FARMINGTON — A gender-identity poster displayed in guidance offices at Mt. Blue middle and high schools will remain, the vice chairwoman of the Regional School Unit 9 board told those speaking for and against it at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

The posters, created by the LGBTQ+ youth advocacy organization OUT Maine, and titled “Gender 101,” explain the concept of gender, assigned-at-birth biological sex, and offers definitions for “intersex,” “transgender,” “cisgender,” “gender non-conforming” and “gender fluid.”

Of the 30 people addressing the board during public comment Tuesday, 16 supported keeping the posters at the two Farmington schools, 12 called for their removal, and two had no clear stance.

Some argued the posters were informational and potentially life-saving. Others said they were “offensive” and “propaganda.”

The poster reads: “(Gender is) a social construct based on a group of emotional, behavioral and cultural characteristics attached to a person’s assigned biological sex. Gender has several components, including gender identity, gender expression and gender role. (Sex is) the set of biological and physiological characteristics that determine someone’s biological sex assigned at birth rather than determining one’s gender.”

Referring to Superintendent Chris Elkington review of the poster last month, Vice Chairwoman Debbie Smith of Weld said, “At this point, the superintendent’s findings will stay as they were stated.”


Elkington acknowledged in his Aug. 29 written report of his review that “I understand this is a highly sensitive subject. The discussion/presentation of gender issues among students, parents, and community members is one that generates intense emotions among many members of the public in RSU 9 and around our state.”

He said his discussions with district staff revealed that the “Gender 101 Poster is not part of any lesson, unit, or a curriculum plan that we teach in RSU 9. The poster is purely informational.”

He wrote that the poster is “purely informational” and “designed to create a common understanding of terminology related to the LGBTQ+ community among ALL students and to our staff (with) accurate definitions of this terminology as defined by state and federal agencies.”

According to his report, his talks with the Maine Department of Education staff revealed that OUT Maine is a resource the department has used and has recommended to school systems for years. “In fact, OUT Maine resources have been listed on the MDOE website under the last two administrations (Lepage & Mills).”

Elkington also wrote that he reviewed the poster within the context of RSU 9 policies on nondiscrimination/Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, school-building administration, and transgender-student guidelines policies, as well as the Maine Human Rights Act, Maine’s anti-bullying and harassment statutes, relevant case law, Title IX, and guidance from the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Elkington said in an interview this week that the findings came from “a lot of homework,” meeting with people, reviewing state law and federal guidelines.


“I feel strongly I made the right decision based on that,” he said. “We’re not moving away from that. The next (step) is for the board, if they want to decide.”

Those calling for removal of the poster said there were only two genders, the poster was political “propaganda” contained “inappropriate” content,” was “immoral” and “offensive” and went against the word of God.

In defense of the poster and the superintendent’s reviews, speakers explained the importance of making schools a “safe” place where all kids feel welcome and recognized, why they believe the poster is informational and educational (rather than propaganda), encourages tolerance and acceptance, and, in some instances, can be life saving.

Robert Geisser of Industry, a parent and former member of the Marine Corps, saw the poster as RSU 9 getting into “all of this political weeds.”

“If you want the science, the science is you’re either born with an X or a Y chromosome — you’re male or female. This is politics when you get into this stuff,” he said, “As for being safe spaces, I’ve got no problem for kids being booted out of school if they’re bullying anybody.”

Geisser said, “The primary mission of school is to teach kids” reading and math.


“(Schools should) not worry about whether the kid thinks they’re a cat today or a dog tomorrow, this gender fluid stuff,” he said. “It’s not what you’re there for, it’s not where our taxpaying money goes to teach.”

Parent and former RSU 9 Director Jesse Sillanpaa of Industry requested the poster be moved to a more concealed area of the building.

“These young people that identify differently than others know who they are,” Sillanpaa said. “They are a raccoon or a cat or a possum the next day.

“My loved ones that are in this community want to be left alone,” Sillanpaa said. “They don’t want these things plastered all over social media and TV and all over the place all the time. Just as I want to be left alone in my own life with my wife, my beliefs, I just asked that the poster be taken down in the hallway and put in the guidance counselor’s wall, out of sight.”

Peter Forrest Tracy of Farmington said he saw the poster as “social experimentation of gender, sexual orientation.”

Growing up on a farm, Forrest Tracy said, “We never milked the bulls.” He learned in biology classes that “animals had two genders.”


“Do we want our kids to be part of a social experiment?” he asked. “Let’s stick to teaching our kids how to function in life — knowledge, (science, technology, engineering, math) . . . and the skills they need to succeed and the attitude they need to get through life and some of its hard times.”

Kathy Hinds of New Vineyard referenced a statistic that “over 6,000 young people commit suicide every year — a far greater number than when (she) was in school.”

According to a 2020 survey from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “8.9 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months.”

“Children today are feeling a greater sense of hopelessness than ever before,” Hinds said. “And part of that is because of the untruth that they’re being taught in their schools and the hypocrisy that they might be living at home.”

She expressed “the immoral values and lifestyle that are being pushed on our children today will be devastating for them and for the future of our world as we know it.”

“There are and will always only be two genders — male and female,” Hinds said. “Give the kids a break and trust the science.”


Among those in support of the poster, Larry Barker of Temple suggested the higher rates of suicide among young people are not caused by being LGBTQ, but by a hostile world LGBTQ people live in.

As a crisis worker and clinical psychiatric nurse, Barker said he worked closely with people from the LGBTQ community.

“I found there that gay, transgender youth . . . were targeted for violence and many became suicidal,  though I don’t believe that it was because they were in that community, but it was because the larger community or their families rejected them,” Barker said.

Dr. Kristen Mizoki, Franklin County’s only psychiatrist, cited attempted-suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth are four times higher than their cisgender, straight peers.

Cisgender describes a person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.

Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide-prevention and crisis-intervention organization, released its annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. It’s findings include:


• 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year;

• 73% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety;

• 58% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of depression;.

• 36% of LGBTQ youth reported they have been physically threatened or harmed due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity; and

• 73% of LGBTQ youth reported that they have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime.

“Posters such as the one hanging in our schools can be a lifeline for struggling children,” Mizoki said. “The possibility of changing or saving even one child’s life is worth the discomfort of you. In my professional opinion, there are no negative mental health consequences for viewing the poster,” she said.


Mizoki referenced organizations that have approved the definitions cited on the posters, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association.

Doug Hodum of Farmington, a biology teacher at the high school and president of the Mt. Blue Regional School District Education Association, read a statement that said the association is “dismayed” by the negative comments around the poster. It believes the poster is informative and offers people the terminology for different kinds of gender identity.

“On this campus and in this district, our responsibilities are to keep our students safe and educate them about the world around them,” Hodum read. “If we limit access to information, we will not be fulfilling our charge of supporting and being inclusive of all who enter our doors.

Kristen Case, a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, addressed the board as the parent of a nonbinary child, a term referring to  someone who does not identify exclusively as male or female.

“It’s been hard to hear the way people talk about these kids,” Case said while tearing up. “My kid is real. They’re not imaginary. They are not an animal.”

UMF student Trinity Slate urged the board to keep the poster and spoke about experiences as a nonbinary person.


“To be told that I live a fairytale is something I always wished were true,” Slate said. “Instead, I live in a world that denies me, a world that judges me. The way I was treated, the way that I look, there’s nothing I can control and yet I’m judged for it.

“If we don’t give people like me a chance to be safe, they’ll be forced to live a lie,” Slate said. “I bear the physical and emotional scars that come from the rejection I have experienced.”

There were no explicit items on Tuesday’s agenda addressing the poster. Rather, there were calls in the “RSU 9 parents for transparency and truth” private Facebook group acquired by the Franklin Journal, encouraging people to attend the meeting and raise concerns about the poster.

“Please join us and show the board that we are the ones that control what our kids learn and see in school,” Sillanpaa posted Friday, Sept. 9. “If you would like to see (the poster) removed or get more information on where it is specifically located please come to the meeting.”

As word of the plans spread, other locals chose to attend the meeting to support keeping the poster up.

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