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'I found 11 pages that I thought was soft porn': Maine group raises thousands to buy copies of 'Gender Queer' for high school students after it was banned from school library

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A group dedicated to serving and supporting writers and book publishers in Maine has raised thousands of dollars to buy copies of a book recently banned from a high school library.

The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, the self-described mission of which is "to sharpen craft, create community, and celebrate great writing," has begun a fundraiser to purchase the book "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe, which, on Aug. 9, was banned by the Regional School Unit 56 school board by a 7-2 vote.

The "illustrated memoir" will no longer appear in the Dirigo High School library in Dixfield, Maine, about an hour northwest of Augusta.

The book has received significant criticism since its publication in 2019. The book is said to display the author's venture into so-called gender fluidity with graphic detail. However, despite the mature content, a local five-member panel voted unanimously back in May to keep the book on the library's shelf.

The panel, comprised of four administrators (DHS assistant principal/athletic director Nick Karavas, RSU 56 library media specialist Cindy Petherbridge, DHS social worker Ami-Jo Greco, and DHS social studies teacher Kurt Rowley) and one community member (Melanie Prescott), determined the book to be "a well-researched and accurate resource that has value to a subset of the population at DHS."

School Library Journal, a monthly periodical intended for school personnel, likewise concluded that "Gender Queer" "is appropriate for students in ninth grade and up, making its inclusion in a high school setting unremarkable."

Many members of the local community disagreed, however. Three women submitted a petition to ban the book. One of them, Elizabeth Kelly, likened portions of the book to "soft porn."

"I have it in my possession, and I’ve read it," she said. "It seems to be the diary of a young woman or person who has questioned her gender identity. The book for the most part might be OK, but I found 11 pages that I thought was soft porn."

Meanwhile, MWPA has expressed support for the book's content and has openly opposed what it views as an attempt at censorship.

"This is really in our wheelhouse,” the group’s associate director, Taryn Bowe, said. “It’s about books. It’s about expression. It’s about wanting to make sure that people value the diversity of stories that are out there, and they continue to be available."

A GoFundMe page established on behalf of MWPA is currently raising funds to furnish all interested high school students in the local area with a copy of "Gender Queer," free of charge. As of Monday evening, it has raised nearly $4,500, enough for approximately 200 copies.

WTTW Chicago discussed the controversy surrounding the book last November:

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