Virginia judge dismisses case against ‘Gender Queer’

The court dismissed it based on First Amendment and due process grounds.

Circuit Court Judge Pamela Baskervill has dismissed the case that sought to label the graphic novel Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and the novel A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. K. Maas as obscene and illegal to sell.

The judge found that the statute pursuant to which the petitions were filed violated the First Amendment and the constitutional right to due process. You can read the judge’s full decision here.

Jeff Trexler from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund served as Kobabe’s co-counsel and offered more details on the decision in a lengthy Twitter thread.

“Normally an obscenity statute works the way you’d expect a criminal statute to work: a person produces, possesses, distributes, etc. certain material, gets arrested on obscenity charges, gets convicted or found not guilty,” he posted. “Virginia Code § 18.2-384 is different. It provides that a citizen or attorney of any VA county/city in which sale or commercial distribution of a book occurs can initiate a proceeding to have the book declared obscene. When that happens, the judge can issue an order to show cause that the book is not obscene & can also issue a temporary restraining order against the sale or distribution of the book!”

The ACLU, who challenged the case on behalf of local booksellers, issued a statement as well. “We are pleased with the outcome of today’s proceedings,” said Matt Callahan, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “The First Amendment protects literary expression, even when some people find portions of the works difficult or objectionable. All people should be able to choose what they wish to read.”

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe has made headlines over the last few years — first, for winning several awards like the Stonewall Honor Award and an Alex Award, and second, for attempts at banning by libraries across the country. It was the No. 1 most challenged book of 2021, according to the the American Library Association. The book continues to face challenges across the U.S., including in Michigan, Iowa and Maine. For more on the graphic novel itself, you can check out the recent review of it on Comic Book Yeti.

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