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Gender Queer obscenity lawsuit dismissed by Virginia judge

A Virginia circuit court judge rules that the lawsuit against Maia Kobabe and publisher Oni-Lion Forge was flawed on multiple levels

Cropped image of Gender Queer deluxe edition cover, showing seated figure on grass, smiling with closed eyes, image is overlayed by a constellation motif
Image credit: Oni Press

In a significant ruling Tuesday afternoon, Virginia Circuit Court Judge Pamela S. Baskervill dismissed a lawsuit seeking to define Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir (as well as A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas) as obscene works, restricting their availability to minors.

The lawsuit against Kobabe and publisher Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, filed in June, was struck down on jurisdictional and constitutional grounds by Judge Baskervill, noting that Virginia state law does not allow any citizen to bring a case about whether or not the books in question are obscene; additionally, she noted that the suit as it currently stood violated due process by not establishing that those named in the case were aware that they were aware that they were knowingly selling obscene material.

In a lengthy but worthwhile Twitter thread, interim Comic Book Legal Defense Fund head Jeff Trexler – who was one of Kobabe’s attorneys in the case itself – broke down the meaning behind the ruling. Particularly notable was a point that Trexler made towards the end of the thread: “Although the court found that statute inapplicable + unconstitutional and the petition inadequate to show that the book is obscene, the court did not issue a definitive ruling that the book is not obscene… As all the parties noted in the hearing, if the court were to rule - as it ultimately did - that it had no jurisdiction, that the pleading was defective, and that the statute is unconstitutional, it would not have to reach the question of whether the books at issue are obscene. So there's still a lot of work to be done, both here and in opposing challenges throughout the U.S.”

Trexler also noted that nothing in today’s ruling prevented similar suits being filed in different locations, nor an appeal from the initial petitioners in this case.

The lawsuit was the work of former Republican congressional candidate Tommy Altman and his attorney, Virginia State Delegate Tim Anderson. Today’s ruling ends the legal challenge – absent an appeal – before the case made it to trial.

Gender Queer, Kobabe’s first full-length title, has been critically acclaimed since its initial 2019 release, winning an Alex Award from the American Library Association as a book “written for adults that [has] special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.” It was also a finalist for the 2020 Stonewall Book Award for non-fiction. The book has been through a number of reprints, and was recently reissued in a new edition featuring a new afterword by Kobabe in addition to an introduction by Nimona creator N.D. Stevenson.

Since its release, the title has been at the center of controversy as a result of challenges from those on the political right who believe that promoting authentic gender expression and awareness is inherently dangerous to children. As a result, the book has been withdrawn from a number of public and school libraries, as well as becoming a talking point amongst rightwing politicians.

Even beyond those noted by the Judge in today’s ruling, there were several problems with the lawsuit accusing Gender Queer of obscenity in the first place. Popverse’s Tiffany Babb wrote about this earlier this year.

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Graeme McMillan avatar

Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.