Kids love Captain Underpants, but students shopping at one Michigan elementary school book fair will have a hard time getting their hands on the series' 12th installment. The latest Captain Underpants novel was banned over a gay character by Arborwood Elementary School's parent-teacher organization. Parents will be able to purchase copies online and via Scholastic mail order, but the book won't be on book fair shelves. The PTO noted that the other books in Dav Pilkey's popular series will still be available.
But what's all the fuss about, anyway? In the book Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, protagonists George and Harold meet their adult selves and families. Old George has a wife and two kids. Old Harold has a husband and two kids. This is the only mention of it in the book's text:
Old George, his wife and their kids, Meena and Nik, sat on the couch, while Old Harold, his husband, and their twins, Owen and Kei, plopped down on the giant beanbag chair.
The PTO says its decision rests on the fact that most students shop without parental involvement, and that it "felt it was necessary that if this book was going to be purchased, the parent needed to be involved in that."
In a world where LGBTQ students experience bullying and commit suicide at much higher rates than their straight peers, the casual representation in Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot could mean the difference between life and death — literally. Not only does representation in the classroom make LGBTQ students feel more welcome and safe, but it also teaches the broader student body to recognize and combat anti-gay bias. Writing about anti-LGBTQ bullying, Joleen Hanlon says:
We should address this problem by initiating conversations with our students about anti-gay bias, and by discussing LGBT people in the curriculum. It is very simple to tie these themes into lessons about family diversity, respect, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the Holocaust, discrimination, and other contexts. Unfortunately, many aspects of U.S. history that involve LGBT people have been needlessly censored.
Needless censorship is exactly what this Captain Underpants ban sounds like to me.