Gorham educators defend controversial posters, books dealing with sexuality

Some Gorham educators are defending posters on gender identity and a coming-of-age memoir recently challenged by parents, saying the material prepares students for a complex world.

District community members, including at least two parents, argue that some of the books in the high school library are not age-appropriate for some students.

A parent has filed a complaint about college posters that discuss gender identities, claiming there has not been equal awareness about straight sexuality or the genders assigned at birth.

Some of the controversies will unfold in closed school board hearings in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, school staff who spoke to the American Journal defended the posters and the books.

Superintendent Heather Perry said the posters included biological gender and straight sexuality, covering everything under the umbrella of sexuality and gender.

“It’s very important that our classrooms are culturally appropriate,” said Grade Six teacher Meghan Rounds. “It’s easy to stick to one way of thinking, but it does our students a disservice. »

Gorham’s sexual health program begins in sixth grade. Materials like posters add to that program, Rounds said.

“We stock our libraries with age-appropriate texts,” Rounds said. “Certainly they may feature something different, they may highlight a gay protagonist or a black protagonist, but in all of these cases the stories are written and (categorized) as enlightened young adults by editors because they are aligned with cognitive development. of age.

George M. Johnson’s memoir “Not All the Boys Are Blue,” available in the high school library and some high school classrooms, has been banned from schools in at least eight states, according to the author.

Its detractors point to a detailed scene of two underage male cousins ​​and the moments leading up to and including the sexual activity.

The book is aimed at older students, said Brooke Proulx, social worker at Gorham Middle School. The quoted scene was taken out of context and does not glorify or promote same-sex cousin sex, she said.

“It is labeled as pornography, disgusting, without telling the whole story. This is a memoir,” Proulx said. “It was someone’s life experience, and there are other kids who have that experience or need support.”

Students “not in that category,” she said, can read the book and “understand and reflect on privilege.”

Resources regarding LGBTQ youth are becoming increasingly available, Proulx said. Only 10 years ago, it was rare to find books on these subjects. This type of representation is particularly important because gay and transgender youth are struggling with suicidal ideation at an alarming rate.

According to a study by the Center for Services for At-Risk Teenagers at the University of Pittsburgh, suicide rates are higher among trans youth and are often linked to feelings of invalidation. It revealed that transgender teens have “higher risks of suicide than cisgender teens”, with around 85% of transgender teens saying they are “seriously considering suicide”, while more than half of transgender teens have attempted suicide. commit suicide.

Books like “Not All Boys Are Blue” are “important when it comes to healthy sexual development so people don’t just find things online,” Proulx said. “We want the children to be safe.”

Parent Andrew LaPlaca filed a complaint about the book, but said he understands “Not all boys are blue” may be important to some students.

However, he says there is a lack of control over who has access to it. The book may be suitable for a high school student, he said, but he doesn’t think it should be accessible to freshmen.

“They have no policy in place to restrict mature content to 14 year olds,” LaPlaca said in an interview with the American Journal. “Maybe it’s fine for an 18-year-old, but there are 14-year-olds in high school and they have no restrictions.”

In addition to his pending lawsuit regarding “Not All Boys Are Blue,” LaPlaca objected to a graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” available in high school. This book does not deal with LGBTQ issues but depicts scenes of rape, nudity, violence and suicidal ideation.

Her challenge to this book was dismissed by school librarians because, the librarians said, it has value as a feminist story, does not glorify rape, nudity, violence or suicide, and has been acclaimed by criticism.

LaPlaca said he still wants restrictions on mature content put in place for younger students.

Parents can now contact teachers and school libraries to let them know they don’t want their child to have access to a specific book, he said, but it’s up to them to remember individual requests parents and check their email.

A system for reporting when these books are checked out would provide additional security, he said.

“I’m not saying ban the books,” he said. “I am welcoming to everyone in the world, but there is a school responsibility to protect our children at the end of the day.”

LaPlaca also said he wasn’t sure his concerns would be taken seriously due to the district’s response to another parent, Eric Lane, and Lane’s request to remove the sexuality and gender posters. . Perry’s emails to staffers about Lane indicate the district may be trying to block Lane’s complaints and bias against him and other parents with the same concerns, LaPlaca said.

Lane, who filed a lawsuit alleging that Perry and the school department discriminated against him because of his Christian values, declined requests for comment from the American Journal.

LaPlaca, who says he was not allowed to speak or was sometimes interrupted at school committee meetings, said he and others felt like they didn’t have a fair chance.

“My complaint is about the policy and how it was handled, and how we can approach the program,” LaPlaca said.

Perry, however, said school staff are doing a good job of enforcing school policy, while excluding students from the program at the request of parents.

She said she was open to the idea of ​​the LaPlaca library restrictions and that the school committee will meet again in August to discuss it. She’s not sure that’s necessary, though.

“I’m conservative on personnel and capacity and want to make sure we’re focused on class and instruction,” Perry said. “Add that the capacity is not necessary if the parents effectively contact the school.”

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