Author banned from reading unicorn book to Ohio school because solo parent claimed he was recruiting kids ‘to become gay’

School authorities were concerned Jason Tharp was ‘coming with an agenda to recruit kids to become gay’

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 14 April 2022 21:27 BST
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill into law

An Ohio author was banned from reading his book It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn after being told by school district in the state it was too “political”.

Jason Tharp, 45, was scheduled to read the book, whose cover features a blue and purple unicorn and rainbow-coloured title, to students at an elementary school in the Buckeye Valley Local School District on 6 April.

The day before the reading, Mr Tharp told The Independent he was contacted by the school principal saying a parent was uncomfortable with the content.

Mr Tharp asked the official: “Does somebody think I made a gay book?”

He was told that a parent had complained to the school that he was “coming with an agenda to recruit kids to become gay”.

Author Jason Tharp was banned from reading his book It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn at an Ohio elementary school

Mr Tharp said he was shocked that the objections of one parent could lead to the abrupt U-turn.

He offered to read a different book instead, It’s OK to Smell Good, but that was also rebuffed by school officials.

“Apparently it could be twisted into an agenda as well,” Mr Tharp said.

He visited the Buckeye Valley West Elementary anyway, and learned the the children had been told to remove their artwork featuring unicorns and rainbows.

“That for me was the biggest bummer. I was told the kids were staying stuff like, ‘he hasn’t been here to see it yet, why are we taking it down’.”

The school district, just north of Columbus, held an emergency school board meeting on 8 April to after some parents raised fears over Mr Tharp’s invitation to speak being rescinded.

Mother of two Kaylan Brazelton, who works at Buckeye Valley West Elementary, told the meeting she couldn’t understand why a book that taught acceptance for children who felt isolated would be banned.

She said she had been ordered to take down any artwork featuring rainbows or unicorns. 

“It’s a rainbow,” she told other parents and administrators at the meeting.

“The fact that we had to take all of the students’ artwork down — it was gut-wrenching, and we couldn’t even believe we were in that position to do so, but we did what we were told.”

The Independent did not immediately hear back from interim superintendent Jeremy Froehlich.

In an interview with WBNS, Mr Froehlich said a parent had approached him the day before the reading expressing concern.

“They just wanted to make sure that we vetted the book and our staff thought that they had vetted it,” Mr Froehlich said.

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Mr Tharp’s book is the latest to become caught in the crossfire of culture wars taking place in school districts across the United States.

Parents are taking an activist stance over any material that touches on issues of race, sexual orientation or gender identity, over fears it will indoctrinate their children.

Conservatives have even called for works from the Harry Potter series to a book about Michelle Obama to be outlawed.

The conflict over what is being taught in schools has been exacerbated by Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans teachers from instructing students on issues on sexual orientation or gender identity.

After some groups resorted to threats of violence, the American Library Association issued a statement in November condemning “acts of censorship and intimidation” against educators, librarians and school board members.

Mr Tharp, who has authored 18 books, said he had wanted to write about non-threatening characters that promote inclusion, after battling feelings of loneliness himself as a child.  

Mr Tharp, who used to speak to up to 50,000 school children each year prior to the panedmic, said it was obvious those objecting to his book hadn’t even read it.

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“Adults are putting their own insecurity filter on to these issues, and projecting those insecurities onto a children’s book. It’s a head-scratcher.”

Mr Tharp is in remission after being diagnosed with a brain tumour last year, and said he had tried to avoid being exposed to polarising political debates and culture wars since then.

He described himself as an ally of the LGBTQ community, and said a lot of the concerns parents have is due to a fear of the unknown.

“Could a child who was growing up LGBTQ see themselves in the book? Yeah absolutely.

“So could a kid who was being picked on, or a kid who was in a wheelchair, or the ‘weird’ kid.

“It’s ignorance right? And instead of having a conversation, they threw a blanket on a book that was not about being gay.”

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