WALDOBORO — Over the past year, Regional School Unit 40 has received requests to remove the book Gender Queer from the shelves at the Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. The RSU 40 School Board is now reading the book, in advance of an Oct. 20 public discussion about the latest request, submitted in September. A senior at Medomak is simultaneously taking action, circulating an online petition that the book remains in the library and accessible to readers.
To date, 703 signatures have been lent to the petition, which is posted on Change.org. It asks simply that the book, authored by Maia Kobabe, remain in the school library.
Senior Sage Cunningham took the initiative with the petition this week, and said he will be attending the Oct. 20 board meeting, “in defense of the book.”
“After reading the book and coming to a conclusion that I do not think this book should be banned, I decided to create this petition,” he said, Oct. 4. “Every person who signs has agreed that this book should be kept in the MVHS library because any book that is worth banning is a book worth reading.”
On the Change.org petition site, he said he had read the book, he came to the conclusion it should not be banned.
“Every person who signs has agreed that this book should be kept in the MVHS library because any book that is worth banning is a book worth reading,” he wrote.
Reports by news outlets covering other districts in Maine have indicated similar discussions about Gender Queer have arisen in Buxton, where the SAD 6 School Board voted 10 to 1 Oct. 3 against the removal of the book.
RSU 40 first heard the same request last winter, after which a team of RSU 40 staff agreed to review the book and ultimately decided that it remain on the shelf.
In September, and following district policy, another request — this time to the school board — was made to remove the book.
On Sept. 14, RSU School Board candidate Steve Karp posted on a public Facebook page: “We are circulating a petition now in RSU 40 to have this book removed from the MVHS library. The administration refused to remove the book this past January. The Superintendent even said that it was ‘not pornographic’(!). We appealed to the board on June 15. The board chairman unilaterally made a decision to order copies (we need 18) of the book for every board member and what till they came in before reviewing the book. He says that they are backordered but as of today there are 19 copies of the book on Amazon. Why is he stalling?”
According to the Lincoln County News, Karp questioned the board in April and again in May, asking why the book was in the school library.
In May, the New York Times published an article citing Gender Queer as the most banned book in the U.S. in 2021, and interviewed Kobabe.
According to the book’s distributor, publishers Simon and Schuster: “Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.”
The book was first published in 2019, in a small print run of 5,000, said the NYT.
“Then, last year, the book’s frank grappling with gender identity and sexuality began generating headlines around the country,” the NYT reported. “Dozens of schools pulled it from library shelves. Republican officials in North and South Carolina, Texas and Virginia called for the book’s removal, sometimes labeling it ‘pornographic.’”
But Cunningham disagrees.
“I do not think this book should be banned; banning this book will erase a story that a transgender student such as myself could relate to,” he wrote, at Change.org. “I understand this book is under review, allegedly for its sexual content. I can understand the concerns around the sexual content in the book, but sex can actually play a large role in someone's gender identity discovery–while sexuality and gender identity are not directly coordinated, the role someone might play in a sexual relationship can help someone understand what gender they align more with. Banning or even attempting to ban a book like this will, and already has, made more students read it, which I am assuming was the opposite goal of those calling for its expulsion. The plot of this book is not meant to be sexual, so to ban it for that reason seems unfair.”
Meanwhile, the RSU 40 School Board members, representing Friendship, Union, Waldoboro, Warren, Washington, are apparently reading Gender Queer in advance of the Oct. 20, 7 p.m., meeting at the Medomak Middle School in Waldoboro.
“I do not know if it was talked about at the last meeting but I am the only student in charge of this petition and I thought the book was important because it shows people that what they experience is entirely normal,” Cunningham said, Oct. 4. “I thought if I had a petition with a large enough number of supporters it would prove to the school board that the book has value in the school.”
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