Bonnie McKenna of Peru, mother of two daughters in Regional School Unit 56 in Dixfield, testifies Tuesday to appeal a decision by a school district committee to keep “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe on Dirigo High School’s library shelves. The book was requested to be removed this spring. McKenna holds the book, in which she placed post-it notes identifying pictures of an alleged sexual nature. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — Three people testified Tuesday to appeal a decision by a Regional School Unit 56 committee to keep a controversial book on Dirigo High School’s library shelves.

A request to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe was made this spring.

Thirty people attended the meeting, which was viewed by many more over Zoom.

Those protesting the book’s inclusion testified for over 45 minutes. They were Bonnie McKenna, a Peru mother who has one daughter in elementary school and one a senior at the high school; Sarah Cole, a Peru mother of three under age 8 at Dirigo Elementary; and Elizabeth Kelly of Dixfield, who will become a board member July 1.

McKenna said the book was brought to her attention by her best friend, who sent her a graphic picture from the book over a messaging app and told her the book was in the Dirigo High School library.

She said she saw the same photo posted on Facebook, “and Facebook took it down and flagged it as child pornography. Then, there were hundreds of comments about this book.”

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She said her oldest daughter didn’t believe the book was in her school, so McKenna messaged people who said “Gender Queer: A Memoir” was indeed in the high school in Dixfield.

McKenna contacted Superintendent/Principal Pam Doyen, who confirmed that the book was in the school.

“So I sent my husband to the store to buy this book, and I read it from cover to cover. … My problems with this lie with all the sexual, disgusting details in this book,” she said.

Along with the book, McKenna brought to the podium a 20-year-old copy of Penthouse magazine.
She said both have a lot in common. “The only difference is, this one is about a transgender, and this one (Penthouse) is about everybody.”

She said “Gender Queer: A Memoir” goes into great detail about the author’s sexual fantasies, including one about masturbating while she is driving.

“I think it’s absolutely absurd that that is in a book in our school when we are teaching our children that it is OK to masturbate while they drive,” she said.

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McKenna noted, “I don’t care who you are — if you are a man, a woman, if you’re any part of the alphabet — what your sexuality is. Why you would think that any of this — gay sex, straight sex, fantasies, masturbating, strap-ons, dildos — any of it, has a place in school. It’s not educational at all!”

She said when she read the book she ran out of post-its labeling all the sexual pictures.

“I would never have thought I’d be standing before a bunch of adults trying to explain and defend that this doesn’t belong in a school,” she said. “I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation!”

She concluded by saying, “My job as a parent does not involve educating a bunch of adults who are in charge of buying, purchasing, approving materials for our students that are supposed to be solely for educational purposes. It’s not my place to educate you on what you’re supposed to be getting for our children.”

Cole said she believes pornographic and sexually explicit materials are not made for adolescents and they should not have any access to them, whether it’s schools or other places.

“I feel it is absolutely disgusting, and beyond, that we have to come here tonight and take time off our family life, and fight over a book that everybody should know should not be in the schools,” she said.

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And while she does not have a child at the high school, Cole noted, “If I don’t stand up now, what’s going to be there in eight years when my kids do reach the high school? I’m standing up now to stop this.”

She concluded, “I have three kids under the age of 8, and if I would ever catch anybody giving them any material like this, I would pull them out of any school. I have no problem home schooling my kids if this continues to happen.”

Although Kelly did not file the required form for an appeal, she was permitted to present her testimony.

She said “Gender Queer: A Memoir” has been pulled in schools in 11 states.

“Books of gender are anybody’s choice for their sexual orientation. That’s not the issue,” she said. “With all due respect, the issue is of the images of oral sex, masturbation and the use of sex toys. I believe the book normalizes inappropriate sex for minor children.”

A written decision by the board was expected at the next regular meeting Aug. 23, but because classes resume Aug. 31, the board will meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 9 at the high school to try to come to a consensus about the book.

Doyen said it will be a public meeting, but all conversation will remain with the board. The meeting will also be aired over Zoom.

Dixfield board member Bruce Ross said the board welcomes public input about the book before a decision is made. People may email Doyen at [email protected] or Chairwoman Barbara Chow at [email protected]


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