On Sept. 1, 2022, readers asked us whether a book teaching about gay sex was available on the shelves of a public middle school library in Tampa, Florida. For example, The Florida Standard reported, "Book in Tampa Middle School Library Has Instructions on Anal Sex and Hookup Apps."
As of the writing of this story, we can report it was true that author Juno Dawson's book, "This Book Is Gay," was available on the shelves of the Pierce Middle School library in Tampa. The school is part of Hillsborough County Public Schools, which is described as "the 7th largest district in the United States." It was also true that the book includes a chapter with information and instructions that teaches kids about anal sex, oral sex, and hookup apps.
In this article, we've laid out all of the facts to help inform our readers about this subject. We've included a link to a school board meeting video, text from an advisory in the book, pictures of pages that were being discussed, further context, and answers from our correspondence with the school district.
Board Meeting Speech
On Aug. 31, Just The News reported that Will Witt, The Florida Standard's editor in chief, spoke at a school board meeting "against the book being available in children's libraries." The speech was tweeted on Witt's Twitter account on Aug. 30, the same day as the meeting. It has since been retweeted and liked thousands of times:
One of the chapters that appeared to receive the most attention in the reporting from The Florida Standard and from social media users was titled, "Chapter 9: The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex."
The chapter begins with the following advisory:
This chapter is about sex. Therefore it has sex in it. WELL, DUH. If you are a younger reader and you feel you aren't ready for the finer details of same-sex pairings, then simply skip this whole chapter.
HOWEVER, before you do, I'd like to remind you that we taught you all about straight sex when you were ELEVEN YEARS OLD during sixth grade. The fact that they didn't also teach you what same-sex couples do is nothing less than institutionalized homophobia. Straight sex was presented as the norm to make five percent of the population feel abnormal. Is there something icky about gay sex? Is there something wrong with it? I challenge any politician to discuss this with me. I WILL RUIN THEM.
This chapter is simply all the stuff teachers SHOULD be saying if they want to be inclusive of people with same-sex feelings.
We contacted the school district with several questions for our story. As part of one question, we mentioned the two bolded sentences above. In response, a spokesperson for the district told us that the quote "is from a book that is not representative of our curriculum." (More of their answers to our other questions are available near the end of this article.)
'The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex'
Social media users shared pages from the book that taught about how to have anal sex and oral sex. The book also made mention of Grindr, a mobile app that provides sexual encounter opportunities (hookups) for men. We verified that all of these pages did come from Dawson's book, "This Book Is Gay."
Sex Diagram Pages
The Florida Standard and social media users also described a page in the book with a diagram of a naked boy. The diagram was titled as, "Part One: Boy-On-Boy Sex." We continued reading the chapter and found the next part to be titled, "Part Two: Girl-On-Girl Sex." It showed a diagram of a naked girl. However, none of the articles or social media posts that we reviewed included information that expressed any outrage about the second diagram, nor did they make any mention whatsoever about the part about girls having sex with each other. They only referenced the page about boys.
Available in Three Schools
According to online library data for the Florida school district, we were able to confirm that two copies of "This Book Is Gay" were indeed part of Pierce Middle School's library selection. The book also showed up as being listed at Middleton High School and Tampa Bay Technical High School, which were in the same district.
"This Book Is Gay" showed up in three local schools, including Pierce Middle.
Book Hasn't Been Officially Challenged
By email, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County Public Schools told us that, as of Sept. 1, "no one has officially challenged this book at any of the three schools where it is available."
We also inquired about the general policies that the district follows regarding challenging a book at a school library. In response, they provided the following information:
We have a process that allows anyone to challenge a book they feel is inappropriate on the school level. Parents are encouraged to speak to their librarian first, who can then discuss the concerns, and the school's Educational Media Materials Committee can then convene to review the challenged material. Committee members then read or view the material in its entirety and consult professional review and academic resources to weigh the merits against alleged faults in light of the material as a whole. The committee then determines the extent to which the material meets the criteria for selection. They make an ultimate decision on whether the book will remain on the shelf at that school.
The school district's website featured further documentation about its policies. (To read through the pages, aim your mouse cursor over the picture in the middle until an arrow appears, then click to see the next page.)
This story will be updated if any further developments occur or if we receive new details.