Central High Council Votes To Keep Explicit Novels
Students may read books of gay author if parents permit it
The Louisville Courier-Journal
by Veda Morgan
Sexually explicit novels by a prominent gay author will stay on the shelves in a
Central High School classroom--despite pleas from dozens of Christian conservatives that
they be removed.
After a three-hour debate that at times turned into a shouting match between the
protesters and students defending the books, the Louisville school's site- based council
voted 4 to 2 to let students read the novels by E. Lynn Harris, but only if they get
written permission from their parents.
The two parent representatives on the council--Shelby Lanier and Virgil
Fitzpatrick--voted against the recommendation. "I have not received one parent phone
call...to tell me that they wanted these books to remain in this school," said
Lanier, former president of the Louisville chapter of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People.
Many students objected to the presence of the protesters and often interrupted them.
"Who are you, and why are you here?" asked Jessie Green, 16. "You're
here today because you want to wreak havoc and you want to cause confusion. You're here to
tell me and my parents my rights....Do you even know me?"
About 300 people came to Central's auditorium for the meeting. Many people carried
signs with messages ranging from "Remove the Books" and "Porn No. Prayer
Yes" to "Keep the Books" and "It's Our Choice, Not Yours."
Most of the more than 70 people who spoke at the meeting opposed the novels. They
described the books as pornography that shouldn't be allowed in public schools. But
students and other supporters argued that they had a constitutional right to read them.
The novels--"Invisible Life," "Just As I Am" and "This Too
Shal Pass"--include graphic scenes depicting sexual relationships, references to
sexual organs, crude comments and expletives. Two of the books are part of a 200-book
collection in English teacher Dee Hawkins' classroom.
Dr. Frank Simon, who heads the Freedom Heritage Forum and has campaigned to have the
books removed, said the novels describe homosexual sex in a way that encourages students
"to participate in this kind of act."
Prayer was banned from public schools and "instead they are putting this filth in
its place," Simon said.
Harris' books were removed from Hawkins' classroom after two parents complained that
they contained sexually explicit material. But a school district review committee
recommended in November that they be restored.
After that, Central began receiving hundreds of protest calls, some from people who
threatened to tar and feather her and have her fired, Hawkins said.
"That really scares," she said.
Hawkins said she also became the subject of "lies told from the pulpit" in
which people said taxpayers bought Harris' novels and that Hawkins assigned the books as
"That is so far from the truth," Hawkins said after the meeting. When Hawkins
addressed the council, she argued that many people who are opposed to the novels have read
only 15-page excerpts.
"If I had read 15 pages and not the remaining 869 pages, I would be concerned,
too," Hawkins said. "Taken out of context, these pages make me squirm, too, but
I also know that taken out of context, even incidents from the Holy Bible may be
Many speakers opposed to the books urged the students to live according to the Bible.
Opponent Cynthia E. Epley tried to tell the students that "we love you young
people," and that everything they needed was in the Bible. But when she said she
didn't want the books in schools and that the teacher who allowed students to read the
books should be removed, some students shouted her down.
Many complaints about the novels were drowned out by students' shouts. "You are
out of order," Rene Hardin, who opposed the books, told the students. "You need
to learn that if you are going to accomplish anything in this world, you need to respect
others, even if you don't agree."
Some students and adults continued shouting as the school council struggled with the
issue. When one council representative suggested postponing a vote, some people yelled,
"Don't be afraid. Stand up. You can't keep running away from the issue."
In the end, three teacher representatives and principal Harold Fenderson voted to keep
the books in the classroom.
Simon, noting that the two parents on the council voted against the books, said the
issue will be decided by the voters.
The students cheered their victory, while a small opposition group gathered at the edge
of the auditorium and prayed.
Photo: Young African-American student, Chip Green, on left holding sign that says
"Frank Simon Is A Liar!," talking with Dr. Frank Simon. Caption: Central High
junior Chip Green, who supported keeping the books, talked with the subject of his sign,
Dr. Frank Simon, who opposed the books.
From David Williams, Editor of The Letter - Kentucky's GLBT newspaper:
There are also three hidden issues here.
1. Racism. Central High School until the 1970's was predominantly African- American and
remains the pride of Louisville's African-American community. For years Central High
School tried to get an asphalt track installed, only to be rebuffed; but when busing was
instituted in 1975 and white students started being bused into the school, Central got its
track. There is still much resentment over this issue in the African-American community.
Much of that resentment is aimed at evangelical Christians, who opposed busing fervently.
2. Religion. Most of the opponents of the Harris books apparently came from
Louisville's suburbs, particularly the south and southeast areas. Some speakers complained
about them being "bussed in." They were overwhelmingly white and evangelical
Christians: descendents of the same Christians who opposed busing in the 1970s and
integration in the 50s.
3. Economic. There is also an economic factor. Most of the opponents were perceived to
come from the "East End" (the wealthiest section of the community), whereas
Central High School sits across the street from a housing project and many of its students
come from the West End of Louisville, which is economically depressed. Actually, while
many opponents probably did come from the East End, my feeling is that most came from the
South End, which is a rockbed of social conservatives.