Parents in the Maine School Administrative District #51 (MSAD #51) pushed back against pornographic books in the district’s school libraries at a chaotic Monday evening School Board meeting.
The brouhaha follows the district’s July Board meeting, which abruptly adjourned following one Cumberland parent, Scott Jordan, raising his concerns to the Board about the sexually explicit book Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe being in the Greely High School Library.
Although the speaker prior to Jordan in the public comment section of the July meeting was given over six minutes to speak, the Board limited Jordan’s comments to three minutes, causing him to initially say he would not leave the podium.
Eventually, Jordan offered leave the podium to allow other attendees to speak — but the Board voted to adjourn the meeting anyway, shutting down the discussion of the books.
After the July meeting adjourned, a Board member — who was not identified in the Cumberland Police report — called the police on parents having a cordial conversation with Superintendent Jeff Porter outside Greely High School.
The drama resumed at Monday evening’s meeting, with Jordan returning to the podium, this time carrying blown-up sexually explicit images from Gender Queer to present to the Board.
This time around, before the public comment section, Board Chair Leanne Candura informed the audience that all speakers would be limited to three minutes per individual.
“I attended a School Board meeting on July 17th. A precedent was set that evening. Mr. Robert Vail, town councilor, was given six minutes and one second to speak — yet I was interrupted multiple times and told I could only speak three minutes,” Jordan began his public comment.
“My question, Madam Chair, is why was I interrupted, and why was that precedent set?” Jordan asked Candura. “So, people can go to war, fight for their country — but we get three minutes to come to a school board meeting where you’re not going to engage us?”
“We pay taxes. We pay you. You work for us, not the other way around,” Jordan said.
“That evening, Madam Chair, you contacted our police department, and you said a group of us were standing outside that door and would not leave. You lied,” he continued. “I have the police report to prove it.”
“You lied multiple times,” Scott said, referencing the police report which states that the parents were having a calm conversation in the Greely High School parking lot.
The caller, who was not identified as Candura in the police report, said that a group of people was “surrounding/threatening the superintendent” — a claim which the report contradicts.
Candura has not responded to a request for comment on whether she was the individual who called the police that night.
Jordan then asked Candura why Board member Megan Lichter told him at the July meeting that the characterization of Gender Queer, which contains cartoon images of children performing sex acts on each other, as pornographic was just Jordan’s interpretation.
Then, holding up a blown-up image of a page from Gender Queer showing oral sex being performed on a person wearing a strap-on dildo, Jordan asked Candura what her interpretation of the image is.
“That’s what our kids are seeing, and you’re okay with that? You’re a mother and you’re okay with that?” Jordan asked.
Chaos ensued when Jordan turned to ask the audience whether they were okay with the book being in the school library.
His question was greeted by many “No”s, but a few “Yes”s — one of the people who said yes told Jordan to read a segment from Gender Queer.
Board Chair Candura gave Jordan an additional 30 seconds to read from the book due to the audience crosstalk taking up a segment of his time.
“Fast forward, we’ve been dating for two months. We’ve made out, we’ve had sex, we’ve moved on to sexting at work. I got a new strap-on dildo harness today, I can’t wait to put it on you and fit it perfectly in my mouth,” Jordan read from Gender Queer.
“Do you want me to go on and on? Seriously? You’re okay–?” Jordan asked.
Jordan then implored Superintendent Porter to do something about the pornographic books in the district’s school libraries.
“Jeff — you’re a Christian, you’re a man of faith. Stop being lukewarm, step up as a leader. Since our town manager won’t do it, our police chief won’t do it — be a leader,” he said. “Do something about this, please. We have to save our children, this is wrong.”
The speaker following Jordan, Cumberland resident and parent Katie Simpson — who is the former Executive Director of the Maine Democratic Party — said that she grew up in rural Maine as a bisexual person “in a time when it was not safe to be a queer person.”
This experience gave Simpson the belief that “having something in the schools — I don’t really care what book, or which books — but having something that shows different ways of being in different possible lives is really important to children.”
Simpson said she told her ten-year-old child about the book Gender Queer and how people want it removed from schools.
According to Simpson, the ten-year-old said he “did not think that banning books was the way for us to make people feel more comfortable, and make people feel supported in our communities.”
“If you’re worried about kids seeing material that you’re not excited about, talk to them about it,” Simpson said.
“That’s what school is for, introducing kids to lots of different ideas,” she said. “So I would say book banning makes me pretty uncomfortable, I would urge the Board and the school not to engage in that, and to support the libraries and librarians, and engaging with students and including books that show a wide variety of different ways of being in the world.”
Although supporters of keeping the pornographic books in public schools have cast attempts to remove those books as “book banning,” all of the titles remain for sale at local bookstores, with many of them elevated in special displays because of the controversies around their explicit nature.
A tense moment occurred after Simpson used the rest of her time to wait until someone other than Scott Jordan wanted to come to the podium to speak, resulting in a crosstalk argument between her, the audience, and Board Chair Candura.
Candura called the next speaker, Zach Bouchard of Cumberland to the microphone.
“In regards to banning any of the mentioned books from the library, please don’t let the belligerence of the so-called silent majority call into question the ability of our students to learn a diverse set of ideas, which is what education is about in the first place,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard then said he had an “idea that should be taken seriously” — that the School Board should use police force to remove parents who talk about the books from public meetings.
He compared the parents who speak at Board meetings to belligerent children acting out in class, and said that local police or school resource officer should escort them out of the meetings.
The four other speakers at Monday evening’s meeting, however, disagreed with Simpson and Bouchard about banning the books from the district’s school libraries.
The first speaker during the public comment section of the meeting had a simple two-point message for the Board, that “pornography destroys,” and that it is unbelievable that “hardcore pornography” is in the district’s school libraries.
The speaker, who said he was a retired math teacher and educator for over 30 years, read an explicit passage from Gender Queer.
“What in God’s name does this have to do with reading, writing and arithmetic?” the speaker asked.
Another of the evening’s speakers, former Republican State Rep. and high school principal Mike Timmons, urged the Board to ban Gender Queer.
Timmons said that many other districts have banned Gender Queer, and is the number one most banned book in all school districts.
Data from PEN America Index of School Book Bans found that Gender Queer was tied for the most banned book in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year with 15 new bans.
In the 2021-2022 school year, Gender Queer was banned by 41 school districts.
Timmons said that parents could resort to starting a class-action lawsuit against the district in order to get the Board to ban the book.
“I hope that all those parents, School Board members, and school officials and guests here tonight agree they have responsibilities for what is right for our youth,” Timmons said.
Sandra Lee Porter, a Cumberland parent and grandparent, said that she believes the books referenced during the meeting are pornographic and should be immediately removed.
“I believe that our school teachers, our librarians, our administrators, have a duty to protect and to guide our children,” Porter said. “And when they make pornographic material available, they are not protecting, they are not guiding.”
Mary Bellino, another Cumberland resident, told the Board that she was going to bring blown-up images to the meeting from Hustler, Playboy, and Penthouse pornographic magazines to put them up beside images from Gender Queer.
“There’s no difference at all — it’s all pornography,” Bellino said. “And anyone who would deny that, to me, is disserving themselves, this city, our children. And it’s despicable.”
“I think it’s just a way to indoctrinate our children,” she said. “And it’s everywhere, it’s not just in Cumberland, it’s everywhere. And we’ve got to fight back, and I do think the silent majority will win,” Bellino said.
Maine has a law the prohibits the anyone from providing obscene material to minors.
However, there is an exception in this law for schools.
An attempts by Sen. Jim Libby (R-Cumberland) in the previous legislative session to eliminate this exception failed in the Democrat-controlled legislature.