For the past few months, some community members in Maine have fought to ban books in a number of school districts.
Those books focus on gender and sex education. They’ve come under fire as parents question whether they are appropriate for students.
In communities all across Maine, there have been a spike in controversy over gender identity and sexual orientation books like “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “It’s Perfectly Normal.”
Several school districts are facing calls to ban them.
Dirigo High School in Dixfield banned “Gender Queer: A Memoir” back in August after community members criticized the book’s illustrations. The book explores the author's real-life journey of gender identity and sexual orientation and includes illustrated images that some parents have found objectionable.
The same argument came up in the Spruce Mountain School District.
“It’s the sexual images, they don’t belong,” said Roger Moulton, who spoke at a November RSU 73 School Board meeting.
Moulton showed up to that meeting with images from the book printed on his T-Shirt.
“Everything that you’ve said opens the door for Playboy. Are we going to bring Playboy into the school? No, I would hope not,” Moulton said.
Those who support the books say they are designed to educate.
“In my evaluation of the book, I found it to be neutral in tone, strictly educational in nature and contextually appropriate. Illustrations of sex are appropriate in a book about sex,” said Erika Cruetz, a school board member for RSU 6.
At least two districts, Gorham and Farmington, faced backlash for their displays of posters.
The group “Out Maine” handed out the posters, which provide definitions for various gender terms.
“We get calls all the time from schools that are trying to figure out what they need to do to best support their LGBT youth,” said Sue Campbell, Executive Director for Out Maine.
These recent controversies have created concern for LGBTQ+ students.
“Because when you ban the book, you’re banning the kid,” said Heather Perkinson, President of the Maine Association of School Libraries.
But why are we seeing an apparent rise in efforts to ban these materials now?
“These posters have been up for years, and nobody has said a word about it,” Campbell said.
That same could be said for the book “It’s Perfectly Normal,” which some tried to ban from Bonny Eagle Schools in September.
It has been in the school’s library since the 1990’s.
Some point to politics.
An anti-Janet Mills ad from Maine family’s first shows adults commenting on the book “Gender Queer.”
“She’s encouraging pornographic books in our school. I don’t know why this is even being taught,” the ad says.
“For people on the right, for whom this has been a particular bugbear, this is something that can mobilize supporters and give them momentum. And even for people on the left, who get outraged at the idea of book bans, it can also be something that mobilizes,” said Ron Schmidt, Chair of the Political Science Department for the University of Southern Maine. “I can’t say that either party definitely engaged in that logic, but I see the logic.”
For many Maine Educators there’s a large portion of students in Maine who they say could be alienated by banning these books.
“The recent Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey data has come out and it’s showing that we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of Maine’s teens are identifying as LGBTQ,” said Campbell.
“We have a duty to be inclusive of all the identities that are represented in our schools,” Perkinson said.
Any public school in Maine will allow you to flag certain books and prevent your child from checking them out.
According to the Maine Department of Education, these books and posters are not taught as part of any curriculum or in any classroom in Maine.