Board of Buxton school district votes against removing book from library

Oct. 4—The board of one of Maine's largest school districts rejected an appeal from parents who sought to have School Administrative District 6 remove a controversial book on gender and sexuality from the shelves of the library at Bonny Eagle High School in Buxton.

The board voted 8-2 Monday night to allow "Gender Queer: A Memoir," by Maia Kobabe, to remain in circulation at the high school library. Board member Donald Marean of Hollis was not present and did not vote.

Board member Erica Kreutz of Standish, who voted to keep the book on library shelves, read the book and said she found it to be an "insightful and thoughtful look into the life" of a person struggling with their gender identity. Kreutz said she could understand how some people might find the book to be shocking, but she said that in her opinion the illustrations were not meant to arouse readers, but to inform them of the author's journey.

Board members Nathan Carlow of Buxton, who serves as chairman, and Julie Anderson of Limington, voted in the minority. Despite his vote, Carlow said he supported keeping the book in circulation and suggested making a motion to have the school administration investigate supplementing the book with other reading materials. A motion was advanced but was later withdrawn.

Carlow also expressed concerns about threats and harassment against district staff and teachers that were allegedly made on social media by critics of the book.

"This is not who we are and this is not what we want to be teaching our children," he said.

Anderson read the book and said the "hyper sexualization" of the content in the book "is over the top."

"Do we want to put our stamp on a book that is obscene?" Anderson asked.

Monday's decision, which came after a 90-minute public comment session, effectively rejected an effort by parents to have the book removed from the high school library and comes on the heels of the board's 10-1 decision two weeks ago to allow "It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health" by Robie H. Harris to remain on the shelves of the Bonny Eagle Middle School library.

Both books deal with gender identity and sexuality, topics that have roiled parents in school districts across the nation. "Gender Queer: A Memoir" tops the American Library Association's list of books that were challenged in 2021 in school districts throughout the nation.

Twenty-eight people offered their opinions at Monday night's meeting, with 15 speaking in favor of keeping the book in the library and 13 in support of having "Gender Queer" removed.

Denise Turner of Limington said she read the book and found it to contain illustrations that bordered on being adult material.

"If 'Gender Queer' were a movie, it would be R-rated," she said.

"Somehow, we've made the leap from a book in our library to the allegations that we are teaching pornography," said Jess Webber, a high school teacher. She described the effort to have the book removed as "hysteria."

Earlier this year, parents of district students filed appeals after the district's Material Review Committee determined that the books were timely and relevant and did not glorify or promote a certain type of lifestyle. Some parents contend the books contain pornographic images and details and should not be accessible to students. Neither book is part of any SAD 6 curriculum or assigned to any student in any district class.

Board members spent more than an hour last month listening to opinions on both sides of the issue. Following the hearing, Bonny Eagle schools Superintendent Clay Gleason told board members that he would make copies of "Gender Queer" available for each to read before Monday's meeting.

Opponents claim the book is pornographic and contains vivid descriptions of sex acts that high schoolers should not be exposed to. They claim the book has no place in a school library that is funded by taxpayers. MSAD 6 serves families in Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Standish and Frye Island.

Thirty people signed the letter appealing the Material Review Committee's decision on "Gender Queer," citing discussion of masturbation and sexual fantasies, the author's gender dysphoria, gender-neutral pronouns and the depiction of a person who was taking testosterone. The letter does not use Kobabe's pronouns and calls the memoir "a tragic story."

"Are there children in the MSAD6 District who struggle with (gender dysphoria)? Probably, but probably not very many," the letter says. "This is an issue to be dealt with in the home with parental involvement."

Proponents defended the book saying it offers insight and hope to young people who are struggling with their sexual identity. They also said the district should not allow a small group of parents who want the book removed to force their views on the rest of the district.

"Gender Queer: A Memoir," a graphic novel published in 2019, tells of the author's personal journey from childhood to adulthood, through gender dysphoria and adolescent crushes and personal discovery. Kobabe eventually comes out as nonbinary and asexual, and adopts the gender-neutral pronouns e, em and eir.

"As I pondered a pronoun change, I began to think of gender less as a scale and more as a landscape," Kobabe writes. "Some people are born in the mountains, while others are born by the sea. Some people are happy in the place they were born, while others must make a journey to reach the climate in which they can flourish and grow. Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home."

The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, gave "Gender Queer" a 2020 Alex Award for Teen Readers as a book of special appeal to readers 12 to 18.

"Kobabe's path to understanding eir gender and sexuality comes into beautiful focus in this graphic memoir, expressively illustrated with retro colors and simple lines," the award description said. "Readers will recognize a kindred spirit in Kobabe and/or gain insight into what it's like to identify outside of the cisgender/heterosexual 'norm.' "