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Activists see momentum in book ban

The 9.12 group looks to the Lenape district.

The day after members of a Burlington County conservative group successfully petitioned to have a book on teenage homosexuality labeled obscene and removed from a high school library, organizer Gerry Grabinski was ebullient.

The local chapter of talk-radio and television personality Glenn Beck's nationwide conservative watchdog network, Burlington County 9.12, had won a minor political coup Tuesday night, and Grabinski was hopeful its larger message would gather momentum as a result.

"We monitor the school boards, the county freeholders, the New Jersey Legislature," he said. "There's a lot of people out there fed up with what's going on. It's important they understand the issues before they start doing something. That's where we come in."

The campaign at Rancocas Valley Regional High School to pull Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology and two other books dealing with teenage homosexuality is unlikely to be the last time county residents hear from Grabinski and his members - 358 according to the group's Web site.

They're already looking at petitioning the removal of the same book from the Lenape Regional High School District, which with four high schools and about 7,500 students is the county's largest school district.

Lenape Superintendent Emily Capella said members of the group had addressed the school board last week but had yet to file a petition.

In addition, 9.12 members are campaigning for such changes as an alternate teaching of global warming - the state considers Al Gore's documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, an educational resource - and a requirement that high schools teach civics as a stand-alone class.

The 9.12 Project's mission statement says its goal is to bring the nation back to what it considers a more united time - the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and offers nine principles and 12 values to further that goal.

The group's political affiliations clearly rankled parents and teachers at Rancocas Valley, who at Tuesday night's meeting criticized the school board for bowing to special interests.

"It would be convenient if we could look at these books and simply discuss whether or not they are obscene. However, we cannot overlook that the motivation behind the request to remove these titles has other social and political implications," said Dee Venuto, head librarian at the Mount Holly high school.

The fact that the book contains sometimes graphic descriptions of teenagers contemplating self-mutilation or working in pornography has mitigated the outcry from some civil rights groups.

But the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national civil rights group representing gays, lesbians, and people with HIV/AIDS, which has successfully litigated against school districts in the past, is assessing the situation, said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director.

The fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender material is being singled out "is very concerning," she said.

Each year there are between 400 and 600 requests to ban books in the United States, a number that has remained fairly constant for decades, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the American Library Association.

"A great many involve books dealing with gay and lesbian themes, and more often they're not successful," she said. "You can't remove books from a school library just because you disagree with their content. They have to be proven persuasively vulgar, and what persuasively vulgar means is a judgment call."

Revolutionary Voices is one of a number of books on the library association's list of appropriate books dealing with teenage sexuality.

The path to the book's ban at Rancocas Valley began last year when Beverly Marinelli, a widely known activist in Lumberton who joined 9.12 last year, was poking around online and found a list of books recommended by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

"We decided to see if these books were here, and, lo and behold, they were," Marinelli said. "There's stuff that's appropriate for children and stuff that's not. People wish to distract from the real issue by going into the 9.12 thing."