classification Board’s reasoning and findings that some content within GENDER QUEER may offend some sections of the adult community, but that the treatment of themes, sex, and nudity does not impart an impact so strong as to warrant legal restriction to adults.

The Review Board considered Mr Gaynor’s application and his submissions as to the appropriate classification of the publication. The Review Board also considered the submissions from ALIA, the members of the public, and the Classification Board’s decision report. The Review Board concluded that the publication is to be classified as Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘(M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years)’.

Nudity

The Applicant submitted that nudity is depicted frequently within the publication and some of these depictions are high in impact because of their emphasis, tone, and context. Mr Gaynor submitted that the publication contained frequent depictions of nudity that are likely to be offensive to most people, and the intensity and impact of these depictions are aggravated by, among other things, accompanying text and other imagery.

In particular, Mr Gaynor referred to various depictions of nudity at pages 13, 20-22, 29, 31, 35, 36, 124, 127-128, 212 and 213. Mr Gaynor made submissions regarding the impact of depictions involving adult themes, including depictions involving menstrual blood, bathrooms, and a pap smear.

The Review Board notes Mr Gaynor’s submission that the depictions of nudity are likely to be offensive to most people and are unsuitable for a minor to see or read. The Review Board read the publication and considered the depictions of nudity throughout the publication. As outlined above, the Review Board found that the impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the M level, as depictions of nudity are highly stylised and justified in context. The Review Board found that the depictions of nudity are not likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult. Consistent with the Guidelines, the Review Board considered that the publication does not warrant restriction to adults and should be classified ‘Unrestricted’ with relevant consumer advice.

Consistent with the Guidelines, the depictions referred to by Mr Gaynor on pages 13, 20-22, 29, 31, 35, 36, 127-128, 212, and 213 should not be classified as nudity because they do not contain any breast or genital detail. The full-frontal female nudity on page 124 is in the context of undressing for a medical examination and the feelings of discomfort associated with that experience. It is the Review Board’s opinion that the impact of this image is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the M level.

Sexual activity

The Applicant submitted that sexual activity is depicted frequently and the depictions and descriptions of sexual activity are likely to be offensive to reasonable adults.

As outlined above, the Review Board found that there is a pervasive narrative element of sex, but that it is consistently mitigated by various factors discussed under Part 6 above. Descriptions and depictions of sexual activity are not exploitative, gratuitous, or very detailed. As per the impact section of the Guidelines, depictions are highly stylised and are less impactful than realistic depictions (such as photographs).

The Applicant made submissions about particular instances of sexual activity in the publication, including relating to the author’s account of masturbation, sexting, and sexual activity with ‘Candidate Z’.

In relation to the aspects of the publication relating to masturbation, Mr Gaynor submitted that these depictions and accompanying descriptions are high in impact and intensity and are likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult. Mr Gaynor submitted that, in context, certain depictions of masturbation and fantasising on page 61 of the publication depict the author under the age of 18. The depictions on page 61 are alleged to “involve depictions of a minor engaged in sexual activity and are high in impact, detailed and not discrete, and should not be classified as Unrestricted and instead warrant a refusal of classification under the Act, Code and Guidelines”.

Pages 62-63 contain references to “vagina slime” and masturbation. Mr Gaynor submits that the implied references to sexual activity are “high in impact and are likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult and be considered an abhorrent or revolting phenomena.” The Review Board considered that the references to masturbation, including but not limited to the aspects of pages 61-63 complained of, are lacking in detail and are justified in context. The Review Board took into account Mr Gaynor’s submissions, but determined that the impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the M level.

Pages 166 and 167 contain references to sexting and sexual activity using a strap-on. Mr Gaynor submitted that the depictions and description on pages 166 and 167 are “intense and high in impact and likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult”. For the same reasons outlined above and in Part 6 of these reasons, the Review Board found that the impact of this element is no higher than moderate and can be accommodated at the M level.

Mr Gaynor submits that the publication contains references to paedophilia and to violent pornography. The Review Board did not identify any depictions of or references to paedophilia or violent pornography in GENDER QUEER. The publication does contain discrete references to pornography that are justified in context and are no higher than moderate in impact.

Mr Gaynor submits that depictions and descriptions of sex are “likely to be offensive to reasonable adults, especially because the intended audience of this publication is persons under the age of 18”. The Review Board is of the opinion that the intended audience of this publication is adults, but that the book has a special crossover appeal to people aged 15 and above who are either members of the LGBTQIA+ community, are allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, or are interested in LGBTQIA+ stories. This supports the Review Board’s decision to classify the publication as Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘(M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years)’.

The Review Board disagrees with the Applicant’s submission that the publication is aimed at children by virtue of it being written in the style of a graphic novel, or that sexual content within a graphic novel constitutes either child pornography or pornography that is targeted at children. The Review Board further disagrees with the Applicant’s submission that the Classification Board’s decision implies that “depictions of sexual activity involving minors, including sexual abuse of minors by adults, is not only acceptable but a normal and expected element of the behaviour and experiences of persons who are not heterosexual” or that “sexual activity involving minors, including with adults, is now considered to meet the general standards or [sic] morality, decency and propriety when such behaviour involves persons who are not heterosexual”.

The Review Board determined that the author’s treatment of sex and sexuality throughout GENDER QUEER is consistently positive and framed by a pervasive sense of self-awareness, self-respect, self-love and self-acceptance. The author does not advocate sex or masturbation, rather the author demonstrates how they found sex to be something unpleasant and dissatisfying, and one of the key factors that helped them to understand they were asexual and non-binary.

The depiction of the fantasy based on Plato’s SYMPOSIUM

Mr Gaynor submitted that the Classification Board did not classify GENDER QUEER in accordance with the Code and Guidelines in relation to an image on page 135 of the publication, thereby breaching s 9 of the Act. Mr Gaynor submitted that Item 1(b) of section 2 of the Code required the Classification Board to find that the publication should be refused classification.

The panel at the bottom of page 135 depicts the author lying on a couch at approximately age 14, fully clothed, eyes closed, arms resting across eir mid-chest area. Above the author is a piece of text that reads, ‘An elaborate fantasy based on Plato’s SYMPOSIUM with an arrow pointing to a framed artwork inside a thought bubble. Inside the thought bubble, we see an image of two nude male figures framed by square symbols. The males could be described as a bearded, older-looking male, and a cleanshaven, younger-looking male. The bearded male is kneeling before the cleanshaven male with one hand resting just beneath the cleanshaven male’s genitals. The image of the males is not titled but the Classification Board, the Review Board, ALIA, and the Applicant have all identified it as a highly stylised depiction of a work of pottery art attributed to the Brygos painter, dated around 4th BC Athens.

Mr Gaynor submitted that the Classification Board had found that the depiction was of a child under the age of 18 years engaged in sexual activity with a man, in the context of the author’s discovery of masturbation and “fetish habits and fantasies about paedophilia”. Mr Gaynor included a letter from Dr Lesley-anne Ey, a lecturer in Educational Psychology and Child Protection at the University of South Australia. Dr Ey stated her opinion that the image depicts sexual activity between a full-grown man and a child aged approximately 12 years.

The Review Board considered Mr Gaynor’s submission and noted that the paragraph at the top of page 5 of the Classification Board’s decision report contains an error and poor wording that has led to a misinterpretation by the Applicant. Specifically, the Classification Board states that the image on “page 134” of GENDER QUEER “does not depict a child under 18 years in a way that offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults…” The Review Board understands that the Classification Board is referring to the panel image at the bottom of page 135 of GENDER QUEER, and not to an image on page 134. The Review Board determined that this is a typo made in error.

The Review Board notes Mr Gaynor’s submission that the Classification Board’s findings in the paragraph at the top of page 5 of the decision report serve as an admission that the Classification Board has identified ‘a child under 18 years’ in the Greek artwork, and that the Classification Board, therefore, should have classified GENDER QUEER as ‘refused classification’. The Review Board considered the Classification Board’s statement and determined it not to be an admission that the Greek artwork contains a depiction of a minor, but that the Classification Board is referencing the section of the Classification Guidelines for Publications that sets out the criteria for classifying a publication ‘refused classification’. The Review Board’s understanding of the Classification Board’s statement is that the Classification Board determined that the image on page 135 of GENDER QUEER does not depict a child under 18 years, nor does it depict a child, nor anyone, in a way that offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. In any event, as set out below, the Review Board determined that the image does not depict a child under 18 years, nor does it depict a child, nor anyone, in a way that offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.

As noted by the Classification Board, the Greek artwork is “a highly stylised drawing of a work of ancient Greek art”. The image is depicted within the same square symbols that surround the original work. The inclusion by the illustrator of the square symbols around the males is a strong indicator that the image is a stylised depiction of the flat, inanimate pottery art, and sets the artwork within its historical context. The Review Board considers that the artwork is an artist’s impression of the bona fide artwork that contains less detail and realism than the original work, and is less realistic, sexual, intimate, and evocative than the original work. The image is tertiary to the primary image of the author on the couch and the secondary reference to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM, so is less active than the original artwork, which serves as the primary image on the ceramic.

The Review Board notes that the Applicant has speculated in his submission the ages of the males within the panel image; however, the Review Board is of the opinion that while the precise ages of the males in both the original artwork and the panel image are unclear, the Review Board is satisfied that the males are not children. The Review Board could not find any indicators in the publication that conclusively or definitely suggest whether either of the males in the panel image are minors. The Review Board also notes that the publication contains many examples of adults who appear to be depicted as minors, including numerous depictions of the author’s mother.

The Applicant submits that the panel image on page 135 depicts the author fantasising about paedophilia. The Review Board determined that the Greek artwork inside the panel image on page 135 is a depiction of an older-looking male and a younger-looking male, and not a depiction of paedophilia, child exploitation, child pornography, or any other interaction between an adult and a minor. The Review Board notes the Classification Board’s findings that the image likely depicts a sexual encounter between an ancient Greek scholar and his student. The Review Board rejects the Applicant’s submission that ‘student’ means ‘child’.

The Review Board disagrees with the Applicant’s submission that the image is entirely gratuitous and has no contextual relevance to the publication because GENDER QUEER does not deal with any aspect of ancient Greek culture or art. The Review Board considered the context of the Greek artwork as a visual reference to help the reader understand the author’s reference to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM, which is the subject of the author’s fantasy in the panel image. The author does not describe the nature or the context of the fantasy or the roles that the Greek artwork and Plato’s text serve within that fantasy. The Review Board determined that, for the reader to understand the panel image at the bottom of page 135, the reader is not expected to have read Plato’s SYMPOSIUM (an ancient Greek work of fiction containing a series of monologues about love) or know that the Greek artwork is attributed to the Brygos painter. The Review Board determined that the use of the panel, and the depictions and descriptions within the panel, is artistic for the purposes of information and expression, and is consistent with the positive tone and character of the publication. The Review Board has considered the Applicant’s submission that the Greek artwork is sexualised because it appears in the context of masturbation. The Review Board determined that this element is mitigated by the surrounding panels and text that, along with the panel image at the bottom of page 135, describe how the author came to identify as asexual. As noted by the Classification Board, and by Mr Gaynor, the text surrounding the subject panel image reads, “I discovered it [masturbation] at around the same age, followed by the further realization that my ability to become aroused was governed by a strict law of diminishing returns. The more I had to interact with my genitals the less likely I was to reach a point of satisfaction. The best fantasy was one that didn’t require any physical touch at all”. The Review Board determined that the panel image and surrounding pages describe the author’s anathema to masturbation and sex, which is consistent with the author’s autobiographical realisation that e is asexual and non-binary.

The Review Board agrees with the Applicant’s submission that the image would be likely considered criminal if the males were real people depicted contemporaneously, and the males were an adult and a minor, and the males were found to be involved in a sexual activity. The Review Board shares the Applicant’s view that depictions of children engaged in sexual activity are beyond the norms of morality or decency accepted by society, as well as the Applicant’s concern for victims of child abuse. The Review Board agrees with submissions by the Applicant, ALIA, members of the public, and the Classification Board that state that minors should be protected from material that is likely to harm or disturb them.

The Review Board found that the depiction on page 135 would not cause offence to a reasonable adult because the panel does not contain a detailed or realistic description or depiction of sexual activity, and it is not offensive, gratuitous, exploitative, or explicit. As the Classification Board notes in their Decision Report, the Greek artwork is highly stylised and justified in its historical context and the narrative context of the publication.

Themes

The Review Board agrees with the Applicant’s submission that “GENDER QUEER deals with adult themes relating to sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, and gender confusion from the perspective of a person who strongly believes that the traditional approaches to sex, gender and morality are flawed” and that “these are clearly themes and a perspective which can, should be and are widely canvassed in all manner of publications”. The Review Board has considered the elements of sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, and gender dysphoria against the classifiable elements of sex, nudity, and themes in GENDER QUEER, and considered how the content and treatment of this element contributes to the impact. The Review Board agrees with the Classification Board’s finding that the treatment of themes, sex, and nudity does not impart an impact so strong as to warrant legal restriction to adults. However, some of the events and recollections by the author may not be suitable for younger readers.

As outlined above, the Review Board found that the element of themes is inextricably interlinked with the elements of sex and nudity, all of which are consistently mitigated by various factors discussed under Part 6 above.

Promotion, incitement, or instruction in matters of crime

The Applicant submitted that the publication should be refused classification because it promotes, incites or instructs in matters of crime or violence. In particular, Mr Gaynor contended that two depictions promote crime in the publication:

a) ‘The depiction on page 135 shows a naked man with an erection engaged in sexual activity with a boy, cupping the boy’s penis with his hand.’

b) ‘The depiction on page 61 shows the author masturbating while driving.’

The Review Board notes Mr Gaynor’s submission that GENDER QUEER promotes, incites, or instructs in matters of crime, and depicts revolting and abhorrent phenomena. The Review Board disagrees that the depiction on page 135 shows a naked man with an erection engaged in sexual activity with a boy, and the Review Board also disagrees that the author’s reference to masturbation while driving promotes, incites, or instructs others to drive dangerously. The Review Board determined that GENDER QUEER does not contain any content that is high impact, gratuitous, or exploitative, or likely to cause outrage or extreme disgust in a reasonable adult. The content does not promote or incite illegal activity, and is not abusive, violent, sadistic, abhorrent, or cruel. All content in the book is justified in context and appropriate to its intended audience.

Finally, the Review Board notes the widespread recognition, critical reception, and acclaim that GENDER QUEER has received worldwide, including from ALIA, the peak body for libraries in Australia. In addition to being a Stonewall Honour Book and Alex Award recipient, GENDER QUEER is listed as the ALA YALSA Best Books of 2020: Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2020), ALA YALSA Outstanding Books for the College Bound (2020), Chicago Public Schools Great Graphic Novels (2021), Denver Public Schools Top 100 High School Books (2020-21), Howard County Public Schools (MD) Best of the Year – High School (2019), Iowa High School Battle of the Books (2021), Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools Recommended Reading Grades 9-12 (2021), New York Public Library’s 50 Best Books for Teens (2019), School Library Journal 17 Immersive Graphic Novels for Teens, Summer Reading 2021, Texas Library Association: Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List, 2020, and was a nominee for the Garden State Teen Book Awards (2021). The American Library Association recommends GENDER QUEER as appropriate reading for ages 14+. Amazon’s recommended reading age for is 16+ (USA, Australia, and UK), Common Sense Media recommends the book for ages 16+, Barnes and Noble (USA) recommends the book for ages 15+, and Maia Kobabe recommends the book for ages 16+. In July 2019, the School Library Journal (USA) listed GENDER QUEER as recommended reading for grades 11 and up, before amending its recommendation in December 2019 to grades 9 and up. ALIA has not placed any restriction on GENDER QUEER within Australian public libraries. The Classification Branch has not received any complaints about GENDER QUEER from other peak Australian authorities such as the Australian Border Force.

The Review Board notes that GENDER QUEER is not banned or restricted in any other jurisdiction. The Review Board acknowledges ALIA’s submission that the publication has been translated into Spanish, Polish, Czech, French, and Italian with Norwegian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean forthcoming.

8. Summary

Pursuant to the Guidelines, the impact of the classifiable elements in the publication is no higher than moderate. All of the content in the publication is entirely justified in context and appropriate to its intended audience. The publication has a positive, lighthearted tone; positive character; and many layers of positive messaging. However, the Review Board recognises that some content with this publication may offend some sections of the adult community and may not be suitable for younger readers. It is therefore the Review Board’s view that the publication warrants a classification of: Unrestricted with the consumer advice of ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’. This consumer advice does not constitute a legal restriction.

– Classification Review Board report

Freedom of Information (FOI) – Submissions released

On July 5, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications released a 63-page PDF of the submissions made to the GENDER QUEER review.

FOI No. 23-286 contains 19 documents and 38 individual submissions. 28 of which were negative and 10 positive. The Board noted overwhelming support for a higher classification or an RC. They were also broadly anti-LGBTQIA+’ and showed ‘little or no evidence’ that they had read the book. Submissions from supporters had more detail, while those against were often little more than short emails.

Guardian Australia filed the FOI request. They reported the Classification Review Board received over 500 submissions, causing a reporting delay. The smaller number in the FOI reflects the broad public response.

Another sex education book attacked

On July 16, WELCOME TO SEX (2023) by Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes became the latest target. The controversy began when a Sydney podcaster posted an Instagram video of himself flipping through the book in Big W.

Welcome to Sex: Your no-silly-questions guide to sexuality, pleasure and figuring it out (2023) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

The media picked up the story, and by July 18, Big W had dropped the book from stores due to the public abusing their staff. It remained available in their online store.

Senator Ralph Babet (United Australia Party) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation) continued the campaign against the book.

Buy your copy now

July 21, 2023
Kinokuniya is pleased to hear that the Classification Review Board has released its finding on GENDER QUEER, upholding the original decision of the Classification Board.

GENDER QUEER will remain on our shelves – and library shelves throughout the country – classified as Unrestricted (M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years).

Our sincerest thanks go to all those who shared our posts about GENDER QUEER’s journey through the Classification system, and to all those who supported it with submissions to the Review Board. It’s a small win in the culture war with those who seek to restrict what others are allowed to read, but it feels like an important one for all of us, and especially the LGBTQIA+ community.

– Update
kinokuniya.com.au

Background to a classification

Sky News revealed the campaign against LET’S TALK ABOUT IT (2021) had been running since the start of the year.

July 31, 2023
A graphic book about sex that encourages minors to look up porn and tells them how to send naked pictures of themselves to their peers has sparked outrage, and prompted calls for it to be removed from display in Australian libraries.

…the book is available in 36 public libraries across Australia, some holding multiple copies, as well as major booksellers including Dymocks, Angus & Roberts and QBD Books.

– Sky News Australia investigation
article @ skynews.com.au

Motion defeated

On August 1, Malcolm Roberts (One Nation) called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Classification system. It proposed to look at the ‘…adequacy of the current classification system for publications to protect children from age-inappropriate material’.

His speech to the Senate references THE BOYS, WELCOME TO SEX and something called NAGANO.

August 1, 2023
A publication called THE BOYS has been available in Australia since the first issue in 1996. This is the same THE BOYS that Netflix turned into a hit streaming show. Children, having seen the sanitised Netflix version and then seeing the book version on the shelf of their local library, will, of course, pick the book up and borrow it, unaware of the depictions of extreme violence, rape, public sex and bestiality found in the publication. Even more troubling, all of these things are portrayed in a positive light. For 25 years, this material has been perfectly legal to sell, display and lend to minors of any age.

A week after the Classification Board appeared before Senate estimates to answer questions from me and Senator Antic, the board reviewed all six volumes of THE BOYS as a result of a referral from campaigner, family protector and child protector Bernard Gaynor. A citizen fulfilling his responsibility to the community, to the nation, got it referred to the board. Three volumes were restricted and three were allowed to remain on sale unrestricted, meaning available in libraries to children. One of the banned works, episode 5 in volume 1, was titled ‘Herogasm’ and chronicled the sexual exploits of our superheroes. Graphic depictions included orgies and bestiality. This behaviour was presented in a positive light, with smiles, high fives, raised fists and whoops all around.

Dynamite publishing did not refer their publication to the Classification Board as the law requires. I’ll say that again. Dynamite publishing did not refer their publication to the Classification Board as the law requires. The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 does not prescribe a penalty on a publisher who does not refer a work that may be subject to sanction.

That’s an incentive to not submit a work. This is one of the terms of reference of this motion. Penalties may be appropriate for a publisher who failed to submit a work that was subsequently restricted.

One of the volumes that was not banned depicted the male lead character, Homelander, raping the lead female character, Starlight, complete with protestations, using language that should not be suitable for children. The board declined to restrict the volume because the nudity in the rape scene was not overly graphic. What about the rape? All senators and members of parliament are required to take a course on sensitivity to women. The Classification Board clearly needs to attend the same training. The second justification for not restricting the volume is even worse. It was, ‘The two characters both climaxed, suggesting the sex was not rape but consensual.’ The Classification Board is apparently bringing back, ‘But she came’—the old rape defence. Where are the women’s activists? Where are the Greens talking about women now? They’re nowhere to be seen.

– Malcolm Roberts (One Nation)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Robert’s criticism of WELCOME TO SEX was echoed by Pauline Hanson (One Nation) and Ralph Babet (United Australia Party).

August 1, 2023
On 19 July I wrote to the Labor Party communications minister, Michelle Rowland, expressing my immediate concern about this [WELCOME TO SEX] book. ‘Why is it unclassified, Minister Rowland?’ Minister Rowland hasn’t replied to my letter. I’m not surprised. Does Minister Rowland care about children? I certainly hope so. Minister Rowland, reply to my letter. Show that you care. The title itself, let alone the harmful content, should have prompted the publishers to submit the book for classification. There is the loophole right there. It’s up to them to determine whether they should submit their own book for classification, and that needs to change.

On 21 July I wrote a similar letter to the deputy secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, who oversees the operation of Australian classifications. They are the entity responsible for the classification of children’s books. I questioned if they would exercise their authority to call in this book and other books, and I have yet to receive a reply from them also.

– Ralph Babet (United Australia Party)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Also speaking in support of the motion was Alex Antic (Liberal). He had mentioned LET’S TALK ABOUT IT during Senate estimates in May and now provided background to its submission to the Classification Board.

August 1, 2023
I rise to speak in support of the motion this evening, and I want to illustrate the importance of this motion by way of a recent interaction I had with a local constituent in the northern suburbs of South Australia, where I am the paired senator. My first opportunity to come into contact with this single mother with three children was through a deputation she made to the local council. She bravely approached the local council, which is a very brave thing to do, bringing to their attention the presence of a particular book called LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. This is not the book that Senator Babet referred to but is a book containing graphic depictions of sexual practices, adult concepts and in one instance a detailed manifesto, if you like, as to how to send naked selfies across the internet. The book was marketed at children, and she was alarmed by the fact that it was available to children in the library and was completely unclassified.

This brave mother took her fight to the council. She then took it to the ombudsman. She took it to a number of politicians, and finally she took it to the Classification Board, which cost her the princely sum of around $800 in order to have this book considered for classification. She put together a submission, outlined her concerns and sought a waiver of the fee, I might say, which was rejected. Bearing her own costs and using her own time, this brave mother sought to have this book classified so it could at least be removed from public libraries, where children like her own were likely to see the book in circulation. Ultimately, she went round and round the mulberry bush, so to speak. The Classification Board rejected the application, and the book remains unclassified. She’s now been told that she can send it off to the Classification Review Board for the princely sum of $10,000, which she of course does not have.

– Alex Antic (Liberal)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

The following day, the Malcolm Robert’s motion was defeated. 25 voted in favour on an inquiry, but 30 were against.

Campaign rolls on

In March 2024, it was reported that UQ HOLDER! by Ken Akamatsu and PREACHER by Garth Ennis had been targeted at the Southern Downs Regional Council Library in Queensland.

March 14, 2024
…claims contain nudity and sensitive content, including depictions of underage characters and homosexual themes.

‘The library item in question can be found in several other local government library collections across the state, and council has referred the matter to the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) for their review and feedback,’ a council spokesperson said.

…a scrutiny of the comic section at the SDRC Library revealed that the books are no longer on the shelves. Whether they will return following discussions with ALIA remains uncertain.

– Comic content ban call
article @ warwicktoday.com.au