Thursday, May 22, 2008

Donating Gay (&LBTQ) books to a Junior High School Library? How to Honor the Memory of Larry (Lawrence) King. A Negotiated Solution...

I Can't Even GIVE Them Away...

Or Can I?

Okay, this is a follow up to the post back in February on what we can do in reaction to the killing of 15 year old Lawrence (Larry) King, a gay student who was murdered in his Junior High school class by a 14 year old fellow student after Larry shared that he had a crush on that boy.

The background
So I decided that the most positive thing I could do was to help the kids in that school understand that GLBTQ Teens are just like every other Teenager - with hopes, fears, insecurities, and dreams.

If someone tells you they have a crush on you, it's a compliment. Even if you're not interested, you should realize the intent was not to shame you. And really, how horribly are we failing as a culture if for that 14 year old boy, being perceived by others as being gay (I suppose the worst outcome of his being approached by a gay guy) would be so terrible and life-changing that he'd rather KILL someone than be embarrassed?

He'd rather KILL someone than be embarrassed. Wow. That speaks volumes about the environment kids are growing up in, doesn't it?

I believe one of the best ways to achieve a culture of understanding, acceptance and kindness is to have ALL Teens read some of the amazing books featured on this site.

So, on my own dime, I purchased 15 great books to donate to the E.O. Green Junior High School Library.

The Offer
The very earnest Librarian at the school explained that she wasn't authorized to accept the donation, and that I had to go through the district office.

Once I found the right person, I left messages every week, and after a month of that I got a call back from the woman in charge of curriculum (and the decision-maker.)

This school official was very nice, and she also seemed to appreciate what I was trying to do.

However, she felt that they could NOT accept the donation of the books due to their concern about offending parents of students.

Evidently, parent protests (even a single parent) about all sorts of things (having textbooks that expose their kids to different religions than theirs, for example) are something the school district seems to want to avoid at all costs if they can - and they will only risk possibly offending someone IF the subject matter is part of the official curriculum. (They seem to feel that's their only argument that trumps parents' desires.) Since including gay and lesbian teen representations in fiction isn't part of the official State curriculum, the school district doesn't see any way they could justify including these books in the Junior High Library IF any parents objected (and they seemed sure that some would.)

She DID offer to make a copy of the bibliography (a brief listing of the 15 books) available in the library.

No, there were no similar bibliographies available for the students on any other subjects.

The Negotiated Solution.

I asked, what if I donated the books to the local branch of the PUBLIC library, could the bibliography in the school library mention the books were there?

Yes. The school district official agreed it could. She even offered that the bibliography could be available in the other school libraries in their district.

So I called up the South Oxnard Branch Library (which is only a couple of blocks from E.O. Green Junior High) and spoke with the amazing YA librarian there.

She was delighted to have the books donated to her collection.

So I contacted the librarian at the junior high school again. She loved the solution, but asked that the bibliography be not quite so up-front with the use of "those words."

Perhaps I could call it books for teens with "alternative lifestyles," she suggested. Her concern was that having it say GAY or LESBIAN or QUEER (words she couldn't even say OUT LOUD when talking to me on the phone) would be an instant turn-off for junior high school students.
Perhaps they'd be afraid of anyone seeing them looking at the list, and I wonder as well if she saw it as a possible source of unwanted controversy in her library, even having a piece of paper with those words on it.

So, another compromise. Another negotiated solution. This one was painful to make.

I came up with a different title for the list:

Young Adult Books Exploring Different Identities

Oh, I hate that.

But I wanted to at least use "identities" to show that it's not this superficial, "Oh, I think I'll have a PEACH yogurt today, and hey, maybe tomorrow, I'll have a STRAWBERRY yogurt." That's what "alternative lifestyle" says to me. That it's "hey, I think I'll try to be GAY today. And then maybe tomorrow I'll try being STRAIGHT." Being GLBTQ - especially when you are in the QUESTIONING part of our community, is ALL ABOUT IDENTITY.

The choice is whether to be honest about how you feel inside.

But how you feel inside is your Identity.

But I still feel awful about the "sanitized for your protection" version of the bibliography.

Compromise. Compromise.

I keep telling myself the important thing is to get these kids ACCESS to these books.

But does a bibliography list that doesn't even have the words


in the title, when it is about just that - Holy CRAP! Am I modeling SHAME???

Am I teaching them to hide who they truly are?????


I've gone back and forth on this. What to do? Would it be better to stick to my lexiconic guns and insist on the original version of the bibliography

A Brief Bibliography of Young Adult Books
with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning
Teen Characters and Themes.

But then what if the bibliography wasn't USED at all in the school library? What if it simply wasn't made available because it was too uncomfortable for the adults in charge? What if it WAS made available, and the kids couldn't handle it and it just ended up getting trashed, and no one felt brave enough to hold the "scarlet list?"

I decided to send the "santized for your protection" version to her.

Ugh. But I'm trying to do a good thing, here. I keep telling myself that.

So yesterday, after having worked on this for 3 MONTHS, I mailed this mini-collection of GLBTQ YA books to the South Oxnard Branch Library:

They should get them next week.

I've arranged with the YA librarian at the public library to have a donation card in each book that will read:

This book has been donated in Memory of Lawrence (Larry) King,
in the hope of fostering a world
of greater understanding, acceptance, and kindness.

For more great GLBTQ Teen Reads, check out
“I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?”

And I received an e-mail yesterday as well from the junior high school librarian saying that

I will have copies of the bibliography you sent for the students that request the books. I will let them know they can check them out at the public library.

And I guess that is the best that can be done, for now.

I hope the bibliography IS available for kids in that school. I hope it's useful. I hope the books are checked out from the public library, and that they help, a little bit, to make a difference.

That the books let some kid, like Larry, know that they are not alone, and that their journey is unique to them, but also that it will take them into a whole community of similar adventurers.

And that the books let some other kid, some other potential straight kid who is approached by a gay kid and told they have a crush on him - that that kid could think back to the funny book they read that had that gay superhero in it, and realize that Gay kids are pretty much like him.

And just like he'd say if a girl he wasn't interested in approached him to tell him she liked him, he'd simply say. "Hey, thanks, but Nahhh. I don't feel that way for you, bro." And while the gay kid might be disappointed, and maybe a little embarrassed for putting himself out there, he'd be alive.

So I donated these wonderful books.

In memory of Larry, and all the others who have paid for our culture's fear and intolerance of difference with their lives.

Let's make things better.

Let's start reading!



ps- What do you think? Did I do the right thing with the bibliography?


Anonymous said...

Why didn't you point them to the Rainbow List of the GLBT Roundtable?

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Good idea. It's great to know about more books, and these have the cache that they've been vetted, to an extent, by the ALA's (American Library Association) GLBTQ Roundtable.

Here's the link for that list:

The ALA Rainbow List


Brian Farrey said...

I guess agreeing to the compromise was better than nothing happening at all. You done good.

I'm most pleased that you didn't let her use the word 'lifestyles' in the title of the bibliography. Just reading that she offered that as an option put a bad taste in my mouth.

Anonymous said...

No, you are not modeling shame, you are working within the limits of the system while gently pushing, tugging those limits. That's what adults do. And I'm so glad you had a thoughtful, creative librarian to work with. Maybe they'll start working on some other bibliographies of books that are not available at the school library but are available at the public libraries.

It's disappointing that the school libraries won't provide these books for kids, but these librarians have been through so much and they know they have to choose their battles carefully. It just tickles me to imagine what I might have experienced if I'd found some titles like these at my Jr. High library (I read pretty much every novel on their shelves in the 2 years I was at that school, never encountered anything like the books you've been reviewing here.)

As for guys who can say "sorry, not interested" to either a guy or a girl who approaches them, well, I hope there are guys like that out there, but none of them attended my junior high. But at least no one felt the need to kill me for expressing interest. Lie to me, tease me, berate me, yes, but no physical violence ever came of it.

Anonymous said...

I think you did the right thing. You're working within the limits that are forced on you, and if I were in your shoes, I'd take what smidge of opportunity comes my way. It's far better than doing nothing at all.

I have a major issue with "alternative lifestyles" along the same lines that you have. The label smacks of derogatory PC-ness, if you know what I mean. It shouldn't be forced onto the GLBT community. If anything, it should be applied to folks like me and my husband, who are childless and have chosen to be childless.

Let me tell you, being a married, heterosexual, and purposefully childless pair is incomprehensible to most of the world. Family gatherings or the workplace? The criticisms and demands to explain ourselves can be painful, but our "lifestyle" was our decision to make, though, unlike sexual identity.

Rita said...

I definitely think you've done the right thing--and kudos to you for seeing through this whole process!

For me, the strongest argument for altering the list title was simply that this might invite more kids to look. For anyone really questioning, the more concrete labels might only confuse them into inaction--or, at the very least, require more confidence to look up. Ditto, the new list title suggests intrigue for students not actively questioning, and avoids giving the false impression they already know what these books are "about."

I think you (and the librarian!) have maximized your donated books' chances for reaching as many readers as possible.

Way to go, Lee!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you did the right thing. Look how you soul searched! You had to find your own way with this, and you did a great job. Seems to me the main goal was to get those books as close as possible to the kids (and grown-ups!) who need them, and you did it. Bravo, Lee!

Bibliovore said...

Thanks for not giving up at the first hurdle, Lee. The kids in this community (and all communities) deserve to have access to these wonderful books.

cecil castellucci said...

I think you did the right thing.

Also, it's great to have that collection at the LAPL, because it's also available to every teen through the interlibrary loan.

The LAPL has been drastically cut with their budget. They can't buy books this year, so basically, you're a hero.


Lisa Yee said...

I echo the others by saying you did the right thing. Better to have a slightly veiled category than no books at all.

Now that the books are in the library, we can only hope they will be read and appreciated.

Thank you.

Lauralyn said...

I didn't even know of the incident with Larry (Lawrence) King and it made me so sick to read about it. You did a wonderful, thoughtful thing and I'm so glad there are people like you around who pursue the teaching of tolerance and take the time to see it through even if it isn't easy.

I'm sorry the school librarians put up the wall of obfuscation because as a parent who spends a lot of time chaperoning junior high school events I know for a fact that the children themselves are talking about these things, do agonize over these issues, and need a lot more thoughtful guidance in these areas than their 'adults' think they do.

Anonymous said...

I understand the issues the semantics can bring, as in this case they are more than just semantics. Its good the list is available in the school regardless of the title. (Although it makes you wonder how many complaints they're going to get from parents that their kid was recommended a queer book and the list it came from wasn't properly labeled. Oh, well.

You could see if the public library would be willing to publish the list with the original name, if they don't have a similar list already.

Anonymous said...

I work at a rural high school library. I own three of the titles you donated and a few others. I also purchased Free Your Mind by Ellen Bass, which was stolen (and for a change, I didn't even mind). My attitude is, I'm going to carry the books kids need and want to read, and I'll deal with challenges when/if they occur, but they shouldn't affect what I select now.

David LaRochelle said...

Bravo, Lee.

You did the best you could to make these books as accessible to kids as possible. Even without the bibliography, there will be kids who venture to the public library and find these books on their own, thanks to you. The fact that you actually did something concrete to promote understanding and tolerance is wonderful.

How very sad that even the possibility of upsetting one parent is enough to keep a book out of the hands of all the kids at the school.

Thank goodness there are school librarians across the country who are brave enough to make a variety of books available to kids, even if that means they might risk making a parent upset.

And thank goodness for people like you, Lee.

David LaRochelle

Sarah Stevenson said...

Yes--ditto to what others have said, and kudos to you!

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing even though you had to compromise given the situation. Who knows what an impact these books will have on future readers...
Kudos, Lee.

Anonymous said...

There is the problem of diminishing returns, but one step in the right direction does not mean you (or someone else) can't keep pressing for a better situation.

Now that they have taken the first step, there might be someone to press them into taking the next. Since there was a pretty appaling incident at their school, they should be pressed to do more to confront the issue.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that you worked on this so hard and for so long. It's true that the kids may have a hard time finding these books at their school library.

But ... and this is a strong possibility ... some of them might feel more comfortable checking them out of the public library instead anyway. You're reaching a larger audience there, and as much as it distresses me that the school system is so unbelievably uptight about what books they can and can't carry, it's amazing that kids will be able to read good books that address topics that concern them.

Yes, you most definitely did the right thing.

Amira said...

I saw the book Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger in the photos that accompanied your post. I personally checked that book out as an eleven year old sixth grader at my Middle School library. I am proud that I am able to do that.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

how wonderful that your middle school library had "Parrotfish" for you to take out! Thanks for letting me know,

Unknown said...

Hello! I found this post on another blog while doing some research for an essay, and I must say, what you did was amazing. In all honesty, I've never heard of you before, but after reading just this one post, I have such an immense respect for you. It's amazing to know that people actually care enough to do something like this and I just...I'm speechless.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thank you Rachel. What a very kind comment!