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RSU 21 school board member resigns after racist, anti-LGBTQ posts spark recall effort


RSU 21 school board member resigns after racist, anti-LGBTQ posts spark recall effort

Mar 23, 2023 | 10:28 am ET
By Evan Popp
RSU 21 school board member resigns after racist, anti-LGBTQ posts spark recall effort
Photo: Kennebunk Middle School, via the RSU 21 website.

Ryan McQueen, a school board member for RSU 21 — a district that consists of Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport — submitted his resignation on Wednesday after community members initiated a recall effort over social media posts containing racist and transphobic rhetoric.

A series of offensive posts on Twitter and Gab — a social media site popular among far-right users — were attributed to McQueen by community members. McQueen was elected to the school board in June by voters in Arundel after facing no opposition. 

One post includes a graphic that says “People are similar to sharks because all the great ones are white.” Included along with the graphic is the message “Happy White Day.” 

Another post in reply to a different user states, “Transgenderism is a disease.” The Twitter account where the posts appeared has since been made private, but screenshots remain. 

Additional posts on Gab spread unfounded conspiracy theories related to elections and the COVID-19 pandemic. One post accuses Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, who was elected in 2022, of cheating because many of his votes were from mail-in ballots — a safe and secure form of voting

Other messages spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump, accusing Democrats of committing fraud. And on the subject of Democrats, in response to a graphic that asked what users most wanted to get rid of in the world, the account community members say is McQueen’s stated: “DEMOCRATS……because that would also rid the world of pedophilia, rapest [sic], socialism, racism, unconditional government overreach, AIDS, starvation, homelessness, pussy ass bitches, murderers, the Clintons, illuminati, sex cults, bohemian grove, CNN, Hunter Biden, Mitt Romney, most of Hollywood (Pedowood).”

The account also spread a number of unfounded conspiracy theories about COVID-19, including the message on Gab that “there is no pandemic!!!”

The posts in question were made under the account name “FreeSpeech” with a handle on Twitter of @RyanMc1918Q” and a handle on Gab of “RyanMc1918.” Community members say the posts are from McQueen and condemned the behavior. 

Furthering the connection to McQueen, RyanMc1918 made a post on Gab on June 15 in which he wrote: “Congratulations to me for winning a seat on the Local School Board!!!! Goodbye Groomers!! Goodbye CRT! Goodbye Mask Mandates!!! Hello Freedom!!!!” 

That post appeared the same day as a news article that mentioned McQueen had been elected to the RSU 21 school board by voters in Arundel. 

As the furor on social media about the posts spread, RSU 21 released a statement on Tuesday — without naming McQueen — in which they wrote that the district is “aware of disturbing and offensive posts made online by a sitting School Board Director.”

“The posts on Twitter were hateful toward transgender people, people of color, and women. Individual board members do not speak for the board or the RSU 21 School District. We stand for inclusion and fostering a healthy learning environment for our students and a safe working environment for all of our employees. We will not allow members of our community to be targeted by or subjected to bigotry,” the statement, signed by the RSU 21 School Board and Superintendent Terri Cooper, said.

McQueen did not respond to a request for comment from Beacon. But after delivering his letter of resignation to the Arundel Municipal Building on Wednesday evening, McQueen told the Kennebunk Post, “RSU 21 put out a slanderous statement based on their opinion of the post, not what the post actually said.”

“It’s sad to see how far people will go to silence people who don’t agree with them … nothing I say will stop this from interrupting all the hard work we as a board have done in the past year,” McQueen added. “And now I have resigned. I did not volunteer for this position to be attacked and slandered.”

Before the resignation, the posts spurred a campaign to remove McQueen from his position, with Arundel resident Sarah Lynn Cote writing on Facebook that she intended to circulate a recall petition. In a message to the town of Arundel, Cote wrote that McQueen has “repeatedly posted on his social media accounts sexist, racist and homophobic rhetoric that is not in line with the core values of RSU 21 and the community they serve.” 

Rep. Dan Sayre, a Democrat who represents part of the area contained within RSU 21, also criticized McQueen’s conduct. While Sayre — whose wife serves on the RSU 21 school board — said McQueen has a first amendment right to express his views on social media, he added that it is “extremely disheartening that someone with those views serves on our school board.” 

However, Sayre said he didn’t believe the proposed recall was the best way to address the situation. He said he’d rather see mechanisms put in place by the school board itself to regulate the actions of its members. Sayre noted that he’s introduced a bill in the legislature to create a higher standard for recall campaigns of school board members by increasing the petition and voter turnout thresholds needed for a successful campaign and allowing recalls only if someone has committed a violation of law or duty. 

That policy proposal comes after a recent campaign in MSAD 17, based in the western Maine town of Paris, that resulted in the removal of two school board members who pushed for a gender-inclusive education policy. There was also an ultimately unsuccessful right wing-led initiative last year to recall school board members in RSU 21. Opponents of the recall effort, including Sayre, argued that the campaign was a fig leaf by local conservatives in reaction to the district’s greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Conservatives around the country have targeted schools and school boards recently over “critical race theory” — an academic concept focusing on structural racism that isn’t typically taught at the K-12 level — and teaching about LGBTQ and transgender rights.

Still, while he didn’t think the recall was the right direction to go, Sayre said before the resignation was announced that McQueen didn’t seem prepared for the responsibilities of serving on the school board. 

“What I do find concerning is we have someone with a duty to provide all children with equal access to education who has demonstrated their prejudicial views against some students on the basis of race, gender expression, sexuality,” he said. “And it’s difficult to square his duty on the school board with his stated views.”