Last month, we reported on a lawsuit filed in Virginia Beach, Virginia, over the sale of Gender Queer by a local Barnes & Noble. Now Virginia Beach attorney and State Delegate Tim Anderson is suing publisher Oni Press and author Maia Kobabe on behalf his client Tommy Altmann, a failed Republican congressional candidate.
Anderson claims that Kobabe’s work is damaging under the state’s obscenity laws. He suggests:
Whenever he has reasonable cause to believe that any person is engaged in the sale or commercial distribution of any obscene book, any citizen or the attorney for the Commonwealth of any county or city, or city attorney, in which the sale or commercial distribution of such book occurs may institute a proceeding in the circuit court in said city or county for adjudication of the obscenity of the book.
Unfortunately for Anderson, he’s conveniently left out section H of the Virginia obscenity laws, which reads as follows:
H. If an appearance is entered and an answer filed, the court shall order the proceeding set on the calendar for a prompt hearing. The court shall conduct the hearing in accordance with the rules of civil procedure applicable to the trial of cases by the court without a jury. At the hearing, the court shall receive evidence, including the testimony of experts, if such evidence be offered, pertaining to:
1. The artistic, literary, medical, scientific, cultural and educational values, if any, of the book considered as a whole;
2. The degree of public acceptance of the book, or books of similar character, within the county or city in which the proceeding is brought;
3. The intent of the author and publisher of the book;
4. The reputation of the author and publisher;
5. The advertising, promotion, and other circumstances relating to the sale of the book;
6. The nature of classes of persons, including scholars, scientists, and physicians, for whom the book may not have prurient appeal, and who may be subject to exception pursuant to subsection G.
As indicated before, obscenity laws demand examining a work in relation to its whole. Gender Queer is a book published for adult audiences, and the small excerpts making the rounds on social media featuring sex are age-appropriate and not representative of the whole of the book.
Lawyers on behalf of Oni Press indicate that Anderson’s lawsuit is unfounded, stating that ” Petitioner here attempts to redefine Code §18.2-384 to have book declared obscene as it relates to one subset of the Community: minors in the Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach areas.”
This is a developing story. The outcome of Anderson’s lawsuit against Barnes & Noble is pending, though lawyers are clear in Gender Queer and A Court of Mist and Fury–the other book being challenged in this suit–do not fall under obscene materials in any definition of the law.