Massachusetts police chief apologizes after middle school searched for LGBTQ book with “concerning illustrations”

A Massachusetts police chief apologized after an officer searched a middle school for a copy of “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated book on gender identity that has been banned in other districts.

The incident occurred on Dec. 8 at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School. A plainclothes officer with the Great Barrington Police Department visited this school to look for the book after the department received a complaint about “concerning illustrations,” reported.

The complainant allegedly provided police with an image that showed illustrated characters performing sexual acts, according to the news outlet.

The police department and school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe.Oni Press

Police Chief Paul Storti told that because the complaint was made to the department, they were “obligated and have a duty to examine the complaint further.”

In a Facebook statement on Thursday, the chief apologized “to anyone who was negatively [affected] by our involvement at the WEB Dubois Middle School.”

“Over the years, our relationship with our schools has been positive and collaborative, so together we worked with the school to try to navigate this sensitive situation,” he said. “If our involvement caused distrust and alarm, that was not our intention. I promise you our actions were not meant to disenfranchise anyone or influence school curriculum.”

“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by nonbinary author Maia Kobabe — who uses gender-neutral pronouns — tells Kobabe’s story from adolescence to adulthood and recounts the author’s exploration of gender identity.

It has been at the center of heated debates for years largely because of a handful of graphic illustrations that depict LGBTQ sexual experiences. In 2021, a video went viral after a parent screamed at Fairfax County, Virginia board members and said the book should be removed.

Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, later banned the book. Other schools and libraries followed suit and the book was removed from Brevard Public Schools in Florida and Wake County Public Libraries in North Carolina.

In a 2021 interview with NBC News, Kobabe said the book and its graphics are “integral” for young people questioning their sexuality or gender.

“It’s very hard to hear people say ‘This book is not appropriate to young people’ when it’s like, I was a young person for whom this book would have been not only appropriate, but so, so necessary,” Kobabe said. “There are a lot of people who are questioning their gender, questioning their sexuality and having a real hard time finding honest accounts of somebody else on the same journey.”

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon and School Committee Chair Stephen Bannon addressed the incident in a letter to the district on Tuesday and apologized for how it was handled.

“Faced with an unprecedented police investigation of what should be a purely educational issue, we tried our best to serve the interests of students, families, teachers, and staff,” they wrote, according to “In hindsight, we would have approached that moment differently. We are sorry. We can do better to refine and support our existing policies. We are committed to supporting all our students, particularly vulnerable populations.”

The incident will be addressed further at a Jan. 11 School Committee meeting.

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