Democrats killed a bill to establish a rating system for all school books, taking the action Monday on one of several bills submitted this session in response to what some parents believe are age-inappropriate books about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Republicans pointed to the availability of the novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” to justify a statewide rating system for school library books. Written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, the graphic novel published in 2019 tells of the author’s journey from childhood to adulthood through gender dysphoria and adolescent crushes and personal discovery.

Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, read some of the more graphic excerpts from the book, some of which deal with sexual exploration, intercourse and gender identity. Rudnicki contended the book, which is generally available in public libraries, was being “pushed in our schools.”

“These are books that are in our schools and that people think are OK,” Rudnicki said. “These are comic books. There are pictures. That’s why we need a rating system.”

The 79-64 vote on L.D. 1008, sponsored by Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Guilford, came after a 45-minute debate that grew heated at times, with Democrats comparing the book to passages in the Bible and raising the issue of book bans in Nazi Germany.

The bill, along with several others dealing with school books, received more than 200 public comments during a public hearing last month. A similar bill, L.D. 123, sponsored by Sen. James Libby, R-Standish, that would have prohibited schools from disseminating “obscene matter” to minors was voted down by the Senate, 24-7.


Republicans nationwide have been trying to ban or limit access to books like “Gender Queer,” while also pushing policies that advocates say further marginalizes the LGBTQ+ community, whether it’s limiting access to health care or trying to ban drag shows.

In Maine, the Hermon school district recently approved a new policy that places books with sexual content in a restricted section that students can only access with parental permission. Members of each party drew different lessons from the move.

Rep. James Thorne, R-Carmel, argued that Hermon’s actions show the need to have a uniform rating system throughout the state, describing it as a compromise reached in response to concerns raised by parents.

Democrats, however, argued the opposite, saying the action proves that local communities are best positioned to make these decisions, not the state.

“This bill is unnecessary (and) it’s unwarranted,” said Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland. “Every local community, every school board, has the authority to decide now what type of material, what type of books, will be in their schools, and will be in their library.”

Rep. Christopher Kessler, D-South Portland, said the book is not available to middle or elementary school students in South Portland, but one copy is available to high school students. And at the public library, the book is only available in the adult graphic novel section.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross had to restore order during the debate after House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, objected after Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, mischaracterized the bill as a ban and began talking about Nazi Germany.

“The member has insinuated that the members that are in support of this bill are Nazis. That is out of hand,” Faulkingham said. “Enough of this rhetoric coming from the member, whose side invented the word ‘hate speech,’ which is to censor the words, the freedom of speech, the First Amendment.”

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