Caught In The Middle: Librarians On The Debate Over LGBT Children’s Books
In Texas, the debate over same-sex marriage has spilled out of county courthouses and into public libraries across Dallas-Fort Worth.
Dozens of residents in Hood County are demanding that LGBT children’s books be banned or removed from the library’s children’s section.
In Plano, a couple of parents have asked the public library to move LGBT books to a different section.
Challenging male penguins and their baby
At the Dallas Public Library downtown, Peter Coyl, the Dallas library’s district manager, says a book about male penguins is one of the books that parents most frequently challenge.
It’s called “And Tango Makes Three.”
About the book
At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo got the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.
Roy and Silo, the two male penguins, are trying to hatch a rock as if it were an egg. Zookeepers give the penguins an egg from a male-female pair of penguins, Betty and Porkey, who had two eggs and couldn’t care for both of them.
Zookeepers name the baby Tango.
It’s actually based on a true story. The two penguins became internationally known when they became inseparable at the zoo.
Even if the story weren’t true, Coyl says having a wide range of books in a public library is crucial.
“We want to make sure that there’s material for the children out there who have gay parents or gay parents who are looking to adopt or someone that has maybe a caregiver for a child that may be in that situation,” Coyl says.
Coyl argues that not including such books would be censorship. This year, the Dallas library bought the title “This Day in June,” one of the books parents have targeted in Hood County.
He says the book was added because it’s the winner of this year’s Stonewall Book Award and has received rave reviews.
“It fills a need in our collection, which is to have a children’s picture book about pride,” Coyl says. “I’m not aware of any picture book that talks about that topic. So it’s important for us to have that, so we have that topic addressed in our collection for whoever wants to look at it.”
Concerns in Plano about access to 'Families'
Recently, Plano Library Director Cathy Ziegler heard from two parents concerned about a couple of LGBT children's books.
One of the parents, Kathy Phillips, says she noticed one of the books called "Families" was displayed on a featured shelf for new books.
“Families” is about families with one parent, mixed-raced parents and also same-sex parents.
"My request was that it be moved to a shelf that would be more in control of parents, maybe on a book shelf within the children’s section that says ‘new books for parents’ or ‘higher-ups,’ so that children couldn’t run immediately to that book without parents having an opportunity to make a decision on its content,” Phillips says.
Phillips believes it’s important for libraries to carry books that feature different viewpoints, but says she wants parents to have more control over what their children are exposed to and the kinds of conversations they need to have with their kids. For example, what she tells her 10-year-old son about same-sex couples is not a conversation her 4-year-old is ready to hear or understand, she says.
Ziegler says “Families” and other LGBT children's books are age appropriate. Another book, titled “Families, Families, Families!,” is illustrated with animals and also features non-traditional families.
“I have personally checked them out and read them,” Ziegler says. “One I think is precious and the others I think are appropriate. They’re informational.”
Ziegler says there are no plans to move the books to another shelf or area.
“We let people know that we serve a diverse community and things that might be appropriate for some families are not appropriate for others … and so we expect the parents to guide their children in their reading material,” she says.
In Hood County, concerns about 'My Princess Boy'
The library director is keeping the books on the shelves.
"Lesbians and gays are in this community, and they deserve to have some items in this collection,” Courtney Kincaid told WFAA-TV.
A public forum to discuss the issue is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the Hood County Commissioners Court in Granbury.
Exploring book challenges
Challenges to LGBT books happen in small towns and large cities and in all parts of the country, says Kristin Pekoll with the American Library Association.
“The inclusion of LGBTQ children’s materials in public libraries has long been an issue for our office,” Pekoll says. “We’ve seen challenges to these materials since ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ and ‘My Daddy’s Roommate.’”
“And Tango Makes Three,” the story featuring the penguins, is also frequently challenged, Pekoll says.
But more books are being published featuring LGBT content.
“We see an increase in the number of teen books where there are relationships with same-sex couples as they’re starting to discover their first crushes,” Pekoll says. “We’re also seeing a really great new trend in transgender material or gender-neutral material, gender non-conforming material, where for instance, ‘My Princess Boy,’ where the main character is a boy that likes to wear dresses.”
A librarian’s role
Pekoll with the American Library Association says it’s uncertain if libraries will receive more challenges to LGBT children’s books because of the Supreme Court's ruling that legalizes same-sex marriage.
What is certain: a librarian’s role to advocate for these kinds of books.
“It’s important not only for the kids who identify with these books to see themselves in books, but it’s so important for everybody else to realize that this is part of our world,” Pekoll says.