Victory! Fun Home Restored in New Jersey High Schools

Fun Home has been returned to the library shelves in North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District high schools. According to National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the return happened as recently as February 21st. This is not just a victory for the organizations like Comic book Legal Defense Fund, NCAC, ACLU of New Jersey, and other free speech advocates who implored access to be reinstated to the graphic novel, but truly this victory is for the high school student who is going to stumble upon those brilliantly crafted pages and be changed forever from their impact. We congratulate those that fought for all voices to be heard, and for those that championed the importance of intellectual freedom at any age.

How We Got Here

Administrators at high schools in North Hunterdon-Voorhees quietly removed access to Fun Home from their respective libraries after learning about a challenge to the comic in another NJ high school. Likely they had read about the Watching Hills case, but in that case, the challenge had come from two parents, and the administrators were against removing the graphic memoir from their carefully crafted curriculum. In Watching Hills, the challenge was eventually disregarded, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was not removed. But if this was the case the administrators read about, they clearly missed the salient details of the situation.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, co-sponsors of National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids Right to Read Project (KRRP) wrote a letter to Superintendent Jeffrey Bender defending Bechdel’s acclaimed memoir and the students at North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District’s right to read.

In the interest of preserving intellectual freedom and equal protection in your district, we urge you to respect your students’ constitutional rights and return Fun Home to library shelves where all who choose to read it may do so. We also encourage you to familiarize your administration with the relevant district policies in order to ensure that future decisions about instructional materials are based on pedagogical motives, rather than ideological ones.

National Coalition Against Censorship reported school administrators at the two high schools objected to one out of the 233 pages in Fun Home, which undoubtedly removes the imagery out of the context of the whole. The administrators decided to ignore their own district’s policies and limit circulation only to “students with explicit parental permission.”

Why It Matters

From the Kids’ Right to Read Project letter to Superintendent Bender,

Not only does restricting LGBTQ books like “Fun Home” likely violate the First Amendment, it further stigmatizes and marginalizes LGBTQ youth and fosters an atmosphere of intolerance. Fun Home is so highly regarded for LGBTQ teens that “Seventeen” magazine included the book on its list of ‘13 Beautiful Books Every LGBTQ Teen Should Read.’

In addition, as you may be aware, on Jan. 31, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation requiring boards of education to include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of LGBTQ people. As a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant-winning author of an acclaimed work that redefined the memoir genre and became the basis for a Tony-award winning Best Musical, author/illustrator Alison Bechdel is a pioneering LGBT contributor worthy of study and inclusion in your libraries.

Fun Home is considered by many to be an exemplary graphic novel and memoir which is not just cannon for LGBTQIA contributions in the comics world, but a critical piece of creative nonfiction in every realm of literature. The Kirkus’ Starred Review of Fun Home declared “Bechdel…takes her formal cues from comic books, she receives more inspiration from the likes of Proust and Joyce as she attempts to unravel the knots of her family’s twisted emotional history.”

When schools threaten to limit the circulation of any work to only those students with “explicit parental permission” they are taking the memoir away from those who need it most. If permission slips were required, LGBTQIA books would never be checked out by any child insecure in their own sexuality; books like Fun Home would be passed over by students afraid that asking permission might alert their parents to questions they aren’t ready to ask. It would force teenagers to only take out works which mimic their own parents’ values and beliefs, limiting a crucial part of development in which teenagers read widely to discover the many ways their own parents are wrong about everything.

Parental involvement is great in education and extra-circular reading. But there’s a difference between a parent engaging with their child about what they’re reading and thinking, and a school seeking to limit the intellectual freedom of students at a time when they are curious and eager to explore the world.

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Read the full letter to the school district below.

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