Florida school district considers ban on Billie Jean King biography after one parent complained

Billie Jean King book

A children’s biography about tennis legend Billie Jean King could be banned in a Florida school district because of a single complaint over an LGBTQ+ reference.

The Leon County school district board is considering pulling I am Billie Jean King from elementary school shelves after the complainant took issue with one page referring to lesbian tennis star King realising her sexual orientation.

The book, which is targeted at children aged between 5 and 9, is 40 pages long and one of those pages reads: “Around this time, I realised I was gay.

“Being gay means that if you’re a girl, you love and have romantic feelings for other girls – and if you’re a boy, you love and have romantic feelings for other boys.”

Katie Lyons, whose daughter was in the second grade at Hawks Rise Elementary School, in Tallahassee, when she filed the complaint in late April, objected to the mention of King being gay.

As reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, Lyons largely cited Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, which prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, saying: “This book discusses sexual orientation, a topic that is prohibited by Florida law, is inappropriate for this age group and ultimately infringes on our rights as parents.”

You may like to watch

Her complaint was heard by the board at a meeting on 27 June. A video, which was posted by the Tallahassee Democrat, shows Lyon saying she was “forced” to have a discussion about sexual orientation with her daughter “because my child had access to this material”.

“The right for me to decide when my child learned about this topic was taken away from me,” she said. “Neither my daughter nor myself were prepared for this discussion.”

A copy of the original complaint Lyon filed shows she objected to “material that discusses being gay and what it means to be gay”.

She elaborated that she took issue with the book explaining that “Billie Jean King was married to a man but decided she was gay”.

Leon County Schools assistant superintendent of academic services Shane Syfrett defended book, saying getting rid of it would “limit all students and families from accessing this material freely when it may only be objectionable to some families”.

The book was also part of the ‘Ordinary People Change the World’ series about people who changed the world, including others about Walt Disney, Harriet Tubman and Neil Armstrong, he said.

“The exclusion of one of these profiles just because of the identification of the main subject as homosexual is not the intention of any law or statute passed by the Florida Legislature,” Syfrett said.

“We thoroughly believe in a parent’s right to address certain topics when and how they choose, but the job of our system is to protect that right rather than remove rights from others.”

However, he added that a new process around allowing parents to approve materials before children checked them out from a library would be implemented.

A retired principal who was at the meeting as a third-party official had 14 days after the meeting to make a recommendation, with the baord then making a final decision at a later date, the outlet reported.

The book’s author, Brad Meltzer, has previously spoken out against the complaint.

In a thread on Twitter, he said Florida had “created a system where our limited educational resources are spent dealing with challenges to books rather than doing the essential work of teaching our children“ – a system that kids were ultimately learning “the exact opposite of what our books are intended to teach”.

“The world needs more tolerance, not less … If you really want to protect children, teach them critical thinking.”

He added that he thought Lyon’s complaint was “meritless”.

Please login or register to comment on this story.