I recently attended a school board meeting at MSAD 40 where approximately 300 people were in attendance to either give or listen to arguments for and against the book Gender Queer remaining in the high school library.
While this appeal was about this specific book, this conversation is not about one particular award-winning book in a local school library. It is a national issue about adults who have decided to use at-risk students for political gain and further divide our country, regardless of the impact that may have on these students. Whether it is supportive policies, inclusive curriculum, or books in the library, every effort a school makes to be welcoming and inclusive is being questioned and attacked at school board meetings, through the negative press, and on social media.
Although some people want everyone to believe OUT Maine is a political organization, it is not. Being a 501(c) (3) prohibits OUT Maine from directly or indirectly engaging in any political campaign. As OUT Maine continues to address the impact of the political “pushback” against LGBTQ+ youth sweeping the country and overwhelming Maine rural schools, its mission, building welcoming and affirming communities for Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth, is more relevant and urgent than ever.
I understand putting our LGBTQ+ students on a stage has caught people off guard. Many adults are uncomfortable with the idea of people identifying as something other than heterosexual or cisgender. However, the reality is this is where we are as a society. We have a lot to learn from our youth. It is time we listen to them.
The 2021 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey data was recently released. 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. However, less than 30% of them feel they matter to their community. Why are we not talking about this?
Less than 22% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual students and only 10.3% of transgender students in Maine say they feel safe at school.
Again, why are we not talking about this?
During the meeting, I shared a story about a student who had checked Gender Queer out of the library and was late returning it. When they returned it, they apologized for being late but asked their father and sister to read it after they read it. They couldn't believe they had found a book that so clearly described how they felt. The student said the book was life-changing for them. They no longer felt alone.
This story exemplifies why we must have books, materials, and resources representing all students in schools and libraries. Students must be able to have access to information to help them learn about themselves and others.
We live in a world where adults and youth can get instant access to almost any information using a cell phone, tablet, or laptop. However, isn't it better for students to access award-winning books and resources in their school libraries than to perhaps access incorrect information on the internet?
You will hear people speak against this book, posters, and inclusive policies, often with no facts but using whatever language they can to scare people. OUT Maine asks you to consider how many of them have taken the opportunity to read the book. How many of them have an LGBTQ+ child? How many of them have a child who tried to commit suicide because they were bullied for their identity? How many of them have held their child at night, trying to soothe them because adults are trying to erase them from existence?
We must support all of our students, including our LGBTQ+ students.
We must stand up and tell them they matter.
For more information about OUT Maine programs or to help OUT Maine support our schools and LGBTQ+ youth, please visit outmaine.org.
OUT Maine has an ambitious goal: to create more welcoming and affirming communities for Maine’s diverse queer youth in all of their intersectional identities by changing the very systems that serve them. For more information, visit www.outmaine.org
Sue Campbell is executive director of OUT Maine