March 9, 2018

Avid Pulls Out of Athens Academy Book Fair After Being Told to Remove Book With Gay Characters


Avid Bookshop shut down the annual book fair it holds at Athens Academy today after an administrator told booksellers to hide a book that features gay characters, according to owner Janet Geddis.

The director of the Oconee County private school's "lower" (or elementary) school told Avid staff to remove The Best Man by Newbery Medalist Richard Peck from display after a parent complained on Wednesday, Geddis said. The Best Man "tells the story of small-town life, gay marriage and everyday heroes," according to Avid's website

Avid posted at length about the incident on its Facebook page:

The complaint was that the book featured gay characters. After the book was removed, we were told that it had to be completely hidden from view and placed back in a box so no child could accidentally discover it. Later, the director of the lower school requested that all of our books be reviewed by the administration for more "objectionable" (which we interpreted as "queer") content, and all those books be removed as well...

We gave them an opportunity to put the book back with the other Georgia Book Award nominees and issue a public apology, but they refused.

Our staff is uncomfortable working in an environment that condones this kind of censorship, and so we will not be hosting the final day of the book fair at Athens Academy, as planned.

Avid said the books that would have been available for purchase at the fair will instead be displayed at the store's Five Points location. In addition, 10 percent of proceeds from the sale of children's, middle-grade and young adult books will be donated to Athens LGBTQ Youth Group through Sunday.

Flagpole reached out to Athens Academy for comment and will update this post if and when they provide one.

UPDATE: While Athens Academy still has not responded to Flagpole's request for comment, Head of School John Thorsen sent an email to parents expressing regret over the handling of this incident.

 At this time, I wish to express how sorry I am that the events of the past two days have led to such a difficult situation for our community. It is a deeply regrettable set of circumstances that is not consistent with our welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment.
This past Wednesday at an on-site book fair for students aged 3 to 9, several parents raised concerns over a book that contained situations they were not yet prepared to discuss with their young children, and a decision was made to remove the book to a more discreet location. It was never at any time our intention to make anyone feel marginalized by this decision.
Athens Academy has long been proud to be an inclusive, safe, caring, and diverse community to our students, families, and faculty.  I want you to know that this situation is an anomaly that does not accurately reflect the values of inclusivity and diversity that we hold dear to our hearts—the same values we will continue to hold dear. We are known in the region for our open and accepting environment, and these unfortunate events will provide us with an opportunity for deeper discussion within this community. It is our sincerest hope that our many LGBTQ+ students, parents, alumni, and friends will help us continue to move forward in a positive and healthy way, and we will learn and grow as a result.
Above all else, I want you to understand that Athens Academy does not support censorship or discrimination in any form, and we regret any misinterpretation of these circumstances and our commitment to respecting the varying viewpoints of our community. At the heart of this issue is Athens Academy’s support for our parents’ right to engage in conversations with their children in the manner and time they deem most appropriate.  After spring break, we plan to hold a meeting with parents, alumni, and faculty as we move forward.
I wish to apologize to our community, the team at Avid, and the broader community for this miserable situation. We value our educational partnership with Avid Bookshop, and we look forward to further discussion with them in the future.
 Thank you for your understanding, and I am sorry for the hurt this has caused.