Parents and residents of eastern Hancock County appealed Tuesday night to their local school board to take action concerning two LGBTQ books in the library of the local grade 6-12 school.
But the speakers at the RSU 24 meeting differed on what they wanted to happen. Some want the books removed from the library at the Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus in Sullivan, and others want them to remain available.
Several of the two dozen speakers said that the school should consider creating a young-adult section in the library that would be accessible only to older students. The school, which for 50 years functioned as a high school, was rebuilt and reopened last fall as a school for students in grades 6 through 12, so middle-schoolers now share the library with high-schoolers.
Whether the two books in question — “Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe — might be kept in such a section won’t be decided for another month.
The materials committee for RSU 24 recommended in January that the books be kept in the guidance counselor’s office, but the board is not expected to decide whether to accept that recommendation until it meets in March. The books had recently been moved out of the library to the guidance counselor’s office after a parent objected to them being there, but now they are back in the library until the board makes a decision.
The committee recommended that the guidance counselor offer to discuss the contents of the books with any student who asks to see them. Students would be able to check the books out of the guidance counselor’s office, but would need parental permission for “Gender Queer,” which is a graphic novel that contains explicit sexual images.
The board took feedback on the topic Tuesday night when it met at the K-5 Mountain View School in Sullivan, and for more than an hour residents of the district’s nine towns weighed in.
Elizabeth Moriarty of Sorrento was one of several people who took issue with some of the explicit sexual content of the books, saying that it amounted to furnishing children with pornography. She said “Gender Queer” includes the name of a pornography website and read aloud several explicitly sexual words that appear in the book.
“Once a minor child’s innocence is lost, it is never regained,” Moriarty said.
But Alison Johnson of Gouldsboro, a former RSU 24 board member, said kids who may be struggling with their sexual orientations might not feel comfortable asking the guidance counselor to see them.
Johnson also said any parent should be able to withhold permission for their child to see the books, but that one parent should not determine whether other children can see the books.
“This is a dangerous precedent to set in a democratic society,” Johnson said.
Doug Kimmel, a gay Hancock resident, said it was not easy for him when he was younger to come to terms with his orientation. He had a supportive family, but said gay children often feel like they have no one to confide in. Books that reflect those struggles can be a great help to children who may be gay or transgender, he said.
“Who do they go to? Where do they get help?” Kimmel said.
Jack Haycock, a transgender 2008 graduate of Sumner, also asked the board not to restrict access to the books. They said they did not have much support in finding their gender identity at the school, and that many children do not have support at home.
“I’m heartbroken to be here tonight, 15 years after I graduated, fighting the same battles,” Haycock said. “It is not safe for those students to ask for permission to access those books.”
Christine Harden of Winter Harbor said her son got bullied at Sumner because he was friends with a gay student. But still she thinks access to the books should be limited.
“How do you protect younger kids from material that isn’t age appropriate?” Harden said. “Having a [library] section for young adults might make sense.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly used Jack Haycock’s pronouns. Haycock uses they/them pronouns.