Over the last three decades, LGBTQ children’s books have gained in prominence and importance. We owe our gratitude to children authors who were and are brave enough to broach the subject head on despite knowing the backlash that would ensue. Thirty five years on we have seen greater acceptance of these books into a wide cross section of family units. Be it read for awareness, education or the simple pleasure of enjoying the word, they play an important role towards universal same gender equality.
By the same token, we still face challenges. We still face discrimination and injustice toward such literature, aimed at nothing more than to express one’s belief or simply as a resource for children growing up in modern society. Let’s delve into how these books have risen to the occasion against all odds and how they have made a credible contribution to the literary world.
Your Family, My Family by Joan Drescher in 1980 was one of the first US children’s picture books to show a same-sex family. The book was published in the hope of educating people on different types of families, only to be met with negative repercussions.
Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bosche was one of the first children’s books that included gay fathers. A Danish book, it was translated into English in 1983. Using real photography, the book depicted five year old Jenny, who resided with her father and his partner.
The book sparked incredible controversy and went against UK’s Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. The book highlighted how the Act forbade the promotion of homosexuality by local government which squashed the book’s attempt at educating people about LGBTQ families. The book was also condemned by UK’s Secretary of State for Education. It is pleasing to note that both Denmark and the UK have now legalised same sex marriage.
In 1989, the most talked about LGBTQ children’s book written by Leslea Newman was released and recently celebrated its twenty five year anniversary. Heather Has Two Mommies is the first lesbian-themed children’s book ever to be published. This book truly heightened same gender family awareness and openly acknowledging that it existed.
As one can imagine, the controversy that emerged from this publication was huge. Libraries banned it, anti-gay groups attacked it, and the Chancellor of New York City’s school was sacked. It even became a subject of debate in the U.S. Senate who banded together to sponsor an amendment stopping federal aid to school districts that supported the literature.
Congratulations Leslea Newman! Your book has lasted the test of time and has come out on top time in the end. We are still here and the U.S. is closer to Federal legalisation of same gender marriage.
Michael Willhoite wrote a children’s book entitled Daddy’s Roommate about a young boy whose divorced father now lived with his same gender partner. It was one of the first books that depicted gay partnerships in a positive manner.
As one would expect, acceptance of the subject matter was difficult when it made second place on the American Library Association’s (ALA) 100 most challenged books of the 90’s.
The rest of the 90’s remained quiet on the LGBTQ children’s literature front until Dutch authors Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland wrote King & King. The book tells the story of Prince Bertie, who is single despite his mother’s wish that he marry. The queen sends out an invitation to the world’s princesses to come and meet her son, only for her to be disappointed when he declares “I’ve never cared much for princesses.” The prince ultimately meets Prince Lee, whom he falls in love with and they eventually get married.
King & King created an immense amount of scrutiny and challenges. In 2006, a school in Massachusetts sued a school district after the book was presented in a second grade class, despite same-sex marriage being legal in that state. A judge dismissed the lawsuit stating that diversity was the hallmark of the nation. One big step for equality!
And Tango Makes Three is a 2005 children’s book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book follows the six years of their life when they formed a couple and were given an egg to raise.
Regardless of the numerous awards and accolades the book had won, it became no stranger to censorship and heated debates about adoption and homosexuality in animals. Conservative groups such as the Focus on the Family Action group stated that the book was inappropriate, misleading and far from the truth and had a political agenda to young children. The ALA reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006 to 2010, except for 2009 when it was the second most challenged. In 2014, it made it to ALA’s “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2014.”
Ten years later, it continues to be on Amazon’s bestselling list!
2008 brings us one of the first children’s books about transgender people and their experiences, entitled 10,000 Dresses. Written by Marcus Ewert and illustrated by Rex Ray, the book is about Bailey who dreams about beautiful dresses and longs to make them and wear them. However, Bailey’s family is not understanding or supportive, as Bailey is biologically male. Although she faces some challenges, she is still strong willed who believes in herself and who looks elsewhere for support.
This book has been described as simple but powerful with strong symbolic illustrations that manage to accentuate the storyline.
Author and illustrator Elisabeth Kushner through Kar-Ben Publishing released the first gay-themed Jewish Children’s book. In conjunction with Keshet, a national grassroots organisation that works for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews in Jewish life.
The book is centered on a Purim holiday theme and is entitled The Purim Superhero. It is a story of a young boy who can’t decide which Purim costume to choose and requires the help of his two fathers.
In 2014, we have the privilege of seeing Pakistan’s first anti-homophobia children’s book by Eiynah. Eiynah is a Pakistani-Canadian blogger/artist who dreams of a progressive Pakistan as opposed to the extremist state it is close to becoming.
My Chacha Is Gay is about a young boy named Ahmed and his gay uncle. It was originally a post on her blog. It received over 10,000 views and shares over two days with many readers encouraging her to get crowdfunding underway to get the book published. She achieved her goal quickly and she has since received much publicity.
Eiynah has noted that the Pakistani media have been relatively quiet about her controversial book but she has certainly received more than her fair share of hate mail since its posting. But she soldiers on and we can certainly thank her for her courage!
JUNE – PRIDE MONTH
As we approach Pride Month, many communities around the world host gay pride celebrations to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, when the New York City police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn, and the patrons resisted arrest and fought back over three days.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association published its first children’s book to address sexual orientation and gender diversity. Author Gayle E. Pitman, PhD, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Sacramento City College, wrote the story This Day In June, after noticing students in her psychology of sexual orientation classes knew very little about LGBTQ history.
The book showcases pride parade facts on its pages with each page containing illustrations of part of a parade tied to a group or an event. The reading guide describes the historical and/or cultural significance of each scenario and is aimed at children 4-8 years.
Despite the prevalence of LGBTQ awareness over the years, LGBTQ children’s literature is still met with such intolerance.
Last year, The National Library Board of Singapore, which operates twenty six public libraries, deemed children’s gay literature as inappropriate and proceeded to literally destroy them. The conservative city-states’ Information Minister, Yaacob Ibrahim, said he supported the decision. Gay sex remains illegal in Singapore and homosexuality continues to be a taboo subject. This move sparked global outrage and a massive step backwards in the eyes of gay activists.
Just a few weeks ago, Efland-Cheeks Elementary School in North Carolina made headline news when a third grade teacher read King & King in the classroom. Many parents lodged complaints that they had not been notified of the reading and its contents. A public forum was held to deal with the outrage which was highly explosive and lasted over two hours. One parent was even kicked out for being overly disruptive.
Just a few weeks ago, Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. What a momentous, historical occasion and superb win for gay rights. As a result of the landmark event, this has now prompted widespread discussion in Australia. How is it possible that this great nation that prides itself on diversity remain homophobic?
Australian author A.S. Chung hopes to highlight marriage equality to children and their families through her picture book entitled Wishful Wedding.
“Papa’s sister is getting married today! Daddy and I get ready, a flower girl I am. We witness in delight and giggle with glee but deep down in our hearts, we’re sad you see? When will my fathers be able to wed? I can only hope for change, in the future ahead.”
OUR WISH – PIGEONHOLE BOOKS
Children’s literature is precious. LGBTQ literature is priceless. Let’s celebrate Pride month and LGBTQ Families Day by embracing all these wonderful books! Created by authors who wish for nothing more than to write, heighten awareness, tell a story and educate the younger generation.