Tarasue Levesque of Turner reads a statement at Thursday’s meeting of Maine School Administrative District 52 directors in Turner. Last November, she requested the district review and remove “Gender Queer” from the Leavitt Area High School library, expressing concerns about graphic, inappropriate sexual content. The board voted 5-3 to keep the book in the library.  Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

TURNER — A controversial book about gender and sexual identity will remain available to students at Leavitt Area High School after a 5-3 vote Thursday by the Maine School Administrative District 52 board of directors.

“It’s so affirming,” school librarian Judith Lashman said. “It was wonderful to have the support of so many board members, to respect all of us as professionals.”

In November, Tarasue Levesque of Turner requested that the district review and remove “Gender Queer” from the high school, expressing concerns about graphic, inappropriate sexual content. A review committee formed to evaluate the book recommended it remain available in the high school library, but should at no time be required reading nor be available to students below ninth grade.

Levesque appealed the decision, bringing the final vote to the board of directors.

“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel written by Maia Kobabe, who identifies as nonbinary and asexual. The 2019 book depicts the author’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood, through gender dysphoria, adolescent crushes and personal discovery.

Following a lengthy executive session for directors to consult with the district’s legal counsel, each shared their viewpoint before votes were cast.


Nearly all of the directors expressed reservations about some images in the book, however most said they felt the book as a whole was appropriate for high school students.

Many shared that they were comfortable keeping “Gender Queer” in the library, knowing parents have the ability to restrict their children from checking the book out.

“I still have some reservations, however I have chosen to put my trust in our educators,” Director Jessaka Nichols of Turner said. “I do believe as parents that we have the final say over our children, including what materials they read. I fully support the opt-out policy our district has … and I support the rights of other parents to allow their children the same access.”

Maine School Administrative District 52 Director Tammy Fereshetian of Turner, center, speaks at the board meeting Thursday in Turner, saying she recognizes the value of the author’s unique perspective, but she doesn’t believe “Gender Queer” is appropriate for children younger than 18 without parental guidance. Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

Student representative Sydney Bullard, a junior at Leavitt, encouraged directors to vote in support of “Gender Queer.”

“Even if this is not a book that I would personally go to the library and search out, even if it’s just one kid that wants it, they should have that ability,” she said.

Director Tammy Fereshetian of Turner said she recognizes the value of the author’s unique perspective, but she doesn’t believe “Gender Queer” is appropriate for children under 18 without parental guidance.


“This world is made up of all kinds of people, and our job is to meet children exactly where they are,” the retired educator said. “As an adult reading this book, it helps me to do this. However, I wouldn’t offer this to my own children. I would not, as a teacher, have made this an option because of the graphic images.”

Director Kyle Purington of Greene, who also voted to remove the book, said he found the images to be disgusting.

“I had a hard time reading it because it was very vulgar and it was gross,” he said.

Leavitt Area High School librarian Judith Lashman urges directors of Maine School Administrative District 52 on Thursday to keep “Gender Queer” in the library at the Turner school. After directors voted in support of the book, she said students would be excited to hear the news Friday. Vanessa Paolella/Sun Journal

Voting in support of keeping the book were Nichols, Elizabeth Bullard and Jamie Johnson, all of Turner, and Joseph McLean and Crystal Barus, both of Leeds. Fereshetian, Purington and Anthony Shostak, all of Greene, voted in opposition. Brooke Nadeau of Greene abstained from voting.

Lashman, who is also a co-adviser for the school’s gay-straight alliance, said the book has become more popular in the library since these discussions began. She said many students, both queer and otherwise, have found the book to be insightful and powerful.

“I can’t wait to tell the kids tomorrow,” Lashman said. “They’re going to be so happy.”

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