Thanks in part to legal challenges, same-sex relationships are no longer treated as taboo in children’s books. But there are still many hurdles on the road to publication.
“Davis School District in Utah reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union to never again remove a children’s book about a family with same sex parents from its library shelves based solely on its content,” stated a news release issued by the American Civil Liberties Union. The agreement settled a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a mother with children in the school district, following their decision to restrict access to In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, after some parents allegedly complained the book normalizes a lifestyle they don’t support.
Polacco is known for finding inspiration in real life for her books. A popular speaker at schools, Polacco has met many children with same-sex parents. “She saw a true need for books that celebrate these children’s wonderful, yet untraditional, families, and created this heartwarming story in their honor,” reads the inside of In Our Mothers’ House book jacket.
Val O’Leary, an openly gay teacher in the Seven Oaks School Division in Winnipeg, believes children’s books featuring diverse family situations have a positive influence on children as they “normalize every experience and reflect the diversity that already exists in society.”
Seven Oaks School Division superintendent, and Val’s brother, Brian O’Leary, said he would like to see more books for children featuring GLBTQ* characters and the division has been encouraging schools to buy age-appropriate books that give a broader notion of the family than what we would commonly see.
“We would hope that we could play a role in erasing stereotypes. We would like school children to see their diverse family situation presented as normal and healthy.” O’Leary stated that all their school librarians have attended ally training through the Rainbow Resource Centre. “It provides them additional understanding and sensitivity… and enables them to ensure that their collections are suitably diverse.”
Dustin Glaseman was taking a university class when he decided to write the yet-to-be published children’s book, Femme: a Princess Story, about a lesbian princess who finds true love after kissing a frog. The twist is on the final page, when it’s discovered that the frog turns into another princess instead of a prince. He tossed around different topics outside the regular realm before deciding to feature GLBTQ* characters. His hope is that it will “show children that there is more than one option out there; that there is nothing wrong with a princess and a princess.” Not all books are published, of course, and he has approached and been turned down by a couple of publishers. One publishing house whose focus is on educational material turned his book down outright because it featured a lesbian character. The second simply said it would not publish his manuscript, no apparent reason given. “I’m sick of waiting, I’m tired of not sharing this message with the world,” Glaseman states in a YouTube video he created featuring his unpublished book.
Rikki Marie-Josée Dubois suffered from depression most of her life and had thoughts of suicide before starting her journey of gender transformation in 2007. She wrote a book for school-age children dealing with transgender issues, either as a child of a transgender person or one who suffers from such issues themselves. She wants them to know that they are not alone. Muffy was Fluffy, illustrated by her partner’s son Denis Grenier, tells the story of how a beloved pet kitten, Fluffy, is not comfortable with the way she was born and that in order to be truly happy she must change into Muffy, a puppy, the type of pet she was meant to be.
Finding a publisher was also challenging for Dubois, but she eventually found Publish America, who publishes without cost. It is Dubois’ desire that her book be distributed widely in schools. One of the schools in the Seven Oaks School Division purchased three copies of Dubois’ book, with the intention of offering it to other schools. The book is now available by order from McNally Robinson and a French version has been published. Dubois hopes her book “educates and helps others understand; that it helps remove the mystique surrounding the transgender issue. Taking out the fear turns it into a nonissue.”
The Winnipeg Public Library system currently houses a handful of children’s and teen books in their libraries that feature GLBTQ* characters, including In Our Mothers’ House. Dubois’ book is not currently in the library’s system, but is being considered for inclusion.
There is no doubt that Manitoba schools are more inclusive and accepting than certain states in the U.S., such as Utah. However, equal treatment of GLBTQ* parents in school curricula is slow to be implemented, as suggested by the article Teachers Want Gay Curricula published May 27, 2013 in the Winnipeg Free Press. Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson was quoted as saying that teachers from the Winnipeg and Louis Riel School Divisions are showing leadership in demanding the province reflect sexual orientation issues in all education curricula. “History courses don’t tell students that until recently, being homosexual was illegal and gays and lesbians faced severe punishment under the law,” he told the Free Press.
Education Minister Nancy Allan responded in another Free Press article, “Curriculum change can take years. The most important thing for us right now is to have safe and caring school environments for LGBT youth.” Perhaps the path to safe and caring school environments starts with the early years. Allowing inclusive children’s books is a good start.
– With editing from Nelle Oosterom. Armande Martine is a newly out civil servant and partner to Nelle Oosterom.