The board of one of Maine’s largest school districts has rejected an appeal from parents who sought to have School District 6 remove a controversial book on sex and sexuality from library shelves at Bonnie Eagle High School in Buxton.
The board voted 8-2 Monday night to allow “Gay Sex: A Memoir” by Maya Cobabe, to remain in circulation in the high school library. Board member Donald Marian 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 someone struggling with their gender identity. Kreutz said she could understand how some people might find the book harrowing, but said that in her opinion the illustrations were not intended to excite readers, but to inform them of the author’s journey.
Board members Nathan Carlow of Buxton, who serves as chairman, and Julie Anderson of Lymington, voted in the minority. Despite his vote, Carlo said he supported keeping the book in circulation and made a proposal to have the school administration investigate supplementing the book with other reading material. A proposal was made but later withdrawn.
Carlo also expressed concerns about threats and harassment of neighborhood staff and teachers allegedly made by critics of the book on social media.
“This is not what we are and this is not what we want to teach our children,” he said.
Anderson read the book and said the “hyper-eroticism” of the book’s content was “over the top”.
“Do we want to put our stamp on an obscene book?” asked Anderson.
Monday’s decision, which came after a 90-minute public comment session, effectively rejected the parents’ attempt to remove the book from the high school library and comes comes in the wake From the Board’s 10-1 decision two weeks ago to allow “It’s All Natural: Changing Bodies, Growth, Gender, Sexuality, and Sexual Health” by Robbie H. Harris to stay on the shelves of the Bonnie Eagle Middle School library.
Both books deal with gender identity and sexuality, topics that have bothered parents in school districts across the country. “Gender Sodomy: A Memoir” Tops the American Library Association’s book list Challenged in 2021 in school districts across the country.
Twenty-eight people gave their opinions at the Monday night meeting, 15 spoke in favor of keeping the book in the library and 13 in support of removing “gender.”
Dennis Turner of Lymington said she read the book and found that it had illustrations that limit it to adult material.
She said, “If ‘Gender Queer’ was a movie, it would be rated as ‘R’.”
“In a way, we made the leap from a book in our library to claims that we were teaching pornography,” said Jess Webber, a high school teacher. She described the effort to remove the book as “hysteria”.
Earlier this year, parents of district students petitioned after the district’s material review committee decided that the books were timely and relevant and did not glorify or promote a particular lifestyle. Some parents claim that the books contain pornographic images and details and should not be accessible to students. Neither book is part of any SAD 6 syllabus nor is it assigned to any student in any neighborhood class.
Board members spent more than an hour in the past month hearing opinions from both sides of the issue. After the hearing, Bonnie Eagle Schools Principal Clay Gleeson told board members that he would provide “gay sex” copies for all of them to read before Monday’s meeting.
Opponents claim that the book is pornographic and contains vivid descriptions of sexual acts to which high school students should not be subjected. They claim that the book has no place in a school library funded by taxpayers. MSAD 6 serves families in Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Standish and Frye Island.
Thirty people signed the letter challenging the Material Review Committee’s decision on “gender,” citing discussion of masturbation and sexual fantasies, the author’s gender dysphoria, gender-neutral pronouns, and depictions of someone taking testosterone. The letter does not use Cobabe’s pronouns and calls the memoir a “tragic story.”
Are there children in the MSAD6 area with (gender dysphonia)? The message says probably, but maybe not very much. “This is a problem that must be dealt with at home with parental involvement.”
Supporters defended the book, saying it offers insight and hope for young people struggling with their sexual identity. They also said that the district should not allow a small group of parents who want to remove writers from imposing their views on the rest of the district.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a graphic novel published in 2019, tells the author’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood, through gender dysphoria, adolescent crushes, and personal discovery. Kobabe eventually appears as non-binary and asexual, adopting the gender-neutral pronouns e, em, and eir.
“When I was thinking about changing the conscience,” Kobabe wrote, “I began to think of gender as a scale more and more as a landscape.” Some people are born in the mountains and some are born by the sea. Some people feel happy in the place they were born, while others have to take a journey to reach the climate in which they can thrive and grow. Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. This is where I want to make my home.”
The Young Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, has awarded the 2020 Alex Queer Award to Teen Readers as a book of particular appeal to readers 12-18 years old.
“Kobabe’s path to understanding eir’s gender and sexuality comes into beautiful focus in these graphic notes, explicitly illustrated with antique colors and simple lines,” Description of the award. “Readers will learn about Kobabe’s good spirit and/or gain insight into what it’s like to identify outside the gender/opposite ‘norm’ compatible.”