Maggie & Me


Maggie & MeMaggie & Me

Damian Barr


ISBN 978-1-4088-3809-9

This is a sort-of autobiography of a man in his mid-thirties, of (religiously) mixed parents in industrial Scotland. Such things matter in the central belt of Scotland, but it is more a matter of ethnic origin than religious feeling. The vast majority of RCs in Scotland are of Irish origin, and that mark (of Cain?) can stretch well beyond the fifth generation. Damian Barr’s ‘Catholic’ parent was his mother who was religiously indifferent, if not somewhat hostile to the church, on the grounds that she was divorced. ‘Damian’ is definitely a ‘Catholic’ name, it became popular in the twentieth century due to a Belgian priest who ministered to lepers in Molokai a south Pacific island. He (Mr. Barr) may, given his age, have been named for the central character in a Hollywood horror movie. Given that that character was the Devil, no less, in disguise, that notion may be inaccurate. But there were an awful lot of ‘Damian’s’ so named in the late 1970s an early ’80s. The Belgian missionary’s surname was rendered ‘Damien’.

Damian Barr was sent to State schools rather than semi-independent Catholic ones. Despite the ‘Taig’ name he wasn’t given too much hassle. That, in ever-increasing quantities, was brought on by the fact that he was deemed to be queer quite early in his schooldays. ‘Gay Barr’, ‘Gaymian’ and other more brutal nicknames followed him from primary to secondary school. That he was very tall and willowy from his very early teens didn’t help, nor that he was the smartest in his class. His first encounter with genuine disappointment was not getting a big prize in his secondary (the Scottish equivalent of a Grammar) school for being an all-round brilliant pupil. He was half way out of his seat before another boy’s name was called, and he was surprised at how angry and disappointed he was. Despite that, he tended to win every other prize worth having, including one to study in Cambridge. He had been expecting to go to Strathclyde. He wasn’t snooty about that eventuality, but Cambridge was a usefully long way away from prying family, neighbours and ‘friends’.

It really isn’t much of a ‘story’ but it is very well written and he tells us about his intimate friendship with a handsome fair haired boy, “Mark”, who decides in their very early teens that there is something wrong with the relationship. He (Mark) become heavily involved with girls, a large plurality of them. He doesn’t get forced into marriage because the girls, mostly, insist on condoms being used. Mark acknowledges Damian when the latter returns to the isolated housing estate (called ‘schemes’ in Scotland) on the periphery of Glasgow they lived in. Some ‘schemes’ are enormous, the ‘planners’ forgot to include amenities, like shops, much less social spaces like club premises; churches and church halls weren’t even an afterthought. Public transport was heavily used for shopping (women had to travel into Glasgow, up to twenty miles away, to get basics. Entrepreneurship in these matters was entirely in Indian hands. The grocer’s son encountered in school was called ‘Ahmed’.

Damian eventually discovers the deeply closeted Gay life of his school, his scheme, and later the ‘Gay Scene’ in central Glasgow where he had happy times in the pubs and discos. He was earning money working part time and weekends in shops mostly, and had something like genuine privacy because none of his elders were particularly interested in him, or his younger sister. They were quite enthusiastic about pointing out that she was more masculine than he was. This tomboy eventually settled down, and trained as a nurse, after Damian made good his escape to Cambridge, then London. (His family were quite proud of the fact that he got to university, especially one of the few they could name.)

This is a fairly well-trodden path in terms of queer autobiography, except for its straightforward approach to his sexuality. He writes at one point “I was gay” a simple, slightly relieved, acknowledgement of a fact. There are no dramatics, melo-, or otherwise. There are a number of comic interludes in this narrative from his schooldays to disastrous job interviews. Towering over teachers, school bullies, and interviewers isn’t always useful, it can provoke some into pointless aggression, Pointless, because Damian Barr could probably pick such people up and give them a good shake. He also encounters men he has made contact with through advertisements in a magazine made up of adverts for, mostly, unwanted hardware. They are mostly middle-aged and not quite the Adonai they implied in their ads.

Most readers will probably enjoy this well-told tale, and find an awful lot of points in common with his progress through his adolescence. And if you try the internet you might get this treat for pennies (not that one begrudges Damian a good return on the work he put into this text).

Seán McGouran

PS Thatcher doesn’t loom large, or small, in this text – quotes from the good Lady preface each chapter – in the manner of uplifting Victorian books.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize: LGBT storylines make it onto youth fiction shortlist

Jandy Nelson’s ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ and ‘The Art of Being Normal’ by Lisa Williamson cover issues of sexuality and gender

Lisa Williamson

Lisa Williamson, author of ‘The Art of Being Normal’ Good Egg Media/Vimeo


Novels with LGBT storylines have been shortlisted for a major children’s books prize, as modern teenage issues increasingly replace werewolves and vampires in the plots of youth fiction.

Two of the stand-out novels on the shortlist for the older fiction category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize focus on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender.

Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of a brother and sister driven apart by tragedy but brought back together as they both fall for boys at the same time. The San Francisco author’s second novel has been optioned by Warner Bros to be adapted into a film.

Waterstones Prize: The shortlist

Illustrated Books

Have You Seen Elephant? David Barrow 
Cinderella’s Sister and the  Big Bad Wolf  Lorraine Carey and Migy Blanco 
Hector and HummingbirdNicholas John Frith  
The Crow’s Tale Naomi Howarth 
The Bear and the Piano  David Litchfield 
Super Happy Magic ForestMatty Long 

Younger Fiction

Bird Crystal Chan  
Darkmouth Shane Hegarty 
Witch Wars Sibéal Pounder 
The Blackthorn Key Kevin Sands 
My Brother is a SuperheroDavid Solomons 
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow Katherine Woodfine 

Older Fiction

The Accident Season  Moïra Fowley-Doyle  
Seed Lisa Heathfield  
13 Days of Midnight Leo Hunt 
I’ll Give You the Sun  Jandy Nelson
The Sin Eater’s DaughterMelinda Salisbury 
The Art of Being Normal Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson follows two teenagers struggling with their gender identities and finding it hard to keep the secret at school.

Juno Dawson, a children’s author who has herself recently transitioned, hailed the rising profile of LGBT-themed youth fiction. She told The Independent: “The floodgates are open and I don’t think they will close again. I hope we will see diversity as standard in children’s books.

“Ten years ago, authors may have been wary that including diverse characters would affect sales, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.”

She added: “These books are now getting their moment in the spotlight,” but cautioned: “We must be careful that diversity doesn’t become a fad in the way vampires were a fad with publishers getting bored and moving on.”

In total, 18 books have been shortlisted for the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, split into the categories of older fiction, younger fiction and illustrated books.

The organisers pointed out that although fantasy and adventure books were still present, they did not dominate the list.

Jandy Nelson

‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ author Jandy Nelson (

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said: “It doesn’t surprise me that fiction should reflect the issues and concerns of society as a whole. Great works of fiction reflect those issues that are of primary concern in a society.

“LGBT rights are something teenage children are informed about and can talk about sensitively – that wasn’t the case at the time of my childhood. The whole quality of understanding and debate has moved on dramatically, and we’re the better for that.”

Two books on the older fiction list are coloured by “the dark shadow of abuse”: Lisa Heathfield’s Seed, about being raised in a cult, and Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season.

In the younger fiction category, Crystal Chan’s Bird, the author’s first novel, tells the tale of how grief and guilt threaten to overwhelm a family. The animal kingdom dominates the illustrated books shortlist.

Florentyna Martin, children’s buyer for Waterstones, said: “Today’s children do not just enjoy books for the escapism they offer, but for how they can illuminate life in all its shades of light and dark.”

The winners will be announced on 17 March, with the overall book of the year prize accompanied by a cheque for £5,000.

Stephen Bourne looks at the relationship between the police and the gay community

We’ve delved into the GT vault this festive season, to give you some holiday reading.

30th December 2015


Boys in blue.


The relationship between the police and the gay community has always been a difficult one. It’s taken tragic incidents, like the 1999 bombing of The Admiral Duncan pub in London’s Soho, to encourage the police to work more closely with us in ways that would’ve been unthinkable before that event happened.

For example, the Gay London Police Monitoring Group, the Gay Police Association and the Metropolitan Police’s LGBT Advisory Group must take some of the credit for helping to build bridges. But enough recognition is given to individual community advisers who’ve worked, voluntarily, up and down the country, on the front line of our communities.

For the last two decades, I’ve been active in the London Borough of Southwark as a voluntary independent adviser or ‘critical friend’ to the police. In the 90s, I realised it was easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise the police without doing anything constructive to change the relationship. So, in 1995, I put my head above the parapet – and into the lion’s cage – and set up one of the first locally-based forums to bring together members of the LGBT community and the police to specifically address homophobic hate crime. I focussed on building trust and confidence with local officers and, gradually, I found willingness on their part to talk about the issues that needed to be addressed.

Meanwhile, in 1990, a group of gay police officers met in secret at the home of an officer based at Battersea Police Station in South West London. They had to meet in secret because, even as recent as 1990, they risked persecution and being thrown out of the force if they were found out to be gay. The meeting marked the beginning of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association, which later changed its name to the Gay Police Association. This group committed itself to offering advice and support to fellow officers. Three years later, in 1993, Marc Burke, a former police officer, wrote his landmark book Coming Out of the Blue, which exposed the homophobia that lesbian and gay officers faced on a daily basis. However, with the exception of PC Harry Daley’s autobiography, This Small Cloud, published posthumously in 1987, hardly any documentation exists that informs us about the lives of gay police officers before Daley died in 1971.


In the days when gay officers had to hide in the closet, Daley, who served with the Metropolitan Police from 1925 to 1950, was an exception. In 1930, wearing his uniform, his portrait was painted by the gay artist Duncan Grant. Around the same time he began a love affair with the novelist EM Forster, but Daley was too indiscreet for the closeted Forster. The risk of being found out and imprisoned alarmed Forster to such a degree that he terminated the relationship. Until he retired from the force and joined the merchant navy, Daley happily continued to engage in unlawful acts while upholding the law. As the ‘human face’ of the British bobby in BBC radio broadcasts in the 1930s, he may have inspired the writer Ted Willis to create PC George Dixon, the friendly copper who pounded the beat in BBC TV’s popular Saturday night drama Dixon of Dock Green, from 1955 to 1976.

When I was growing up in Peckham, in South East London, in the 1970s, if I saw a policeman I didn’t ask him the time, I ran for it! If the copper happened to be PC Cole, there wasn’t any point in running away because he’d know who you were and where you lived. For 30 years, from 1953 to 1983, PC Cole walked the beat in South East London. He never moved from his base – the notorious Carter Street Police Station, situated off Walworth Road. Legend has it that villains used to beg their arresting police officers to take them anywhere but Carter Street. Now and again, PC Cole visited my school – a rough secondary modern – and spoke to us at morning assemblies. Though PC Cole was more approachable than his colleagues, in those days in South East London, almost everyone feared and mistrusted Lily Law.

After I left school in 1977, PC Cole became well known as the bobby who wrote a series of best-selling books, in which he related his experiences of walking the beat. This entertaining collection offers insights into an interesting and eventful life. When he died in 2008, our borough commander described him as ‘a talented man with a tremendous sense of humour. His books did much to enhance the reputation of the police service – his amusing anecdotes showed the other side of policing – the human side. He had a real sense of loyalty and passion for policing and for Southwark borough.’

When I read PC Cole’s book, Policeman’s Story, published in 1985, I was intrigued by his brief reference to PC Jimmy Davenport – not his real name – a ‘homosexual’ officer he befriended when he joined the police in 1953. Curious about PC Davenport, in 2004 I tracked down the then retired Harry Cole to find out more. What transpired was a revealing insight into attitudes towards a gay serving police officer in London in the 50s.

Harry informed me that his publisher insisted that he cut the references he made to Jimmy’s gay life, so Harry revealed what was left out of Policeman’s Story: ‘I met Jimmy when we arrived that first day for training at Peel House. Jimmy was in the next bunk to me and we became quite friendly. When we were at the training school, Jim was always singing in the shower. One of his favourite songs was Marlene Dietrich’s ‘Good for nothin’ men are good for nothin’’. Then Jim and I were posted to Carter Street, on the same shift and on the same beat. I liked walking with Jim because he was such a good-looking fella, and all the girls would always be looking at us. He was a tall, upright bloke. He had a baby face. And the funny thing was he had very big hands! But he never seemed to know what to do with them!”


Everyone at Carter Street knew Jimmy was gay, but Harry said this didn’t create any problems, even at the height of the ‘homosexual witch hunt’. This intensified in Britain in the 50s around the time Harry and Jimmy worked together as police officers. Up and down the country, gay men were hounded, persecuted and imprisoned because, at that time, there was a perception that homosexuality was morally reprehensible and also politically dangerous. The medical attitude was that it was an illness, that if treated successfully, homosexuals would become ‘normal’. Police officers were encouraged to arrest any gay men they encountered, and gay men were often arrested and prosecuted after they unwittingly made advances to plain clothes police officers. These were known as agent provocateurs, French for ‘inciting agent’. And yet, in South East London, PC Jimmy Davenport avoided detection and carried on with his career as a police officer throughout the ‘witch hunt’ of the 50s. Harry explained, ‘If you have 15 policemen in a shift, in that 15 there’s going to be one you could kill, some you avoid, some you like intensely, others you don’t mind. And Jim was on the good side, if you like. If you have to work with another officer, you want them to be someone you like and get on with. Jim fitted in. Though we guessed he was a homosexual, it wasn’t an issue.’

Harry remembered that Jimmy used to visit a local gay ‘character’ called Maurice who owned a chemist shop in Westmoreland Road, off Walworth Road: ‘Maurice was as queer as a nine bob note, and he had these parties, for homosexuals, but we turned a blind eye. And if a bobby was wandering by, on his beat, especially on a cold winter’s night, Maurice invited him in: ‘Come in, dear boy. Come and have a drink.’ Everyone knew what Maurice was like. He was like a Wild West doctor. Abortion was illegal then but women, whose young daughters got pregnant, went to Maurice and he sorted them out. And there was always a copper who’d put some girl in the family way, so we’d tell him to take her to Maurice. And then, when the Richardson gang started up, if any of them got injured and couldn’t risk going to a hospital, they’d blag Maurice into helping them. He was around for years.’

PC Jimmy Davenport was stationed at Carter Street for several years and then he was transferred to Wimbledon, because his ‘other secret’ came out. In his spare time Jimmy was singing in a pub and getting paid for it! Harry explained, ‘A police officer didn’t earn much in those days, so money was always tight. Jimmy was discovered moonlighting. That wasn’t allowed. It was frowned upon. Things were very strict then. Some years later, it must’ve been in the 60s, I went with a mate to a club in Old Compton Street. When the show started, to my surprise, it was Jim who came on stage and sang! He had such a good voice. And that was the last I saw of him. After that, other officers said they recognised Jim in various West End shows. So he must’ve left the police and pursued a career in showbusiness.’

What PC Harry Cole didn’t tell me was that homophobia was rife in the police service – and if an officer was discovered to be gay, it could lead to instant dismissal. When I interviewed a gay inspector who’d joined the service – outside of London – in 1978, at a time when gay officers remained firmly in the ‘closet’, he told me: ‘You can’t imagine how racist, homophobic, and sexist the police was. If homosexuality was mentioned, it was always about perverts and poofs. Gays were a dirty minority who frequented gay pubs and haunted toilets. I never saw a copy of Gay News. I never heard about the Gay Liberation Front. I never heard about Gay Pride marches until 1986. I knew there were gay pubs in London, but I had no desire to visit them because, as a police officer, I was terrified of being found out and blackmailed. Gays weren’t tolerated in the police and I bitterly resented that, but there was nothing I could do about it.’ I also interviewed a detective constable who’d joined the Metropolitan Police in 1979. He said: ‘We were a police force, not a service. It was very disciplined. We learned nothing about blacks, homosexuals, religion or domestic violence. We had women officers, but they were expected to make the tea. In those days, the Met was made up of a lot of ex-servicemen, so it was a very macho environment.’ He added that the terms used to describe gay men were all offensive: ‘Queer, homo, poof, bender – they were all used in a derogatory manner. In the old days, because we believed we were the finest police force in the world, we thought we could do everything on our own, but we couldn’t. At first we resented people telling us how to do our work. But not now. That’s changed. We no longer see community advisers as busy bodies but as useful allies.’

In 2003 Stephen Bourne was named Volunteer of the Year by the Metropolitan Police for his pioneering work on tackling homophobic crime in the London Borough of Southwark and for his independent advice on critical incidents.

Words Stephen Bourne

How to Break the Bullying Cycle

OUT dot com logo


gay bullying

Author Jonathan Fast discusses his book Beyond Bullying and the danger of ‘gay-neutral’ school policies.


Jonathan Fast knows what it’s like to be bullied. As a chubby 8-year-old in summer camp, he was tormented by an athletic boy who broke his arm. Even his father, Spartacus author Howard Fast, was bullied by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for being communist in the 1950s.

In his powerful new book, Beyond Bullying: Breaking the Cycle of Shame, Bullying, and Violence, 67-year-old Dr. Fast takes an unhurried look at the shame underlying violence towards LGBT and straight folks alike. “With this book, I hope readers will be better equipped to deal with bullying of every sort,” he explains, while speaking at his Yeshiva University office. “With time, we’ll be moved, if only by a single degree, closer toward a place where all people are equally valued and respected.” Fast spoke about the danger of “gay-neutral” school policies, fighting back, and whether or not there’s a “cure” for bullying.

Out: Did being harassed as a kid inspire this topic?

Jonathan Fast: In my last book, Ceremonial Violence, about school shootings, a detail was missing about the Columbine killers and other perpetrators. At a conference I heard a talk about shame, and had an epiphany: I realized these vicious guys were carrying huge amounts of that primal emotion. Most likely they were disappointing their parents, not gainfully employed, having trouble socially. Why turn to school shooting? Because they couldn’t express their shame if they wanted to appear mature, powerful, and successful. It’s taboo even to talk about this feeling because it’s associated with little children, weakness, and failure. Ultimately it comes out of their guns.

Gays have been bullied for decades. But during Stonewall, they fought back. Is rioting a useful reaction to feeling oppressed?

It’s a common form of shame management when the feeling is intense, shared by a lot of people, and there seems to be no other peaceful means of managing it. Rioters are usually unaware of their motivations beyond a general sense of rage and frustration. While neighborhoods may be damaged and community members hurt, the events draw attention to grave social problems. Stonewall created a milestone for the gay rights movement and empowered a subculture.

How have LGBT individuals dealt with society’s violence toward them?

Some choose to use their fists, which yields mixed results. Jamie Nabozny invoked the law. In 1988, after coming out in his Wisconsin middle school, he was repeatedly tortured by classmates. The problem persisted into high school. He sued both principals, staff members, and the school district for neglecting to protect him. Lambda Legal came on board, pushing the case into the headlines. A partner at the white shoe law firm Skadden Arps offered his services pro bono. The jury found the school administrators liable for failing to stop antigay violence against Nabozny, who won a 1 million dollar settlement.

In Minnesota, two young women responded with social action. A romantic couple in high school, they’d heard about a series of local gay teenagers killing themselves and wanted to bring visibility to non-traditional gender roles. They got elected to a 12-member Royal Court, and were set to walk in a public ceremony. But days before the procession, a teacher told them their plan was unacceptable because they were two women. They contacted the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center and battled against the school leadership. Ultimately they won the right to proceed on the red carpet, to wild cheers and applause.

Regarding that group of suicides, you point to education policies as potential culprits. One high school had written a mandate for faculty and staff to show respect for all students, and to remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation. It led to a spate of teen suicides over two years. What went wrong?

A lot. The 2009 recession hit that suburb hard. Residents bought big houses and got caught with giant mortgages. Middle class folks became homeless, living in their cars. Kids were told not to speak about their depression and lack of cash. So they couldn’t manage their shame. To begin with, adolescents aren’t working with a full biological deck. The frontal lobe—the part of the brain that analyzes consequences—doesn’t mature until age 25. Influenced by their peers, teens often make poor choices.

Add to that mix a poorly worded edict that bans any reference to homosexuality, spearheaded by conservative parents. It silenced the few gay teachers who’d acted as a support network for kids coming out. Trying to be neutral, one school psychologist took down the picture of her partner on her desk. Youngsters stopped hearing “it gets better.” All these things contributed to hidden shame, which you tend to turn inward, resulting in acts like cutting, and in this case, a cluster of suicides.

The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the U.S. military has been repealed. Marriage equality is the rule of law. But in one study, 95% of gay adolescents reported feeling separated and emotionally isolated from peers because of their sexual orientation. Around 50% of gay adolescents have experienced physical violence by family members. Research has shown that LGBT teens attempt suicide four times more frequently than their heterosexual peers. When will this trend reverse?

It’ll take another generation to change. I grew up in a homophobic home and my father was an intellectual. He’d say a great writer would never be gay, because they couldn’t relate to the basic human experience. Which was absurd. But when you’re a little kid and your father is a celebrated author, you tend to believe him.

In 1963 the New York Times published an article “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern.” Its title reflected the opinion of the Times and the times. I see it getting better with my grown kids.

We all carry shame at times. What are healthy ways to deal with it?

Write about it. Express yourself through art. The film The Gift is a good example. It’s about a teenage bully who grows up and doesn’t understand why in high school his target complained about getting beat up. After all, the bully had been abused by his own dad, but believed he’d sucked it up. Of course, instead of sucking it up, the roughneck had displaced his pain and trounced his victim.

Other ways to deal include going to confession, if you’re Catholic. Volunteering. Doing a good deed. The “It Gets Better” campaign is a great example.

Is there a cure for bullying?

No. We have endless examples of maltreatment of people in politics—think Donald Trump—and in media, like certain newscasters. We live in a bullying society. We have the highest homicide and incarceration rate, and the worst income division, which is a big shame factor. Believing that society is a meritocracy can be humiliating to a lot of people. They imagine success yields happiness. But if prosperity is unattainable, people take that personally. They feel ashamed, and unhappy. Sometimes the shame is turned outward, which is how we get bullies

Coming Out to Play by Robbie Rogers with Eric Marcus

Coming Out to Play

by Robbie Rogers with Eric Marcus

Penguin Books

Paperback, 9780143126614, 240 pp.

Jason Collins. Michael Sam. Robbie Rogers. Over the past few years, these men have been some of the first Robbie Rogers coming back as first openly gay footballeropenly gay men to play in major league sports in America. Of course there have been those who have paved the way before them. In the past, players have come out after their sports careers have ended or have played in lesser-known and/or solo sports. However, these men were able to come out and remain playing their respective sports. The twin barriers these men faced were the machismo culture of sports and potential gay panic of their teammates. (Some might argue that these are two sides of the same coin, but I digress). Football–I mean, soccer–doesn’t have as a pronounced culture surrounding it in the United States the same way other sports do. However, it is a major sport worldwide, especially in Europe. (Other things popular in Europe that the U.S. has yet to adopt: the metric system, reasonable vacation/parental leave and the continually slept-on Marina and the Diamonds.) One can simply search “hooliganism” to see the level of destructive macho passion that the sport can inspire, it’s roughly on the same level as ice hockey and American football in the States. I don’t write the above to dismiss the fun and joy of soccer and other sports, but to explain importance of Robbie Rogers’ decision. With the messaging of this culture ever present in the back of players’ heads it is easy to understand other soccer players’ reluctance to come out and Rogers’ initial hesitation to do so. In choosing to come out and (continuing to) play, he is the second soccer player on an English team to come out (the first one to come out was the late Justin Fashnau) and the first openly gay player to play on a North American team. The memoir begins by diving into Robbie’s life head-on, literally. It starts with him getting a concussion at a game and then moves through pivotal periods in the sportsman’s life. Robert Hampton Rogers III was born to somewhat conservative and Catholic family in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Early in his life Robbie is seen as a sports prodigy, known for his ‘explosive’ speed, not only playing soccer but also judo. His parents, two lawyers raising five athletic kids in the suburbs, seem to have a perfect life in young Robbie’s eyes, but end up divorcing. He also comes to believe that he is less than picture perfect as well, as he comes to realize that he is gay. It starts with his father’s angry reaction after seeing him play with dolls. As he grows older his family’s reactions to gay and lesbian celebrities, the taunting and pressure to conform from his school peers, and his church’s teachings have him bury his feelings and attractions. While struggling internally, Robbie’s athletic career was on the rise. Robbie spends only one school year at University of Maryland, much to the chagrin of his mother who wanted her son to receive a college education. He spends the following summer playing in the Netherlands which has him feeling isolated, due to language barriers and distance from his family. He returns to the states to play for the Columbus Crew, but years later he takes the chance to play for Leeds United. After the aforementioned concussion and other injuries, he takes a break, by playing on a lower tiered team, working on his fashion line and interning at a fashion PR agency. Robbie’s decision to start coming out begins as an accident: he randomly tells a woman at bar. From there he builds up the courage to tell his family and friends and to start dating. When a coach uses a slur during practice, it’s the tipping point for Robbie to leave the sport. Soon, Robbie decides to come out publicly through a blog post which is met with a volume of responses from a variety of people, organizations and media outlets. From there it’s a whirlwind of interviews and speaking engagements, including a GLSEN & Nike event for high school students in Portland. It is during this Q&A session that he is inspired by the teenagers in the audience, those fighting against discrimination from very young age, to reconsider his choice to leave the sport. He’s able to work out a deal to play for LA Galaxy, who he’s been playing for ever since. Raised in a Mets and Islanders household, I never really enjoyed sports. I was the boy in the outfield occasionally picking at daisies or daydreaming, only participating because my father was my little league coach. Start talking statistics and my eyes glaze over. However, if you take me to a game and not only will I enjoy it, I’ll be able to follow along. I write this to explain the brief bit of anxiety I had when I started to read this memoir. “How much of this was going to be a sports story?” I wondered. Would this book interest me beyond his life as a gay man? My introduction to Robbie was not a soccer game but an issue of Hello Mr. magazine. While there were dry parts for me, mostly when he has to explain the minutiae of pro soccer, it’s still an interesting story. I bring this up because this book knows it must cater to a variety of readers: those simply curious about him, those interested in sports writing and those adults and kids looking to learn. Sometimes Coming Out To Play stretches to cover things; Robbie tries to explain himself on his own terms while also doing Gay 101. It also has to navigate Robbie Rogers the person and Robbie Rogers the public figure both in and then out of the closet. The need to be various things to various people rang true to me as a gay man. With Robbie it is magnified exponentially by being a public figure. Towards the end of the book, he pulls back the curtain somewhat on what being a celebrity entails. His family was initially frustrated with his sudden decision to come out publicly, not because they were ashamed, but because they had no prior warning about the media attention it would bring them. He also gives glimpses behinds the scenes of his post-coming out ‘press tour’ and working with LGBTQ organizations and major brands. Where Coming Out To Play is at its best is when it situates what’s going on in Robbie’s life with current events at the time. Robbie’s rising career is happening during a period of time where there is an increasing focus on LBGTQIA issues. Robbie’s thoughts about being gay and coming out are placed alongside him hearing about Tyler Clementi and watching movies like Brokeback Mountain and A Single Man. It helps the reader to feel like they are alongside him. The worst I can say about Coming Out To Play is that it gets the job done and not much else. The book is less concerned with telling a story and more about allowing Robbie to control his narrative and to express his feelings. (In a sweet and interesting move, Robbie will occasionally let his mother or a sister provide their perspective.) But Robbie’s plain-spoken prose is charming in its own right. If you’re interested in learning about Robbie, his memoir will satisfy and do a good job of providing a sense of who he is. I, for one, was delighted to learn that he loved A Single Man. Hey, Robbie, if you’re reading this: I did my graduate thesis on Christopher Isherwood. Let’s chat. – See more at:

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez


Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, ListsLance has always known he was gay, but he’s never had a real boyfriend. Sergio is bisexual, but his only real relationship was with a girl. When the two of them meet, they have an instant connection–but will it be enough to overcome their differences?

Allie’s been in a relationship with a guy for the last two years–but when she meets Kimiko, she can’t get her out of her mind. Does this mean she’s gay? Does it mean she’s bi? Kimiko, falling hard for Allie, and finding it impossible to believe that a gorgeous girl like Allie would be into her, is willing to stick around and help Allie figure it out.

Boyfriends with Girlfriends is Alex Sanchez at his best, writing with a sensitive hand to portray four very real teens striving to find their places in the world–and with each other.

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists
Hardcover, 217 pages

Published April 19th 2011 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Boyfriends with Girlfriends
1416937730 (ISBN13: 9781416937739)

‘Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s Sex Deviates Program’ by Douglas M. Charles



‘Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s Sex Deviates Program’ by Douglas M. Charles

>I confess to a degree of skepticism when I began reading Douglas M. Charles’s new tome, Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s “Sex Deviates” Program. The activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and J. Edgar Hoover, its insufferable longtime director, would seem by this point to be well-worn scholarly territory. The field is both broad and deep. To name just a relevant few, FBI historian Athan Theoharis (a mentor to Charles) has written extensively about the FBI’s role in civil liberties abuses, Cold War-era red-baiting, and failed counterintelligence, and even addressed the longstanding rumors about Hoover’s own sexuality in J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime. Betty Medsger’s recent The Burglary detailed the rise and fall of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program that illegally surveilled and attacked a variety of civil rights, New Left, and countercultural groups. Meanwhile, Douglas Charles himself has surveyed the FBI’s role in “the rise of the domestic security state.” In his brief and brilliant exposé, The FBI’s Obscene File, he also described the bureau’s classification of alleged obscene materials, including how it used such classification to attempt to destroy the organized gay and lesbian movement. But as is often the case, a thorough scholarly explication of the role and importance of gays and lesbians to any particular historical moment has been the last to arrive. Fortunately, though, Hoover’s War on Gays is that necessary book. It takes its place beside such works as Kenneth O’Reilly’s Racial Matters, about the FBI’s attack on black civil rights organizations, in exhaustively detailing the effects of Hoover’s policies on specific social movements.

Charles dates Hoover and the FBI’s obsession with gays and lesbians to the 1930s, particularly the 1937 kidnapping and murder of a young boy named Charles Mattson. This particular case previewed features of decades of Hoover’s future actions: attacking marginalized groups for political gain and currying favor with the politically powerful. Despite there being no evidence that Mattson was sexually assaulted, the press reported that the FBI was seeking “sexual pervert[s]” in the case, and the public made mental associations between homosexuality and sexual degeneracy. Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt also made public statements regarding the case; this forced Hoover, a Republican appointee who was obsessed with maintaining his job and the FBI’s status, into prioritizing solving Mattson’s murder. Although the Mattson case was never solved, it was one prominent piece in a late 1930s sex crimes panic that played a role in Hoover’s beginning to collect information about gays as part of a larger drive against “sex offenders.” The FBI’s collecting of such information was intensive, building up to a formal Sex Deviates Program and File beginning in 1950. Although it was not confined to federal government employees, this program frequently used information gathered about such employees to have them fired. For Hoover, information collecting was in no way a passive activity; what he learned was used to destroy lives and to solidify his own power and influence.

And what of Hoover’s own sexuality? His relationship with right-hand man Clyde Tolson has certainly been cause for speculation, and that speculation was firmly in place during Hoover’s lifetime. But as Charles points out at the very beginning of Hoover’s War on Gays, comment on Hoover’s personal sexuality remains speculative. (Certainly anyone who believes the accounts of Hoover appearing in public in drag or at orgies — even without knowing the dubious sources of those claims–has very little understanding of the era in which Hoover lived or the social and political position he was attempting to maintain.) Still, Charles’s further assertion, that Hoover’s sexuality simply does not matter, may be surprising to many. He makes a compelling case, though: Hoover’s relentless assault on gays makes perfect sense even if he were straight. Gays and lesbians were an easy target in the culture wars, and rumors of the prominent’s homosexuality were politically advantageous to Hoover’s continued reign. While it may be psychologically satisfying to assume Hoover acted out of self-hatred, that prism is unnecessary; as Charles says, even if Hoover “was, as they say, straight as an arrow…[his] treatment and targeting of gays would still make sense to us given the era and the larger historical, political, social, and cultural forces at play.” For a thorough treatment of those forces, Hoover’s War on Gays will likely remain unsurpassed.

The creation of the Sex Deviates File in 1950 displays links to what historian David K. Johnson has dubbed “the Lavender Scare”–the long-term attack on federal employees that had its roots in the same era as McCarthyism. What Johnson showed and Charles more extensively documents here, though, is that the attack on gays in government predates the McCarthy era. The FBI had its hand in helping to oust Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, when Republicans receive evidence of Welles’ repeated drunken solicitations of African American train employees. This was just one of repeated FBI investigations into rumors surrounding the sexual lives of the prominent, among them Senator David I. Walsh, General Philip Faymonville, Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, and Illinois governor and two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson (whose index card from the Sex Deviates File is the only one to escape the file’s late 1970s destruction by the FBI). Some of these rumors were true, some not. What Charles makes clear is that Hoover ultimately did not care. These rumors’ truth or falsity was secondary to how useful they might be to Hoover in his relationships with the presidents and lawmakers whose favor he sought.
Of course, as time went on, there were increasing numbers of openly gay men and women for Hoover to harass and attack. The FBI’s investigations into, and surveillance and harassment of, among many others, Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay; Mattachine member and ONE, Inc. founder W. Dorr Legg; original Mattachine Society-DC leader Buell Dwight Huggins; the Daughters of Bilitis; Mattachine Society of Washington co-founder Jack Nichols (whose father, an FBI agent, was demoted and cut off all contact with his son after the FBI uncovered the connection), and, later, the Gay Liberation Front, show Hoover’s desire to crush subversion. That these men and women, who could easily have submitted to fear of the FBI’s power, continued to fight for social and legal changes forms an inspiring counter-narrative in what could have been (and sometimes is) a litany of sad tales. Although Hoover won many battles, the war continued well beyond his death in 1972, and the forces he supported are losing. And what of Hoover’s own sexuality? His relationship with right-hand man Clyde Tolson has certainly been cause for speculation, and that speculation was firmly in place during Hoover’s lifetime. But as Charles points out at the very beginning of Hoover’s War on Gays, comment on Hoover’s personal sexuality remains speculative. (Certainly anyone who believes the accounts of Hoover appearing in public in drag or at orgies — even without knowing the dubious sources of those claims–has very little understanding of the era in which Hoover lived or the social and political position he was attempting to maintain.) Still, Charles’s further assertion, that Hoover’s sexuality simply does not matter, may be surprising to many. He makes a compelling case, though: Hoover’s relentless assault on gays makes perfect sense even if he were straight. Gays and lesbians were an easy target in the culture wars, and rumors of the prominent’s homosexuality were politically advantageous to Hoover’s continued reign. While it may be psychologically satisfying to assume Hoover acted out of self-hatred, that prism is unnecessary; as Charles says, even if Hoover “was, as they say, straight as an arrow…[his] treatment and targeting of gays would still make sense to us given the era and the larger historical, political, social, and cultural forces at play.” For a thorough treatment of those forces, Hoover’s War on Gays will likely remain unsurpassed.

Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s “Sex Deviates” Program
By Douglas M. Charles
University of Kansas Press
Hardcover, 9780700621194, 480 pp.
September 2015 – See more at:

‘And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality’ by Mark Segal

Snap 2015-11-30 at 15.31.56Lambda Literary

Review by Gena HymowechNovember 24, 2015

And Then I Danced is more than a memoir; it’s a revelation. In writing about his life, Mark Segal not only shines a light on his own achievements but on those of others, including Marty Robinson and Craig Rodwell. These names, like Segal’s, are not as well-publicized as they should be, and that’s a huge part of why this book is so vital. Equally important is how Segal shatters mistaken beliefs about queer history.

Growing up poor and Jewish in a Philadelphia housing project, discriminated against, and living in conditions that are beyond frustrating; Segal experiences the perfect training ground for life as a gay activist. In just a few lines, he perfectly describes the unique heartbreak being poor brings. His mother has taken him to buy a toy after his father practically had a nervous breakdown because he wasn’t able to give Segal something he wanted:

As we entered Wilson Park, [Mom] asked if I liked my toy. I reached into the bag and my train was gone. I said nothing. Seeing my reaction, she took the bag and found the hole in the bottom through which my toy had fallen out. She just started to cry. Watching my mother cry after all that had occurred that day, I wanted to cry and yell as well, but instead I got sick to my stomach. I just stood there in silence, awash in guilt.

As a boy, Segal is tempted mightily by the sexy men’s fashion section of the Sears and Roebuck catalogs, but represses his feelings. Eventually, he sees an episode of the pioneering David Susskind Show, featuring a man from the Mattachine Society. The author’s path is clear; he must go to New York.

But once he lands, things are not as they appear. Robinson tells Segal that the group isn’t in tune with younger activists. This is one of the most important myths Segal busts: The gay movement was not unified and was segmented by, among other things, age and class.

About a month after Segal is in New York, the Stonewall Uprising happens.

Stonewall, notes Segal, wasn’t the first gay protest (it was preceded by the Compton Cafeteria riot in San Francisco and the Dewey’s sit-in in Philadelphia). It wasn’t as big as you might think (Segal estimates a few hundred participated). It wasn’t one night (try four). It was not about Judy Garland dying, and it only included a small representation of the gay population. “[A]nyone with a decent job or family ran away from that bar as fast as they could to avoid being arrested. Those who remained were the drag queens, hustlers, and runaways.”

The movement Stonewall gives birth to results in a different kind of activism involving the media. Segal starts doing zaps, or “nonviolent protests that put us in a light that was not stereotypical.” In front of about 60 percent of America, he interferes with a Walter Cronkite broadcast. It’s a brilliant strategy, taking the weapon out of the hands of an oppressor and using it as a tool of activism.

Segal really puts the movement in context for the post-Stonewall generation. Activism in the 60s and 70s wasn’t about big corporations or celebrity spokespeople, he notes, and most gays didn’t appreciate the efforts activists were making. It also wasn’t the gig you took if you wanted to be a millionaire. Segal finally figures out a way to be paid for his activism by publishing the Philadelphia Gay News, which he still runs.

The flaws here are minor. Obviously, the death of his mother and the raising of his son are important to him, but they don’t translate into riveting copy, and his account of what it was like to help create the Philadelphia Freedom Concert & Ball, starring Elton John, feels pointless.

What Segal does best is provide an accessible history. And Then I Danced makes a great college textbook, or just an excellent guide for young queer leaders. The most important lesson one can learn from Segal’s life is that, no matter what, you just have to keep on fighting.

And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality
By Mark Segal
Open Lens/Akashic Books
Hardcover, 9781617754104, 400 pp.
October 2015

– See more at:

Over the River With Two Dads: An Interview With Author Linda Ashman


Over the River...


Our daughter received her annual birthday greeting and gift of $10 from the Toy House here in Jackson, MI. It’s one of our favorite places to shop as it’s a local, family-owned business plus they have really cool stuff for both kids and adults alike. While Anna ran around ringing the birthday bell and posing for her picture for the November birthday wall, I took a moment to check out the new books in the store’s book section. The holiday books were pushed to the front and one caught my eye. It was Linda Ashman’s Over the River & Through the Wood: A holiday adventure. We sing the song to our kids as we have to cross either the Maumee River or the St. Joseph River to get to either one of our parents’ house each holiday.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a same-sex male couple with kids as one of the family groups as I read and followed along with the story line. The owner of the store came by and I pointed out the couple and he laughed. I cautioned him that in our rather conservative town (one of the allegedly birthplaces of the Republican Party) this type of family might not fly. He shook his head and asked me how many copies of the book I wanted.

I decided to do my homework and sniffed around on line for the author. I found her on social media and asked her if she wouldn’t mind chatting about the book, its genesis and the gay dads. This is our chat:

Hi Linda! Thanks for taking my questions! You included a same-sex couple with kids in your book, why? Was this in the works prior to the SCOTUS ruling last June or was it there all along?

The book got its start three years ago when my Sterling Publishing editor, Meredith Mundy, asked me to write a contemporary take on this classic holiday song. As part of the update, we felt it was important to show a modern family — one with a variety of family types, including a same-sex couple with kids. So, yes, the book was in the works well before the Supreme Court ruling (the journey from idea to published picture book is a long one!).

Yes it is! My book took several years from idea to publication. I noticed that the other families in the book look diverse as well. The one couple appears to have two children of Asian descent. We can assume that they were adopted?

Yes. We wanted the characters to be diverse in multiple ways so that lots of kids (and adults) would recognize themselves and their families in the illustrations. The story involves four far-flung siblings and their families making their way — by various means — to Grandma’s house. In addition to the family headed by two dads, there’s a biracial couple and their child, a family with two adopted kids and a couple with three kids and two dogs.

Both of my nieces were adopted and they are African American. I am totally getting them this book for Christmas! So were you prepared for the negative criticism and reviews that you shared with me in our initial chat on Facebook?

So far, I’ve seen just one negative comment: A reviewer on Amazon considered it “inappropriate” for his toddler. While I wasn’t completely surprised by that sort of response, it still caught me off guard. It’s hard to understand how a story about a loving, inclusive family can be considered inappropriate.

I am so very sorry for him and his kids. Sigh. So much work to do! Have there been any positive reviews or comments

Yes! Aside from that one isolated comment, the reviews have been extremely positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, and other major publications — Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist — have all praised the book and the diversity of the characters. In addition, the personal feedback I’ve received from readers — especially those who see themselves reflected in the book — has been especially gratifying.

By the way, what is your own experience with same-sex couples? It appears that you and your amazing illustrator have some as you’ve nailed the look. (Urban setting, snappy glasses, etc.).


Well, thank you on behalf of Kim Smith, the book’s fabulous illustrator. Kim and I both have a number of gay friends, some single and some married, and few of them fit any sort of stereotype. Many years ago, I shared an apartment in Los Angeles with my friend, Paul, who is gay (and is now married to his longtime partner). My son has grown up with kids with same-sex parents and doesn’t think twice about it. I like to think his generation is a little more open-minded; let’s hope so.

True, and with SCOTUS back in June, we’re quickly becoming the new normal. My kids will now ask if a same sex couple is married. That is something I never would have considered when I was a kid. So how does this book/story relate to your own family’s holiday traditions? Why did you choose to write about this time of year?

Like the characters in the book, my husband and I have family members scattered across the country. Since we’ve moved a fair amount — from Los Angeles to Denver to Chapel Hill — the gathering place tends to change from year to year. This year we’re going to a friend’s house nearby — no long journeys involved!

It must be the year for that as we’re staying local as well. Although my husband’s father is a retired chef, I always look forward to holidays at their place. Speaking of, for many LGBT folk, the very thought of the holidays induce great amounts of stress and angst. However, aside from the travel issues that are germane to the story line, the gay couple seem pretty at ease with the family event. Were you aware of the stress that many of us feel this time of year?

The holidays can be hard for so many people — we all dream of those harmonious Rockwellian gatherings and, for most of us, that’s not the reality. I imagine the anxiety and tension are that much greater for LGBT folk, especially if they feel they can’t be who they are around family members. A friend of mine was unable to tell his parents he was gay until well into his 30s — so some of the people at holiday gatherings knew, and some didn’t. Very stressful.
But you’re right — the gay couple here is clearly part of a loving family in which people genuinely like and respect each other. The beauty of picture books is that sometimes you get to create the world you want to live in.

So were you intending to normalize the same-sex family or just present them as is… without agenda, without comment, without a story?

Another thing I love about picture books is that the illustrations convey so much meaning — you don’t have to spell everything out in the text. So, through the illustrations, readers take in this beautiful, happy family — and, oh, by the way, those kids have two dads, and not everyone seems to be the same color or ethnicity. So, yes, I wanted the two-dad family to seem unremarkable — like the other families in the book. I also hoped that kids who don’t often see themselves in picture books might see themselves and their families here. When I read the book to a friend’s daughter, she pointed to a family portrait in one of the illustrations and asked, “Who took the picture?” It was a good reminder that, to young kids, the characters in books are real. So when kids see all sorts of diverse people and family configurations in their books, it becomes a little more ordinary when they see them in real life. And maybe that leads to more understanding and inclusiveness for everyone. I hope so.

So what are your plans for the future?

Our son goes off to college next year, which feels like a seismic shift in our normal routine around here. Not sure what it will lead to, but I’m trying to stay open to the possibilities. In the meantime, I’ve got more books coming out in the next few months, and more writing projects in the works.

Linda, thanks so much for chatting with me! Enjoy your holiday!

You can find more about Linda and her book here:

Images reprinted with permission from Over the River & Through the Wood © 2015 by Linda Ashman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Kim Smith.

School Is In: LGBTQ Picture Books

Blurred School

GLBT News Logo

GLBT News Logo

November 15, 2015

By Elizabeth Gartley

November is Picture Book Month, an international literacy initiative which celebrates print picture books, and picture books are worth celebrating. Picture books are a powerful medium, and they are often the first form of literature that young children enjoy. Even as a middle school librarian who works with young teens, I keep a small collection of picture books in my library. Teachers use picture books to teach about such complex themes as identity, bullying, the immigrant experience, even war. Somehow, the simple combination of story and pictures allows readers to experience and empathize with the lives and feelings of others unlike other forms of storytelling.

Considering the powerful and important role that picture books play in the lives of young readers, it’s no surprise that picture books are also often at the center of controversy. In the late 1950s, The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams, which features a white rabbit marrying a black rabbit, caused outrage because of the perceived message in support of racial integration and interracial marriage. These days, we most often hear uproar over picture books which focus on gender roles and gender identity or same-sex relationships and families.

Since the early 2000s, as the number of LGBTQ-themed picture books has steadily grown, so have the challenges. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the true story of two male zoo penguins who raise an adopted chick, was the third most challenged book in the U.S. last year, and was the most challenged book from 2006 to 2008, in 2009 Tango got bumped to second place (by thettyl series by Lauren Myracle), but was back in the top spot again in 2010. In 2012, Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which celebrates different family structures, was banned in an Illinois school district for the line “some families have two moms or two dads.”

King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, a picture book about two princes who fall in love, made the ALA most challenged book list back in 2003 and 2004 and has continued to be at the center of controversies. In Stuart Biegel’s 2010 book, The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools, King & King appears in a couple of cases. In one such case in 2006, parents filed lawsuit against a school in Massachusetts after a teacher read the book aloud as part of a unit on weddings (same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004). After the judge dismissed the lawsuit, the parents appealed the case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the school.

But even now, after the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling that same-sex marriage cannot be denied by the states, earlier this year in North Carolina, a third-grade teacher, Omar Currie, and vice-principal, Meg Goodhand, ended up resigning in the wake of the controversy that arose after Currie read King & King in his classroom.

While I’m often disappointed that most elementary school libraries are completely lacking in any LGBTQ or gender-nonconforming picture books, I’m not surprised. No one wants to be at the center of such a dispute. But fear of challenges isn’t the only factor which precludes the inclusion of LGBTQ picture books in elementary school libraries. Often, even those who otherwise support LGBTQ inclusion in (high) schools balk at the idea of LGBTQ inclusion in elementary schools or even middle schools, assuming that LGBTQ themes are inherently sexual and therefore inappropriate for young readers. However, there are children who have LGBTQ parents or family members, and there are those students who will grow up to identify as LGBTQ themselves. Educators also see that homophobic bullying and bullying based on gender stereotypes begins in primary school. Omar Currie read King & King in his classroom after seeing that one of his male students had become a target for teasing and bullying when other students viewed the child’s behavior as too feminine for a boy.

Teachers and librarians regularly use picture books to teach about differences and to teach kindness toward others, and our efforts to instill such values cannot preclude a specific group of people or certain types of families. If librarians and teachers can read a picture book to children which features mom and dad characters or a princess falling in love with a prince, without sex coming into the discussion, then the same is true of books with two moms or a prince falling in love with another prince.

Picture books with LGBTQ themes can help challenge gender stereotypes and combat homophobic bullying, and they can provide opportunities to teach about relationships and respecting the differences of others. One of the concerns that seems to pop up around LGBTQ picture books is children having questions about such topics, as though children asking questions is something to be feared. Children may indeed have questions, and in that case, a teaching moment arises that people have differences and all people deserve the same kindness and respect.

LGBTQ picture books also benefit LGBTQ youth themselves. Although most LGBTQ people come out in adolescence or adulthood, many LGBTQ adults recall feeling “different” or separate from their gender group as a child. For those children who feel different or who may grow up to identify as LGBTQ, silence sends a very clear message. If children are only exposed to heteronormative stories and characters, they will learn that anything different is “inappropriate” and bad, and that they themselves are bad.

So OK, LGBTQ picture books are important, but what can librarians do to protect themselves against challenges or even lawsuits? The first step is to ensure that your school district has an up-to-date selection policy for library and classroom materials, this policy should include statements in support of intellectual freedom (such as the Library Bill of Rights), an enumerated non-discrimination clause, and specific protocols for reconsideration.

But well-written policies are only effective if they’re followed. In some cases (such as Currie’s case), school administrators are all too eager to ignore school policy if it helps them avoid controversy. Sometimes even school boards themselves will approve policy, but when a challenge comes, ignore their own policies. Creating and approving the policies is the first step, educating administrators and the school community on the purpose and meaning of such policies is just as important.

In the fall issue of AASL’s Knowledge Quest on intellectual freedom, DaNae Leu, an elementary school librarian wrote about her experience standing up for In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. During the challenge process, she collaborated with other librarians, and as a result of the challenge, she wrote that she has increased the justification for her acquisitions and regularly refers to the Library Bill of Rights, the Code of Ethics, the Intellectual Freedom Manual, and other resources.

On Wednesday of this week (November 18) ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is hosting a webinar “Picture Books and Challenges: Dealing with Controversial Topics in Children’s Collections.” The webinar is at 2:00p.m. Eastern and will be hosted by Carolyn Caywood and Peter Coyl and is sponsored by ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Roundtable and Intellectual Freedom Roundtable. This webinar is free to members of GLBTRT and IFRT. $20 for ALA members and $25 for non ALA members. More information at