Amid challenges of books with LGBTQ+ and sexual content in school libraries across Maine and the country, RSU 14 is embroiled in its own heated debate about what is considered “pornography” and therefore inappropriate for students.

Parents and community members in the Windham-Raymond district have brought challenges against  “Gender Queer,” a memoir and graphic novel by Maia Kobabe about the author’s experiences with gender and sexuality, requesting it be removed from the Windham High School library.

They have also challenged “Nick and Charlie,” a book by Alice Oseman about a relationship between two teenage boys, currently available at Windham Middle School, and “Identical” by Ellen Hopkins, currently at the high school, because of its depictions of incest and sexual abuse.

Of the three, “Gender Queer” has received the most attention and criticism from community members and parents. Neither it nor the other two challenged books are part of any curriculum at the schools.

Many proponents of the books’ removal insist they are not acting out of homophobia but out of a desire to keep pornography out of the hands of children. Opponents say the book challenges, along with requests to remove gay pride flags and posters from schools, are an “attack” on queer students and the LGBTQ+ community at large.

The RSU 14 Board of Directors has held four meetings at which public comment was solely focused on the removal of these books and others from school library shelves.


The district has never had a book challenged until this year, said Board Chairperson Kate Brix at the most recent meeting, March 14.

Per the district’s challenged material procedure, Superintendent Chris Howell has appointed a committee made up of an administrator, a library-media specialist, a teacher, a curriculum leader in the area of the challenged material and a community member. Howell did not respond to a request for an interview. The Windham High School library media specialist referred all questions to Howell. 

“I am hopeful that a recommendation will be made to the superintendent in the next week or so,” Brix said. Once the board has reviewed the committee’s report, it will vote on whether to remove the books.

She said she supports a close examination of the book review and book challenging processes. Currently, certified library media specialists review books for inclusion in the schools, in consultation with the superintendent, administrators and professional staff.

“My eyes are open to the fact that the procedure needs to be defined,” Brix said. She proposed going through the library collections to “get a baseline of what we think is appropriate.”

Other school board members appeared clear on what they deemed appropriate.


“I think we can all agree that at least some of the materials are absolutely not acceptable in our schools,” said board member Char Jewell at a March 14 meeting. “We absolutely can and should control what they have access to at school … we have failed our children. Frankly, I am horrified that my daughter has had access to these materials and that I had no idea. My fault in all of this is that I assumed the staff, administration and the board agreed with my social and cultural viewpoints.”

Board member Caitlyn Downs said, “I don’t feel (students) need to be burdened with the sexualization of books that are within the school system.”

At a March 1 meeting, board member Jessica Bridges urged respect in discussing the topic.

“We need to remember to be good role models for our children,” Bridges said. “We’ve seen that the kids can take a very heated subject and discuss it and still be respectful to each other.”

Community outrage

Parent Courtney Edwards accused the school board at its March 1 meeting of “committing a class C felony.”


“I am a mother of two children and I have no plans on sending them to your public school system,” Edwards said. “We are not going anywhere and the fire will not be put out.”

At a Feb. 15 meeting, a sixth-grade boy read board members a scene from “Nick and Charlie,” in which two male characters are about to have sex. After, his father, Adam Zajac, said, “This is the smut that he’s finding.” Zajac then held up a copy of “Gender Queer” and, using explicit words, said schools shouldn’t have literature “showing boys how to” engage in sexual acts with other boys.

Parent Maria Clark of Windham objected to a Valentine’s Day book display at the high school library.

“Of the 20 books on display, a third of them dealt with gay love, gay sex and gay relationships. I couldn’t believe it. There’s got to be a way of encouraging kids other than putting these books front and center,” Clark said. She argued that students who want to read such books should “access them through a counselor.”

Many parents have argued that their objections were unrelated to the content being LGBTQ+, but were solely based on what they described as their pornographic content.

“I have nothing against anybody’s ideas or views. I think it’s wrong that porn can be doled out if it’s through school,” said Scott McDonald.


“I don’t think porn is good for someone who’s gay at a young age, or straight,” said Ken Clark at the March 1 meeting.

Important representation

Others argue, however, that the books offer important representation to youth.

“This book you’re all so angry about is something I wish I had,” said Jay Fuller, a transgender graduate of Windham High School. “I always knew I was different. I’m sick of people debating my mere existence. Before I became who I am now, I spent hours crying in the bathroom because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. No matter what you do, trans and genderqueer people are walking among you.”

Mike Trombly said, “Sex is a normal part of life.”

“We shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t part of life,” Trombly said. “If it makes them uncomfortable, they can put the book down.”


At the March 8 meeting, discussion strayed at times from the books, and community members called into question the district’s policies around gay pride flags, bathrooms, pronouns and the student civil rights team.

“Gay pride flags, gender identity posters and pornographic books have no place in school,” said parent Kylie Burell. “I see the gay pride flag as a symbol of hate and division … by focusing so hard on making one class of people feel like they belong, you are segregating a whole other class of people.”

She requested the removal of the LGBTQ+ pride flag from all classrooms in RSU14, a request that was met with applause.

This poster is posted all over Windham High School. It says ‘this is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students’ … Where’s heterosexuals? This is not inclusive,” said Cindy Harris. 

A high school senior said removing books like “Gender Queer” would be “an attack on the queer community.”

To remove these is to tell the queer community that we are not supported,” said Victoria, who did not give her last name. 


At the March 14 meeting, multiple speakers referenced an incident at a previous meeting, when an adult audience member allegedly muttered “Maybe they should” after a student had read a statistic about queer youth being at higher risk of self-harm and suicide.

“It feels sickening that grown adults in our town believe that my life has no worth and maybe I should just take it away,” said July Trombly, a transgender student at Windham Middle School. “I walk into my school and I am stared at, murmured over and asked personal questions. I am so harassed in my own school that I meet with the principal every week just to keep it under control.

I’m not a sexual predator. I’m scared to use the public bathroom because it’s full of people harassing or ostracizing me I have to fight to be treated like a human being,” Trombly said.

Kate Turpin of Windham said the recent discussions have been upsetting to witness.

“I sat here two weeks ago and my community was called sick and a cause for the damnation of our children’s souls,” said Kate Turpin of Windham. “Targeting LGBTQ books has an impact.”

A 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey conducted by the state reported that 13.6% or nearly 1 in 7 students in Maine high schools identified themselves as LGBTQ+. Only 37% of LGBTQ+ youth reported feeling that they matter to their community, compared with 60% of non-LGBTQ+ students. In Maine, 41% of LGBTQ+ students seriously considered suicide in the last year, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ+ students, the survey said.

The LGBTQ+ crisis lifeline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386.

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