Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Maine school district votes against removal of one of the nation’s most-challenged books

School board members in Buxton, Maine voted 10 - 1 to keep Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” shelved in district libraries.
Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” was recently named the most challenged library book of 2021 by the American Library Association. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story at a glance

  • A school board in southern Maine on Monday voted almost unanimously to keep “Gender Queer: A Memoir” in school libraries after some parents and community members challenged the book over illustrations of nudity and sex.

  • “Gender Queer” was the most frequently challenged book in America last year, according to the American Library Association.

  • Several other local school boards have voted against proposals to remove “Gender Queer” and other LGBTQ+ titles from libraries, arguing that LGBTQ+ youth should be able to see themselves represented in literature.

A school board in Maine this week voted almost unanimously to keep Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” — the most frequently challenged book in the nation — on library shelves after contentious debate involving parents and conservative community groups that said the graphic memoir is inappropriate for young readers.

Board members of Maine’s School Administrative District (MSAD) 6 during a Monday evening meeting voted 10-1 to keep Kobabe’s book in school libraries, with board member Julie Anderson casting the sole dissenting vote.

Anderson last month was the only board member to back a proposal to ban the 1994 book “It’s Perfectly Normal,” which educates preadolescent children about puberty and sexual health and identity.

Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” details the author and cartoonist’s exploration of their sexuality and gender identity from early adolescence through adulthood. Kobabe is openly nonbinary and asexual and uses gender-neutral pronouns.

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“Gender Queer,” first published in 2019, has been at the center of a national push this year to remove books from schools and public libraries, with parents and community groups across the country alleging the title contains sexually explicit content that is inappropriate for children and young adults.

In July, an Iowa library was forced to close temporarily following multiple staff resignations tied to challenges of LGBTQ+ books. A month later, a library in Michigan was defunded by its residents after it refused to remove LGBTQ+ books, including “Gender Queer.”

A Virginia man in April filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the book indecent for children under the state’s obscenity law. A federal judge dismissed the case in August.

“Gender Queer,” which has been nominated for several teen book awards, topped the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged books last year. A recent report from PEN America, a nonprofit group advocating for free speech in literature, found that more than 1,600 books were banned in more than 5,000 schools over the last year, with most banned titles pertaining to LGBTQ+ issues and identities and race.

The MSAD 6 school board’s decision to keep Kobabe’s book may be a departure from widespread efforts to remove it, but it is not the only body to vote against banning the graphic memoir.

Last month, in a meeting that reportedly took less than four minutes, a panel of educators and parents in Louisville, Ky., voted unanimously to keep “Gender Queer” in two public school libraries, rejecting one parent’s challenge of the book over scenes involving nudity and sex.

A key function of public libraries, the panel wrote in its decision, is to provide access to “diverse literary works that allow our students to see themselves and their peers reflected.”

In January, a North Carolina school board also voted unanimously to keep “Gender Queer” in high school libraries after complaints were made about some of the book’s illustrations. The school board also voted against proposals to remove two other frequently challenged titles — Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” and Ashley Hope Pérez’s “Out of Darkness.”