FARMINGTON — Amid backlash and book banning, Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers  is partnering with Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance to offer teenagers, educators and librarians free copies of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.

Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in downtown Farmington has partnered with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance to give away free copies of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe to teenagers, secondary-education teachers and librarians. The giveaway follows action by the RSU 56 Board of Directors to ban “Gender Queer,” a book about the author’s exploration of LGBTQ+ identity from adolescence through adulthood. Portland Press Herald file photo

“Gender Queer” is a 2019 graphic memoir about Kobabe’s experiences grappling with gender identity and sexuality from adolescence through adulthood.

In recent months, there’s been nationwide controversy about “Gender Queer” in school districts across the country. Arguments have manifested on school district boards, at town halls and among parents about “pornographic” content in the book.

In Maine, Regional School Unit 56’s board of directors voted 7-2 on Aug. 9 to remove the book from Dirigo High School’s library shelves in Dixfield, according to the Rumford Falls Times. The ban followed community uproar and an appeal against the board’s decision to allow the memoir to remain in the library.

The Portland Press Herald reports that Buxton-based SAD 6 is also considering a ban.

At the same time, there’s been an all-around increase in book banning in schools. Data from PEN America finds there have been 1,586 book-bans in school libraries and classrooms across the country from July 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022.


Deborah Caldwell-Stone with the American Library Association told Grid that book bans in education are at a “historic high” targeting gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

According to Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, “Gender Queer” is the most banned book at the high school level in America.

In the face of these book bans, the alliance launched the “Unbanning a Banned Book in Maine” fundraiser to partner with the Farmington bookstore and provide teenagers, librarians and educators with free copies of “Gender Queer.”

After raising over $4,300, the GoFundMe campaign has ended and the bookstore is starting to hand out copies for secondary education teachers, librarians and high school students via an online request form.

Store owner Kenny Brechner said the purpose of the partnership is to “provide the books and a safe place to pick them up.”

Fay-LeBlanc said the organization chose to work with Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers because its the closest independent bookstore to where the ban happened, where the conversation around “Gender Queer” is happening.


The bookstore is “firmly rooted in their community in that part of Maine and also believes in free expression, making sure people have access to books,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “We think that we need to make sure that books like this are accessible for high school students.”

Brechner and Fay-LeBlanc think “Gender Queer” tells a story important for teenagers and educators alike.

“This is a book that tells a story about a nonbinary person who’s trying to figure out what their sexuality is and looks like,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “And that’s a pretty unusual experience, relatively. And it’s not one that is widely accessible in literature and other places.

“And for that reason I think it’s a book that’s hugely important.”

A nonbinary person identifies themself as not strictly male or female.

Fay-LeBlanc recounted a story from a Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance supporter whose non-binary child, now an adult, “almost didn’t survive high school.”


“For those students who might be going through something similar, I don’t think it’s an overstatement or exaggeration to say that this book could be a life-saving book,” he said.

Brechner thinks “Gender Queer” is “a memoir that deals with a personal growth of personal identity and a change of internal perspective about gender identity, done in a caring manner . . . a caring context for difficult issues . . . for some people to see themselves in it and feel more grounded.”

The book “engaged with so many things that I think are important,” Brechner said. “I decided to support the effort because it aligns so strongly with the many things I have had a deep commitment to . . . for my whole 31-year career.”

Farmington-based “Woodsqueer” author Gretchen Legler believes books like “Gender Queer” offer a “fuller vision of what it’s like to be a human being, remind us that we’re not alone in this world.”

“Especially for teenagers, who have a hard enough time of life as it is, to know they’re not alone in this world, bad or sick, it’s important to validate their difference,” she said.

Gia Drew, executive director of LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Equality Maine, believes the power of “Gender Queer” is also its ability to humanize and represent.


“There are LGBTQ+ people that are sitting next to you, that are your teachers and neighbors. (‘Gender Queer’ teaches) that we exist, we have very similar struggles with our humanity and our life and our families and paying our bills, like anybody else,” Drew said. “And then we struggle with our relationships, and we question if we’re gay or queer or not, and we stumble through things just like anybody else.

“I think it just humanizes what it means to be queer,” Drew said.

Fay-LeBlanc agrees: beyond offering queer students representation, “Gender Queer” serves as an essential educational tool for all teenagers.

“High school educators are trying to educate these teenagers into adults,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “And one way that happens is they get exposed to, at times, provocative or different ideas, and then they know about them, they have to think about them, talk to teachers, parents and school staff about them and grapple with them.”

“It’s a reminder that everybody’s story is important,” Legler said. “The value is to try to understand the other.”

Opponents of “Gender Queer” have raised concerns about “pornographic” or sexually-explicit content.


Fay-LeBlanc is sympathetic to the concerns of some parents about the content of these books. But he believes the uproar is “misplaced” and caused by “very right-wing politicians, figures and (members of the) media (co-opting) an issue where it’s really easy to use fear” by “taking something completely out of context.”

“I would challenge anybody who’s having that reaction to read the whole book and see if they still think that (it’s pornographic) at the end of reading the whole book,” he said. “The book is focused on one person’s journey, focused on one person who’s trying to figure out who they are.”

While Fay-LeBlanc said there are mentions of sex in the book, he believes it’s hardly the only book on library shelves involving sex and sexuality.

“We know that high school students, teenagers are thinking about sex and they’re trying to figure that out,” he said. “We need to give them access to materials that maturely and complexly handle those issues.”

Compared to what is on television, the internet, in books, etc. Fay-LeBlanc considers Kobabe’s memoir “tame.”

“That’s why we need to give them examples of people who are dealing with it in a really real and human and complex way,” he said.


It’s also important to put your trust in the people trained to educate, Fay-LeBlanc said.

“That’s why we train our teachers,” Legler said. “Teachers know students really well; sometimes teachers know students better than parents know their children.”

“I think most librarians are doing a really good job of picking out media and books that are  developmentally appropriate for their kiddos,” Drew echoed.

Fay-LeBlanc, Brechner, Drew and Legler recognize this moment in history (amid book bans) as a precipice.

“The danger is so obvious: where does it stop?” Legler asked. “Whose voices and stories do we decide are forbidden or off limits? The danger is getting out of control.”

“When the book is banned in a community, it really silences people,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “It makes people who are LGBTQ+ or nonbinary who are in an area where [a book] has been banned [feel] like we don’t want to know. And that’s really dangerous.


“When we think about banning books, we have to take that really seriously and only do it in the rarest of circumstances. There needs to be wide, wide community agreement about that.”

Brechner sees the resurgence of book banning as “the antithesis to education.”

“Harm comes in suppression,” he said.

Drew believes the particular focus on LGBTQ+ literature is non-LGBTQ+ people feeling “uncomfortable.”

“There’s plenty of curriculum and material around what it’s like to be straight or heterosexual or cisgender,” she said. “But once you introduce the concept that we’re LGBTQ, and we have a body and we may have relationships with people, that makes people uncomfortable.”

Cisgender describes people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth.


But in the face of these book bans, all four say it’s a time to rally together.

“One has to defend books against censorship in schools,” Brechner said. “The first amendment, education, free speech and personal sovereignty don’t defend themselves. They’re just ideas without people to stand up and support them.”

The Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance will be ready if another school district decides to ban a book,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “But I hope that rather than do that, that there’s perhaps maybe more dialogue and discussion about book bans like this.”

And there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud, Fay-LeBlanc said: there are more eyes on “Gender Queer” than ever.

Library copies of “Gender Queer” around the state are checked out with long waiting lists, according to the Sun Journal.

“Whenever a book is banned, a lot more attention goes to the book and it becomes more popular and more copies are sold,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “I hope that more conversations are created and more people read this book.”

Teenagers, secondary education teachers or librarians can apply to receive a free copy of “Gender Queer” from the Farmington bookstore at

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