Ava Coates, student representative on the Regional School Unit 73 board of directors, looks at board members Thursday night, Nov. 10, after voicing her opposition to banning two controversial books from the high school library. Directors, meeting at the high school in Jay, voted to keep “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “White Fragility” in the library. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

JAY — The directors of Regional School Unit 73 voted Thursday night, Nov. 10, to keep two controversial books – one on sexuality and gender identity, the other on racism – in the Spruce Mountain High School library.

Their decisions followed appeals filed by residents after a review committee recommended that “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” be allowed to stay.

On Thursday, directors voted 8-4 to allow “Gender Queer” to stay in the library.

Voting to accept were Chantelle Woodcock and Elaine Fitzgerald, both of Jay; Andrew Sylvester and Tasha Perkins, both of Livermore; and Phoebe Pike, D. Robin Beck, Lenia Coates and student representative Ava Coates, all of Livermore Falls.

Opposed were Chairperson Robert Staples and Jodi Cordes, both Jay; Holly Morris of Livermore; and Patrick Milligan of Livermore Falls. Director Joel Pike of Jay was absent. One position for a representative from Jay and one student representative position on the board are vacant.

The vote on “White Fragility” was 11-1, with Morris opposed.


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.

“White Fragility” is an international bestseller written by Robin DeAngelo published in 2018. According to Amazon, she coined the term ‘white fragility’ in 2011 to describe “the ways in which ordinary white people react when it is pointed out to them that they have done or said something that has – unintentionally – caused racial offense or hurt.”

Residents opposed to having the books in the library have expressed their strong opinions at school board meetings the past few months.

In September, Superintendent Scott Albert told directors formal complaints had been filed, prompting him to follow the district’s policy and appoint a five-member committee to review the books.

The board announced Oct. 27 that the appeals would be taken up at Thursday’s meeting.

John Benedetto of Livermore Falls holds copies of definitions of pornography and some images from a book Thursday night, Nov. 10, at the Regional School Unit 73 board meeting at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay. The board voted to allow two controversial books on sexuality and gender identity, and racism to remain in the library. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

John Benedetto, a parent from Livermore Falls referenced definitions found in the state statute covering dissemination of obscene matter to minors. He then held up images from the books. “They include things in the Maine statute which are considered illegal in the State of Maine,” he noted.


Benedetto then asked if any director could provide a scientific definition of what a white person is. “You are bringing race into all these different things, you are segregating people by telling them they are a different race,” he stated. “We are all human beings.”

Jeff Bailey, a parent of a SMHS student and a teacher in a neighboring district urged the books not be banned. “Our schools are places of learning, growing and belonging,” he said. “At least that is what we have the opportunity to continue to be. The books in question are not being assigned to students, but are simply available to them in our library. I would imagine that many books in the library would make someone feel uncomfortable and would challenge our thoughts and beliefs. Being able to seek out knowledge and learn how to process information and perspectives other than our own is an important skill. It is, in fact, a major part of producing well educated and independent graduates in our ever changing and global world. It is a job skill and a necessity.

“Banning these books would send a clear message – That our schools are not for everyone,” Bailey noted. “We are a proud public school. We are for all students of all races and identities. Let’s not ban someone’s story, someone’s experiences, people’s histories. Let’s be an institution of learning, compassion and understanding.”

Roger Moulton of Livermore Falls said he didn’t see much growth or any conclusion to Kobabe’s story so didn’t understand a need to access the information. Are there no books on the issues faced by non-binary people that don’t include sexual memoirs and graphic sexual depictions, he asked.

Regional School Unit 73 Directors Holly Morris, left, and Tasha Perkins, center, both of Livermore, and Chantelle Woodcock of Jay react Thursday night, Nov. 10, as a district resident enters the room wearing a shirt with explicit photos from one of two books some residents want banned from Spruce Mountain High School’s library. The board voted to allow “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and a book on racism titled “White Fragility” to stay in the library. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“I was a teacher for 29 years,” Pam McAllister of Jay said. Her students could have found something objectionable in one of the many books available then, she noted. “No one is requiring you read this book. They are there for those with an interest. Parents do not have a choice to take that choice away from others.”

August Sender, training coordinator for OUT Maine shared statistics from the 2021 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, noting the percentage of Maine teens that identify as LGBTQ+ has continued to increase. “Approximately 27% of Maine’s teens identified their sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual and 6.5% identified as transgender or questioning,” he said. “Meaning, in a class of 24 students, eight of them are LGBTQ+. Less than 30% of these same youth said they don’t believe they matter to their community. Why are we not talking about this?


“Why are we not talking about how less than 22% of lesbian, gay or bisexual students and only 10.3% of transgender students in Maine say they feel safe at school. These young people are experiencing unimaginable levels of harassment, bullying and assaults on school grounds.”

Kristy Labonte of Livermore said she is a prolific reader but doesn’t turn into their characters or done things found in those books. She said she values the varied perspectives books provide. “They taught me that the way I grew up is not the way everyone has grown up,” she noted. “They have taught me that mental illness, trauma, geography, values all shape who people are and who they become.”

Labonte said three of her six family members are part of the LGBTQ+ community and two of her four children are students of color in the school. “Recent weeks have been emotionally difficult,” she noted. “The increase in racial rhetoric around the school, graffiti on the walls, and parents yelling racial slurs at a youth football game have made it clear there is danger here, that my children are at risk in their own community.

“It’s ironic that as this problem is becoming more and more prevalent people are trying to limit access to books that may help with discussion around the issue,” Labonte said. “I am a white mom trying to parent brown sons when I don’t have the experience I need to fully understand their position. Parents may choose if their children should read these books but don’t remove them so those who need them will have access to them, she urged.

“I wish school was a safe place for all students, not just straight white students,” Labonte added.

Physician Steve Bien of Jay stated Gender Queer is not pornography – if it were then every health and science book would also need to be labeled as such. “If we start banning books based on parents’ concerns where does it end,” he asked. “Banning this book would just be the beginning.”


“We have to talk about racism,” Jayne Costa of Jay said. “It is up to all of us to open up these channels. These books have been on the shelves for years, it has never been an issue.”

Costa said their are three images on three pages in Gender Queer people could take issue with. “Reading this book has literally saved people’s lives, that’s power,” she noted. Grade nine students are taught sexuality in health, in biology students learn human reproduction and genetics, she stated. “It’s not something students aren’t learning already,” she added.

Leslie Geissinger of Jay has two sons at SMHS. “I see a lot of kids in the emergency room who are suicidal,” she said. “If keeping books is one step we can take, it is on us to take that step to protect these kids.”

Beck said in 2003 she and her wife, Patty were in Indiana. They formed a youth group with 52 kids, at least half of whom had been kicked out because their parents wouldn’t see them as LGBTQ+, she noted. “What we offered to those kids was a chance to talk, ask questions,” she stated.

Beck said if she had read Gender Queer she would have come out at an earlier age.

Ava Coates said she read Gender Queer, the pictures were part of the book and don’t really matter. If thinking about banning these books, then books students are required to read need to be considered too, she stated.


Pike said she was raised in a very religious home, there were books she wasn’t allowed to read. Every generation has books on a list to ban such as Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, Wizard of Oz and even the Grapes of Wrath, she noted.

“I am not asking for anyone to agree or disagree with me,” Pike said. “I am asking to have conversations.” It is important to look at each other, see people as they are and accept them whether black or LGBTQ+, she noted. “I think that is what we are missing,” she added.

Following a closed door session for directors to discuss the legal rights and duties of the school unit, Shari Ouellette shared why the group appealing the decision to keep Gender Queer in the library felt the book should be removed. Photos in the book are pornographic, Playboy magazine isn’t allowed so why should this be, she asked. Parents can opt out of letting their children read the book but what is to prevent someone showing it to other students in a hallway or on the bus, she queried. “I don’t want my six-year old nephew to see this,” she stated.

Ouellette urged science be followed. “You are either [genetically] xx or xy, that cannot be changed,” she said. “Body issue has no place in our schools.”

SMHS Principal TJ Plourde, a member of the review committee, shared how the book aligns with the library selection process:

•  Take into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the students served;
The graphic novel format allows students who might need the information to access it without reading advanced material beyond their reading level.
The book is specifically at high school for high school students, in accordance with the reviews and awards the book has received.
•  Foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and varied opinions;
The review committee all felt we gained more empathy for and understanding of issues faced by nonbinary people by reading this memoir.
• Give comprehensive, accurate, and balanced representation to minorities and women in history, science, leadership, and the arts and acknowledge the contributions of ethnic, religious and cultural groups to our American heritage;
All students deserve to see themselves reflected in library materials, not just cisgender or majority students.
• Present a balance of opposing sides of controversial issues to enable students to develop a capability for critical analysis;
This book helps provide a perspective that begins to balance our collection overall. It reflects an experience few other books discuss.
• Stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values, and ethical standards;
The author models a strong literary appreciation as a child, adolescent, and creator. The book also gives examples of healthy consent in an adult relationship.
• Provide a background of information that will enable students to make intelligent decisions in their daily lives;
The book explains the health concerns of nonbinary people such as binding and medical care and shares how the author was able to seek out support. Foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and varied opinions.


Superintendent Scott Albert supported the committee’s recommendation. “While I was reading this book it pulled at my heartstrings knowing we have students who are struggling with their identity,” he said. “If having this book can help them then I am for it. Individual parents have the right to not allow their child to take out this book. If not given this option, I might feel differently.”

“Every child wants to be accepted for who they are,” Pike said. “Ultimately this book is a memoir. Every single one of us deserves a voice. Our job is to look towards what we think is best for the community as a whole.”

Hot issues tend to bring people out, Milligan said. Art comes in many forms, it can be difficult to perceive an artist’s work, he noted. “This isn’t going to go away,” he stated. “There are offensive materials everywhere we go.”

Regarding White Fragility Ouellette asked what is a white person. She said she is so much more than the color of her skin, this book says you are just this and no more, she noted. “I don’t want that for my child, I hope you don’t,” she added.

Plourde shared the alignment for this book:

• Enrich and support the curriculum;
This book is not part of the curriculum but could be used as optional research material in classes such as sociology, history, and others discussing racism, in addition to other sources showing different perspectives.
• Take into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the students served;
This book is written at a level that could prepare students for academic reading material in advanced studies. It may also be useful for a college course in sociology students might be taking while in high school.
• Foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and varied opinions;
• Give comprehensive, accurate, and balanced representation to minorities and women in history, science, leadership, and the arts and acknowledge the contributions of ethnic, religious, and cultural groups to our American heritage;
•  Present a balance of opposing sides of controversial issues to enable students to develop a capability for
critical analysis;
As a mostly homogeneous population, an outside perspective on racism in our society is valuable. In addition to providing students with an alternate perspective on racism in our society, the author also provides a wide selection of additional resources and extensive academic citations to support her ideas.
• Stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values, and ethical standards;
The book explains the historical context and ethical considerations regarding race in our society.
• Provide a background of information that will enable students to make intelligent decisions in their daily lives;
The committee found the author’s opinion regarding accepting feedback and avoiding defensiveness when discussing controversial issues such as racism to be personally and professionally helpful.


Albert said he has always been a proponent of looking at things with different lenses and supports the committee’s recommendation.

“Although I may disagree with quite a bit of it, it’s a point of view,” Staples said. “It should stay in the library for that purpose.”

Ava Coates said most of the school has not read White Fragility, it is a very hard read. It has been in the library more than four years and only now becoming an issue.

Albert noted that before the book complaints Gender Queer had been checked out three times and White Fragility none. On Thursday both books were checked out.

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