The RSU 1 school board will decide Oct. 24 whether to remove a book about transgender teenagers from the Woolwich Central School library in response to a parent’s complaint.

Parent Alysia Coats has appealed a school district review committee’s earlier denial of her challenge to “Beyond Magenta: Trans Teens Speak Out” to the RSU 1 board.

The issue arose last June when Coats saw the book by Susan Kuklin in an LGBTQ+ display at the preK-grade 8 school’s library. The book, on a top shelf and with a sticker designating it for middle school students only, features interviews with six transgender and gender-nonconforming teens and young adults describing their experiences at home and school and in navigating the world.

“My 8-year-old is exposed to this book because it’s on a library shelf, and his father and I are not OK with it,” Coats said at a school board meeting last week. “What the book says is irrelevant. It’s that the topic at hand does not belong in a school. I think it’s inappropriate for children, especially at the elementary and middle school level. 

School librarian Abigail Luchies added the book to the library in 2015 when it won the Stonewall Honor, a set of three awards that annually recognize books with “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.” The book was “so well-renowned” and many of the reviews she found labeled it appropriate for middle school children, she said.

But Coats argues that books like “Beyond Magenta” should be placed in the hands of school counselors or the librarian so students can seek it out if they so choose while keeping “it out of reach of younger kids.” She asked, “Why are we cherry-picking which topics to support out in the open?”


Coats challenged the book through the school district’s formal process, and Superintendent Patrick Manuel appointed a review committee made up of Principal Jason Libby, Luchies and other faculty members. The committee determined that the book met the school’s qualifications for “appropriate and beneficial” reading material. Coats then appealed that decision to the RSU 1 board.

Libby, speaking for the review committee at last week’s meeting, said, “This text takes into account the varied interests, abilities and maturity levels of the students served. It fosters respect for cultural diversity and varied opinions.”

He added that the past few years “have taken a mental toll on our middle school students. At an age when they need support from those around them to find their identity, they have been forced into isolation.”

He later said, “This book helps to foster acceptance and appreciation for others –probably our No. 1 goal as educators.”

Board member Lorna Ryan said her research shows that 70% of the age recommendations for the book were for 14 and up. She questioned whether a 12-year-old was mature enough to handle some of the book’s content.

Some library books at Woolwich Central, including “Beyond Magenta,” are available only to students on the third floor where sixth, seventh and eighth graders have classes. Luchies said the LGBTQ book display was mostly for seventh- and eighth-graders who get the most free reading time.


“We have clear systems in place to manage circulation, so it isn’t going into younger hands,” Libby said. “There’s a difference of opinion, and what I’m thankful for is that these processes are in place, and it’s been a professional discussion.”

Luchies has been working as a librarian at the school since 2006. She said this is the first time she’s seen an official challenge to a book.

I’ve had parents come to me and I’ve dealt with that individually,” she said. “There’s a way for parents to flag books for specific kids. Parents have a right to say what their kids can read and I respect that. If a parent doesn’t want their kid reading a certain title or author, however, the parent does not get to tell other kids not to read it.” 

Removing books about a certain group, she said, sends “a message that they do not belong in the library, that they don’t matter. That is the exact opposite message of libraries, which is everyone is welcome and everyone matters.”

She said that in addition to its accolades, she finds the book to be a useful resource for young teens and middle-schoolers.

Based off of the authenticity, this book talks to teens in teen voices, so it speaks to them, and it is a topic that for many years there was not information on. This was a population that was ignored,” she said. 


Gia Drew, executive director of EqualityMaine, said she has noticed an uptick in attempts to ban books or talk about curriculum in Maine this year.

“And it sounds like they use a lot of similar language, which probably indicates a connection to a larger movement to remove LGBTQ+ content,” Drew said.

EqualityMaine is the state’s largest LGBTQ+ nonprofit which, among other things, offers programs for students and young people. 

“It’s important for schools to provide access to information about what it’s like to be human and show folks who are not part of the community that LGBTQ people have been contributing to society,” Drew said in an interview with The Forecaster.  “So it benefits everybody to understand the rich diversity our communities have.”

From talking with students and their parents, she said, she knows that many youth suffer from anxiety and don’t feel safe at school.

“It’s difficult when you’re young and trying to figure out who you are,” she said. “They may not feel safe being who they are because of the way people in their town feel about them.”


Coats, who declined to comment when contacted by The Forecaster, argued at the meeting that parents do not send their children to school to learn about sexuality and gender identity.

“It seems that with it being on the library shelf, that is kind of siding with and supporting the parents who are either neutral or support these books being on the library shelf, and disregards parents that do not support it and may have a problem with it,” she said.

Students who are abused at home are directed to mental health professionals rather than “supporting them with books out on our library shelf,” she said. “Children who need support at school receive it from school counselors and school social workers, just as those who need support regarding sexuality and gender identity should.”

Drew said that could be uncomfortable for some students.

“Having to go through additional channels could potentially put a student in a position where they feel they have to out themselves to a teacher, counselor or librarian just to look at a book,” Drew said. “It implies that a young person who is curious about this topic has a mental health problem and needs to go through a counselor to access such a book.”


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