A large crowd attends Tuesday night’s meeting of the Regional School Unit 56 board of directors at Dirigo High School in Dixfield to discuss whether to keep a controversial book on gender identity and sexuality in the high school library. The board voted 7-2 to remove it. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — Regional School Unit 56 directors voted 7-2 Tuesday to remove a controversial book on gender identity and sexuality from Dirigo High School’s library, reversing their earlier decision following written appeals from residents.

The 2019 publication, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, according to multiple online sources.

A committee created by RSU 56 officials to review the book in June said at the time that it was valuable for students. Directors decided to keep it in the library.

That decision prompted written appeals from Bonnie McKenna, a Peru mother with a daughter in elementary school and a senior at the high school; Sarah Cole, a Peru mother of three who attend Dirigo Elementary School; and Elizabeth Kelly of Dixfield, who became a director July 1.

Their appeals were heard by the board June 28.

Tuesday’s special board meeting on the issue was attended by about 50 people, 10 of whom spoke and most agreeing that the comics-style graphics in it were pornographic.


Tina Fortway of Peru said, “… it blows my mind, this book is definitely not appropriate for young people under the age of 18. It shouldn’t be in the library; in my opinion has nothing to do with LGBT rights.” She described the book as pornographic and “perversely vulgar.”

A Carthage resident said it was “unbelievable” that children would be given this book in the school library when movies with the same types of images were rated only for people over 17 years old. “If the author were to hand this book out on the street to children, it would be illegal. But she can put it in public school and everything’s OK?”

State Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield noted the book was at the center of a national controversy.

“The evidence is overwhelming that America’s classrooms from the earliest grades are being used not to educate but to indoctrinate our children with radical ideologies, racially divisive theories and distorted views on human sexuality,” she said. “The book ‘Gender Queer’ is a perfect example of this.”

Several in the crowd responded, “Amen,” and clapped and hooted.

Kelly Skillin of Dixfield, one of a few people speaking online, said she was in favor of the book’s diverse message.


“It’s incredibly disheartening to hear members of the community disparage a group in regards to this book, as if this book produces such people,” she said. “If a book had such power, there wouldn’t be horror stories, there wouldn’t be fiction … since when can a book not be for pleasure or for enjoyment?

Skillin also said school libraries “have such diverse messages that can only be experienced by reading. A school library is a world, it’s a world of cultures that a student not at home may not have access to diverse cultures. … (the book is not) not a plague. It’s a beauty,” Skillin said to the crowd’s laughter.

Another online speaker, who identified himself as Spencer, said he graduated from Dirigo High School two years ago and is in college.

“But seeing some of the words that are being brought up about this book — it’s really damaging,” he said. “I mean, as a queer student who went through Dirigo (High School), it’s hard to see the communities rally so hard against this book.

“I’m seeing words like obscene (used) for being promiscuous and how (words like) pornography and disgusting, appalling are all synonymous with like the word queer and what it means to be queer.

“I think that it’s important to teach them that now,” he said. “I wish that I was reading books in high school that would talk to me more about my sexuality. But I didn’t have the exposure to those books, and that could be damaging.”


After hearing from the 10 speakers for about 90 minutes, each of the nine board members in attendance gave their opinions on the book and whether it should remain on the library shelves.

“I think it is important for us to have access to books like this,” Director Angela Cushman of Peru said. “One thing that I want some of those here tonight to think of is banning a book from school outright denies children the opportunity to see themselves reflected on paper. Think about that. Really think about that.”

Don Whittemore of Carthage, who voted to remove the book, said he read the book entirely and was “appalled.” He said district residents called him and stopped him while shopping to say what they thought of the book.

“And I am going to say probably 75 to 80% of the people want it banned, Whittemore said. “As far as I’m concerned, if we can’t do what these people want us to do, they have a right (to vote us out of our positions).”

Voting to remove the book were Chairwoman Barbara Chow, Elizabeth Kelly and Bruce Ross, all of Dixfield; Deanna Dolloff of Peru; Whittemore and Marianne Young, both of Carthage; and Carl Lueders of Canton.

Voting against removing it were Larry Whittington of Dixfield and Cushman.

Directors Konstantin Aslandi of Peru, Natalie Sneller of Carthage and Tim Kelly of Dixfield did not attend the meeting.

Chow said the board’s written decision will be released at the next board meeting Aug. 23 at the high school.

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