At the school board meeting this week, a parent complained about two books in the school library. Both books are by LGBT authors of color. Several speakers that followed spoke in response about the many reasons for supporting LGBT youth in our community. And part of that support is having works of literature that speak to their circumstances.
The issue of representation was driven home to me around this time of year in 2016. The year before, at the school Halloween parade many of the girls wore Elsa princess dresses or other typical feminine costumes. At the end of 2015, however, Star Wars, The Force Awakens came out and suddenly, girls could be Jedi’s too. Daisy Ridley’s character had opened up a new path for them. The example to young girls so clearly mattered. One year, mostly princesses, next year, Jedi and princesses.
The two works that were mentioned at the school board meeting were Flamer, a graphic novel written for children and the more young adult oriented All Boys Aren’t Blue. You can find a review of Flamer on NPR here and you can find an interview with George M. Johnson, author of All Boys Aren’t Blue here. Both pieces speak to the importance of having literature available to youth that speaks to them.
“I look at it often to remind myself of why I am writing these stories and the importance of centering black stories from the black perspective,” Johnson says. “I didn’t have stories like these growing up and honestly I don’t have many now so I knew I needed to do my part to make sure the next generation of black queer children had something they could relate to and connect with.
Some will argue that the explicit material in these books should take them off the shelves. That is a debate that is centuries old at this point – Orwell’s 1984 is often attacked on similar grounds – but the argument is ever weaker as technology breaks down barriers. Do I need to link to Pornhub or Steam to demonstrate how readily available such material is? Surely curated, critically acclaimed works of realistic literature are a better source of such information than leaving it to the worst parts of the internet. It would be a disservice to our most vulnerable children to remove these books from their library.