ROCKLAND — Reproductive rights and LGBTQ issues emerged as top priorities for Midcoast youth during a bipartisan event with state senate candidates Tuesday, Oct. 18, at The Landing Place in Rockland.

District 12 State Senate candidates Anne “Pinny” Beebe-Center, a Democrat from Rockland, and W. Scott Rocknak, a Republican from Camden, sat down with local teens to talk about the upcoming election.

The candidates spoke on multiple topics including guns and vaping in schools, housing and gas prices, sustainable energy, mental health services and criminal rehabilitation and treatment.

Gender and sexual identity topics, as well as reproductive rights, were main focal points of the discussion. The teens aimed multiple questions at the candidates regarding their opinions on gender-affirming healthcare and abortion laws.

The candidates agreed transgender healthcare should be available but disagreed on youth access to hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers.

Rocknak said it was important to express yourself, but he was concerned about minors choosing life-altering drugs or surgery. At 18 a person is an adult, and such decisions should be made by adults.

He said he spoke with people who made the decision to transition as children and regretted it. “What if you change your mind?’ he asked, adding some choices cannot be undone.

Beebe-Center said it was critical there was support available for transgender youth, as there was still stigma and shame attached to this identity.

She did not have a problem with people under the age of 18 accessing hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers, she said, as long as they had proper information and support. “I don’t think 18 is the magic number for making these choices,” Beebe-Center said, but she thought the parents should be involved.

One teen told the candidates access to puberty blockers was important for transgender youth because it lessened the dysphoria they experience.

Both candidates agreed public education on LGBTQ topics was important.

Beebe-Center said each person had their own identity, and it was harmful to say LGBTQ issues should not be taught in schools. The Q stands for questioning, she said, and everyone questions who they are sometimes.

Rocknak said he was not sure what the format should be, but students should be educated about gender and sexuality. He had a gay friend in high school, he added, and education about LGBTQ people would have helped this person.

One young adult asked Rocknak’s opinion on people assigned male at birth participating in women’s sports.

Rocknak said this would preclude some young women from joining those sports, and people assigned male at birth had a physical advantage over women.

Beebe-Center and Rocknak agreed abortion access was important, but again disagreed on how to address this issue.

Rocknak said Maine was very divided on abortion, and he would not touch Maine’s current regulations. “It allows safe, easy access to abortion,” he said, and that is what the state needs.

Beebe-Center said a constitutional amendment was needed to protect abortion access in Maine, and this was something she intended to work on.

The candidates disagreed on gun legislation, though agreed gun violence in schools involved a lack of access to mental health resources.

Beebe-Center said increasing mental health resources in the Midcoast would at least lessen the chances of such incidents happening here. Regulations were also needed so purchasing a gun required at least the same process and education as obtaining a driver’s license, she said. She clarified this did not involve removing anyone’s guns.

Rocknak agreed more mental health resources were needed, as most school shootings involved mental health problems. He said gun licenses were tricky, though, and described them as a slippery slope which allowed those licenses to be taken away.

He had talked about this issue with people who sell guns and teach gun safety, and Rocknak said they agreed gun education and training was important. “We need to take the mystery out of the weapon,” he said. “It is not a mystical tool that can solve your problems.”

The candidates also agreed on the need for sustainable energy.

“The issue shouldn’t be political, but it is,” Rocknak said. It has become an issue of left versus right, he added, but it should not be.

Rocknak said government assistance and incentives were necessary to make the transition to sustainable energy while keeping costs affordable, and some overlap of the energy types would be required. For example, fully electric cars were not a great choice for people in Maine, he said, but a hybrid car that runs on both electric and gas was an option. It was necessary to examine the source of the electricity, he added.

Beebe-Center said Maine absolutely must make the transition to sustainable energy. It would take time, she said, but the state must go in that direction.

The Landing Place hosted the candidate question and answer session, which volunteer Nancy Davis organized and Camden Hills Regional High School student Amelie Wold facilitated.

Maine State Senate District 12 includes Appleton, Camden, Cushing, Friendship, Hope, Matinicus Isle Plantation, North Haven, Owls Head, Rockland, Rockport, St. George, South Thomaston, Thomaston, Union, Vinalhaven and Warren.

More information on the Nov. 8 election can be found at: elections.villagesoup.com.

Joseph Hufnagel, director of The Landing Place, said this was the first such event they had hosted. He thanked the candidates for attending and Davis for putting the event together.

The Landing Place is the youth program for Knox County Homeless Coalition. Multiple programs and supports are available for local youth at risk of experiencing unstable housing, food insecurity and other difficulties.

For more information, visit: homehelphope.org/the-landing-place.