By Liz Massey, Feb. 26, 2015.
As a writer and editor, I’ve been overjoyed to discover that my grandson is a budding storyteller. Recently, he asked me to help him write out an action-adventure story involving two of his favorite video game characters. Before that, he penned epic tales about “Kat Kong” (just like King Kong, only a cat) and created an illustrated story (words and pictures on a dry-erase board) about a girl cow and a boy cow who become friends.
My grandson’s early forays into writing demonstrate how kids take the stories they read and the stories that are read to them and use them to make sense of the world. It’s a “technology” as old as the spoken word; the advent of printed children’s books allowed societies to preserve the best stories and save them for generations to come. These books aren’t just a pleasant form of entertainment – they’ve been documented to aid children’s mental, intellectual, emotional, social and creative growth.
Since these books provide so many benefits to young minds, it’s not surprising that as the LGBT equality movement has progressed, the number of children’s books with queer-friendly themes and/or characters has mushroomed. It’s also not surprising that our opponents have seized upon LGBT-inclusive kid’s books as something to be censored or erased from public view.
For years, children’s and/or young adult books with LGBT content have led the American Library Association’s list of most-frequently challenged books. And if you think about it, that makes sense. These books represent the religious right’s worst nightmare: an eagerly consumed form of media – one that kids love and WANT to use – that provides queer visibility, normalizes our life experiences and provides accurate information about who we are and what we’re like.
Last fall, Illinois Family Institute “cultural analyst” Laurie Higgins wrote a scathing diatribe against the ALA’s Banned Books Week. She insisted that instead of celebrating pro-gay literature, librarians should display other types of books that mandate what she called “pro-heteronormativity,” including stories of teens harmed by what she called the “harrowing fights and serial ‘marriages’ of their lesbian mothers” and “picture books that show the joy a little birdie experiences when after the West Nile virus deaths of her two daddies, she’s finally adopted by a daddy and mommy.”
With venom like that circulating in the body politic, all of us who support LGBT rights – regardless of relationship or parenting status – should take an interest in supporting and celebrating queer-positive books for young people. These volumes are quite possibly the most powerful weapon we have in the fight to claim our constitutional rights and fully contribute to American life; here’s why:
They tame the monster of stereotyping.
If you’ve seen images of wholesome families headed by same-sex parents since you were in diapers, it’s going to be a lot harder to convince you that all queer people are dangerous predators with three heads.
They explain the goals of our movement in a simple, approachable way.
I think one of the reasons anti-gay people hate these kinds of children’s books is because they provide an answer to their perennial worry about queer public displays of affection: “How do I explain this to my kids?” These books provide a gentle, direct, heart-centered response, which almost always boils down to, “It’s about love.”
They provide heroes to look up to.
One of the reasons some of us over 40 took longer to realize that we were gay is that we saw no positive role models of LGBT people growing up, real OR imagined. Queer-positive children’s books offer a bevy of characters for children to want to emulate.
They allow LGBT children and families with LGBT parents to see their stories reflected in popular culture.
We know that kids who are proud of their family or their identity, and who see it as part of the fabric of American society, are less vulnerable to the injuries that come with being oppressed.
In the introduction to “Am I Blue? Coming Out From the Silence,” a 1995 anthology of LGBT-themed fiction written by popular authors of young adult books, editor Marion Dane Bauer wrote, “The power of fiction is that it gives us, as readers, the opportunity to move inside another human being, to look out through that person’s eyes, hear with her ears, think with his thoughts, feel with her feelings. It is the only form of art which can accomplish that feat so deeply, so completely. And thus it is the perfect bridge for helping us coming to know the other – the other inside as well as outside ourselves.”
We can help children’s authors build that bridge to LGBT acceptance with our support, and by sharing their stories that affirm our tribe’s place in the human family.