Thursday, September 30, 2010

But... But... What if it's a really horrible book? Can we ban it then?

So I asked myself this really hard question:

Is there ANY book I'd support banning?

Is there ANY legitimate argument for keeping a book away from readers so they don't even get a chance to decide on their own if it has any merit?

Parents can certainly talk with their kids about what they feel their kids are ready to read and what they want their kids to wait to read, but is there ever a moment when NO ONE should be allowed to read something?

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a pretty liberal. But this question reminds me a bit of the ACLU defending the right of Neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois. I cringed when I heard about it, but I had to admire the ACLU sticking to the principle of free speech. And yet...

What about lies? There's a bunch of homophobic books out there that say that being gay is a choice and that religion can "fix" gay people - that's a lie. Being honest about being gay is the choice - our emotional and physical attraction is hard-wired. And the "fix" they offer is to deny the truth of being gay and go back to the closet. Those are books that I'd be very uncomfortable seeing in my local library's YA section. I think they're hurtful. And I'd probably read them and wish they'd never been written. But would I want them pulled from the collection?

What about hate speech? If a book was all about putting down a minority group and blaming them for everything wrong, I'd be horrified if my kid came home with it from the library.

What about incitement to violence? If a book was telling its readers that hurting others was the solution to anything, I'd want to keep that idea from spreading, wouldn't I?

And yet...

Would banning any of those books actually keep those ideas from the world?

If the idea is to be able to filter the books our own kids read - to help them interpret and process the difficult stuff that might come up - shouldn't we be able to read Hitler's Mein Kampf and dissect the mutation of logic to genocide? Are we fetishizing ideas like violence is the answer if we restrict access to The Anarchist's Cookbook - should we not be able to discourse about ideas that we find horrible? And with a world that all too often turns to violence and hatred of the "other," shouldn't we be able to speak truth to lies?

From my liberal position, I struggle with this.

I struggle with the idea that these might be the only books that a kid besides mine might ever read about being Jewish, or being disempowered, or being gay. I know I'll help my kid navigate the world of books and ideas. But what about everyone else's kids? Might not those horrible ideas, those terrible solutions, and those damaging lies take root?

They might.

But it just might be the risk we must take as a culture - because if we start banning things that might offend someone - if we ban every book that might offend anyone - there will be no stop, until the only books left are pablum.

What do YOU think? Is there ANY instance where banning a book is the right thing to do?


ps- I found the locked book image here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK is challenged - and #speakloudly shows how book banning is changing

So on Sept 18, 2010, Wesley Scroggins wrote in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader about his outrage that in the Republic school district,
"In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. One such book is called "Speak.""

He goes on to say that the reason it was so objectionable was its inclusion of two rape scenes.

Here's Laurie Halse Anderson - the author of "Speak" - responding to this on her blog.

And watch this really powerful video of her reading a poem she wrote inspired by all the reader responses to the book she's received over the years:

In the past, it's possible this guy would have his say, the book would be pulled from the schools and libraries, and the book banners would win that round.

Now here's the game changer. Laurie has a blog - and people started to hear about this attempt to silence her book. To silence her. As she writes on her blog:

It started when Paul Hankins, an English teacher in Indiana, started a dedicated Twitter feed, #speakloudly, to spread the word about the banning. The word spread quickly and it became one of the most Tweeted topics of the weekend.

EVERYONE spoke loudly. Thousands of people linked to my post and recommended it on Facebook and on their own blogs. One social media expert said that based on the Facebook recommendations alone, he estimated that 350,000 heard about the banning.

Among the things that happened in the weeks following this attempt to silence "Speak,"

the same newspaper published Laurie's response to Scroggin's piece. It's brilliant. Read it!

In addition to speaking so eloquently about what her book actually says, and its power to address sexual assault and the readers who have said that it saved their lives, she ends her response with this amazing line:

Since Missouri is the "Show Me" state, I am donating 20 copies of each one to your area libraries. Read and decide for yourself.
I love seeing how the landscape of banning books is changing. That authors are not so isolated. And not so voiceless.

And get to SPEAK out about their work.

I'm so proud of Laurie for speaking up to this.I'm proud of the community of people touched by her work and writing for speaking up. And I'm proud of the greater world of people who haven't yet read her books but know that listening to only one side of a story isn't enough. That they need to pick up the book and read it themselves.

I'm so glad Laurie feels the power of Speaking Loudly.

And now even the New York Times is talking about Twitter being "Banned Books' New Best Friend"

And I'm so glad I'm now reading "Speak." It went to the top of my pile this week, because of the controversy. And I'd already read Laurie's "Wintergirls" and "Chains" and thought they were both powerful and so well written. I'm about a quarter of the way through "Speak." And it's amazing.

It's a book to read. And then, talk about.

Join me and read "Speak." And speak up for the freedom to read!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Racist? Is it STILL Racist? And How Can Reading It Be Okay?

Okay, I just read this amazing blog entry by Philip Nel "Can Censoring A Children's Book Remove Its Prejudices?"

He brings up the Bowdlerization of a number of children's books, including "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl. (Don't worry, I had to look it up also - it means editing something to make it less "offensive," named after this guy who censored Shakespeare's works in the 19th century to be more appropriate for women and children.)

Anyway, in the first published version (1964), the Oompa-Loompas are pygmies from Africa. The illustrations by Joseph Schindelman show them with dark skin:

It was revised later by the author himself for the 1973 edition to make them from the fantasy place Loompaland. Once again they were illustrated by Joseph Schindelman, but this time the Oompa-Loompas were white:

And they're still white today:

But here's what's fascinating: Philip argues that in some ways, changing the skin color in the illustration made it harder for readers to SEE the racism, because little else has changed in the structure of the story that was racist - Willie Wonka is a white European who goes to a jungle and brings back a race of people different from himself who are his happy slaves. That's pretty disturbing, and when I stop and think about it, I realize that until Philip's article I never stopped and thought about it. Not once.

But if I'd read the original, and seen the dark-skinned Oompa-Loompas, maybe I might have been more sensitive to the racism on display.

I mean, I read the book with my daughter, and we didn't talk about it. We watched both versions of the movie, and it didn't come up!

Philip wonders what's the best way to approach literary classics with offensive or racist moments, and ultimately suggests using them as springboards for discussion.

I completely agree.

I'll be talking with my child about "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory," the Oompa-Loompas, and race, and how even though it's a story, a great story, there are things about it that can trouble us. Things for us to discuss.

I don't want to ban "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I don't wish I'd read a different book to my kid instead. But like a prism held to a beam of light, I want to help her look deeper at the story. Separate out the parts. I want to filter it and discuss it and use it as a way to address inequality and the wrong-headed ideas of racism with her.

Because I think talking about what troubles you about a book with your kid is maybe the best way to deal it.

And giving your child that gift of literacy - not just to read but to analyze and understand? Maybe that's the real golden ticket.

Celebrating our freedom to read,


Monday, September 27, 2010

GSA Monday: It's Banned Books Week - What Are You Going To Do About It?

The American Library Association, for the 29th year, leads our country in a celebration of the freedom to read.

The freedom to read books that maybe other people don't think you should. Books that have been challenged in the last year include:

Books with queer characters, like Francesca Lia Block's beautiful Baby Be-Bop. And The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Geography Club, The Bermudez Triangle, and And Tango Makes Three - all books for teens or kids featuring queer characters and themes that I've highlighted on this blog.

And other books, like Sherman Alexie's amazing "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian." "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young girl." "To Kill A Mockingbird." And perhaps, my favorite in the absurd category: "The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary" because a parent complained when a child came across the term "oral sex." The Menifee, California Union School District is forming a committee to consider a permanent classroom ban of the dictionary.

So what can you (and/or your GSA) do to celebrate our freedom to read, and stand up to the challengers?

Here are some ideas:

Host a literary salon at this week's meeting - where everyone brings something that's been banned and shares aloud a page or two.

Organize a reading of "And Tango Makes Three" (it's a picture book that can be read in under 10 minutes) and talk about what's so dangerous about a true story of two gay penguins who fall in love and raise a baby penguin that it would be seen as one of the most "dangerous" books in the U.S.A.

Write a poem about books being challenged and banned.

Talk about the power dynamic of controlling access to information.

Get a group of friends together and go see HOWL, the film biopic of the Gay Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg starring James Franco. The 1957 obscenity trial for the publication of Ginsberg's ground-breaking "Howl" was the legal precedent that helped guarantee first amendment rights for literary works in the U.S.A.

and maybe most important,

READ a banned book.

And hey, I'll tell you what I'm reading if you tell me what you're reading...


Friday, September 24, 2010

The Man Without A Face - A Guest Review By Nora Olsen

When I was in high school, my favorite book was The Man Without A Face by Isabelle Holland. I took it out from the school library ten times. The school librarian noticed that I kept re-reading it, and at some point she began recommending other YA novels with gay and lesbian characters to me.

In The Man Without a Face, fourteen-year old Charles is desperate to get away from his family, especially his mean older sister. His only chance is to pass an exam to get into a third-rate boarding school. But Charles is a chronic underachiever and he has no idea how to even begin studying for the test. In his summer island community there’s a man named MacLeod, whose face is horribly disfigured by burns. He keeps to himself and everyone is a little afraid of him. Still, one of the tamer rumors about him is that he used to be a teacher, and so Charles convinces MacLeod to tutor him.

Charles has always been haunted by his father’s death, and the feeling that his family is keeping secrets from him. He’s cynical, a bit of a loner, doesn’t have many friends, and he hates the word “love.” So it’s a big surprise to him when he finds that he really likes and trusts the reclusive MacLeod. In fact, he wants to get closer to MacLeod, wants to touch him. Charles is a little worried that this might mean he’s “a queer.” By the end of the book, Charles has to come to terms with his family secrets, the truth about how MacLeod got his scarred face, and his feelings for MacLeod.

This story made a profound impression on me as a teenager. Of course, reading the book again as an adult, I see it with different eyes. MacLeod’s actions— befriending a neglected child/teen and spending lots of time with him without his parent’s knowledge — are like a blueprint for being a child molester. I find that set-up creepy. The Man Without A Face is very much a story of its time, and that time was 1972. It’s full of the hot topics of the period, such as “broken homes,” “the Establishment,” and “doing your own thing.” Being gay is referred to infrequently and with a tinge of shame. Charles has an erotic experience which Isabelle Holland describes so obliquely that the reader may not be able to understand what happened. MacLeod says things like, “I’ve known what I am for a long time,” and “Homosexuality can crop up anywhere,” not exactly waving the Pride flag. But that’s the point, we’ve come a long way. In 1972 it was groundbreaking even to admit that gay people existed and to portray gay and questioning people in a positive light. And Isabelle Holland’s writing and wonderful characters really stand the test of time.

Like I said, the thoughtful and kind librarian recommended other queer-themed novels to me, and I read them all.

The thing is, I wasn’t a lesbian back then.

I liked boys; not with the same monomaniacal passion of most of my female friends, but I was moderately interested. My feelings for my female friends were intense, but completely platonic. I was a little embarrassed that the librarian had gotten it wrong but I didn’t know how to explain it to her. When I graduated, she de-accessioned the copy of The Man Without A Face and gave it to me. I was really touched.

Later on I fell in love with someone amazing who happened to be a woman. She was really excited to introduce me to lesbian culture, and kept recommending classic books to me. Annie on My Mind? Rubyfruit Jungle? Happy Endings Are All Alike? She was confused when she learned that I had already read them all.

I realize now that the school librarian gave me a priceless gift. My coming out experience was virtually painless, and this was because of people like the librarian, the people who made it clear when I was a kid that being gay was totally fine. I have mad respect for librarians, and I will always have a special place in my heart for The Man Without A Face.

Nora Olsen's Debut novel, "The End," about a group of LGBT teens who must travel through time to save the world from nuclear war, will be released in December 2010 by Prizm books. Queer teen sci-fi - I can't wait to read it!

Thanks for this guest post, Nora!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dan Savage and his husband Terry tell GLBTQ Kids and Teens: It Gets Better

Watch this.


It could save lives.

In the aftermath of yet another Gay teen suicide, Justin, in Minnesota, in the news, I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what I could tell you all that you could do to help.

And another Gay teen suicide, Cody, in Wisconsin, announced today on Dan's Slog.

And then Dan and Terry DID this.

And watching this video could really help.

Watch it. Share it. Hear it.

Like Dan says: "The Bigots Don't Win"


Like Terry says: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge."

Terry: "We have really great lives together."

Dan: "And you can have a great life, too."

It Gets Better.

Believe Dan and Terry. And Believe Me.

It Gets Better!

If you're in crisis, or need to talk to someone, contact The Trevor Project, 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)

My thanks to Dan and Terry for sharing this, and check out the it gets better project youtube channel for more it gets better videos!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Glass Minstrel - Gay Historical Fiction

By Hayden Thorne

It's the Christmas season in mid-19th century Bavaria...

Oh, I can't do better than Hayden on this, so here's the author's synopsis:
Two fathers, Abelard Bauer and Andreas Schiff­fer, are brought together through the tragic deaths of their eldest sons. Bauer, a bril­liant toy­maker, fash­ions glass Christ­mas orna­ments and his lat­est cre­ation is a min­strel with a secret molded into its features.

When Schif­fer sees Bauer’s min­strel orna­ment in the toy shop, he real­izes that Bauer is strug­gling to keep his son’s mem­ory alive through his craft. At first he tries to fault him for this, but then rec­og­nizes that he, too, is seek­ing solace and heal­ing by read­ing his son’s diary, a jour­nal that reveals, in both painful as well as beau­ti­ful detail, the true nature of his rela­tion­ship with the artisan’s son.

Then there’s fifteen-year-old Jakob Diederich. The young man is bur­dened with his own secret; he devel­ops an obses­sion with a trav­el­ing Eng­lish­man who stays at the inn where Jakob works. The lives of all three men inter­sect dur­ing the hol­i­day as Schif­fer tries to focus on his fam­ily in the present, Bauer strug­gles to rec­on­cile his past, and Jakob copes with an uncer­tain future.

Add your review of "The Glass Minstrel" in comments!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poor Rich - A Questioning Teen Novel with a Gay Father

By Jean Blasiar

Rich Cameron discovers overnight that he is no longer handicapped by the asthma accompanying his 57,000 different allergies.

But now he has to figure out how to handle being a “normal” 15 year old nerd with a gay father and a homophobic stepfather. Oh, and it would be great if he could figure out what his own sexuality is!

But Rich has some help: his former au pair (a gorgeous Miss October), a caring psychiatrist and a looney parrot named U2.

Add your review of "Poor Rich" in comments!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The GLBTQ Online High School - An Interview with Executive Director David Glick

Let's be Real. Not every High School is safe for GLBTQ teens. The most recent numbers say that 86.2% of GLBTQ students are harassed at school, with over 60% of them feeling "unsafe" at school and more than 44% getting physically harassed.

We need to do better. And while there has been enormous progress made with GSAs and nonprofits like GLSEN to make regular high schools safer for Queer youth - there are lots of kids who TODAY - going into this new school year - don't have a safe school to attend.

So now there's another option.

The GLBTQ Online High School started back in January 2010, and it's

"the world's first online high school created especially for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexuality or gender."

It's a non-profit, private school based near St. Paul, Minnesota, open to students nationwide and from around the world.

Doug Bright, GLBTQ Online High School's Dean of Operations
at the Twin Cities Pride Festival.

Tex, the GLBTQ Online High School's "top fundraiser"

They just announced "The Greg Louganis Scholarship Fund" to help kids who might otherwise not be able to afford attending.

In Greg's words:
"This unique school goes beyond eliminating the damaging
experiences that some schools provide glbtq students. It also connects queer and questioning youth and their parents to supportive peers and community resources around the country. With all that support, students can concentrate on a high quality, college-prep education that will serve them well."

I had the chance to interview David Glick, the school's Executive Director, to find out more.

Lee: Hi David! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your GLBTQ Online High School.
Here's my first question, and it's really voicing my initial skepticism: is the GLBTQ Online High School sort of giving up on making regular High Schools safe places for GLBTQ Teens? Or is that the wrong question - is it more about a single teen giving up on THEIR high school?

David: That's a very important question, Lee. We're all in favor of all the work that has been going on for years to make schools safer for glbtq youth. However, as you said in your introduction, even after all that work, over 85% of glbtq students still report experiencing harassment at school. Changing school systems and changing attitudes can take a very, very long time. While that happens, we believe there need to be other options for students. We can't look at a kid who's having a difficult time in school and say, "give us a few years to work with the school system and see what we can do." That kid's going to be long gone before any real change occurs. In the meantime, what do we say to the kids? Tough it out or drop out. What kind of choice is that? Now we can tell them they have an option.

Although it's easiest to focus on GLBTQ Online High School taking away the negatives from a student's typical experience, our school does more than that. We also provide connections to other youth and youth services around the country. Even if a student's high school treats them well, students may not have easy access to glbtq peers or supportive adults. We can provide that community and support in a safe, academic environment. That doesn't necessarily require giving up on the local school, but rather recognizing that different schools can provide different options. The option of GLBTQ Online High School isn't for everyone - but neither are local schools.

And just one other point: If you really want to change school systems, provide choices for kids. As families choose to move students out of local school systems, school administrators wake up and recognize that they're failing to meet some kids' needs. Our school provides an option for families that may help administrators think about what else they could or should be doing for their glbtq youth.

Lee: So how does an online high school work? Are there classes at specific times with teachers, do you use video chats or instant messaging, or is it more like online traffic school, working through a set program and then taking a multiple choice test?

David: There are lots of different types of online high schools, so I’ll just focus on how our particular school works. We’ve designed an extremely flexible and highly interactive type of online program that works well for full-time and part-time students with a wide variety of scheduling and pacing needs. We’ll do whatever works best for each individual student. For example, we function on a rolling-enrollment, year-round basis so that students can start any course on any day of the year. Each student has an individualized learning plan that sets goals for the courses they need and the pace at which they want to complete those courses. Teachers work with each student individually at their preferred pace and are available to assist students every step of the way. Lots of multimedia in our courses make them very engaging and highly interactive. Teachers carefully monitor student progress, provide assistance whenever necessary, and communicate regularly with parents or guardians. To maintain maximum flexibility, we don’t require synchronous chats or video conferencing, but those tools are available if a student wishes to work with a teacher that way. Of course, whenever we need to we also use that two-way synchronous audio communication device called a telephone.

Lee: Okay, that made me laugh. "Two-way synchronous audio communication device." Nice. So, what are the opportunities for students in the program to interact with each other? Is there a social component to attending GLBTQ Online High School, or is it all about the academics?

David: Our primary focus is providing a high quality academic experience, but we strongly believe that the education will be far more valuable and more fun if students can connect with their peers in multiple ways. Naturally, there are class discussions in which students can interact with each other, and we have extracurricular activities such as a writing club led by a published queer author. We also have discussion areas just for light, social conversation. We call that area of the school the “Lazy Lizard Social Club,” and it’s a place where students can talk about sports, movies, or whatever. Discussions are within the school’s secure environment, so they’re open only to our students and staff. As the school grows, we look forward to the day when we have enough students in some cities to have face-to-face social gatherings to further enhance the students’ connections to each other and to the larger community.

Lee: Can you tell us how many students are enrolled in GLBTQ Online HS going into this new regular-calendar school year, and what you envision in terms of future growth?

David: This is our first full school year, and we’re starting small with just a handful of students. Interest is continuing to grow, and we’re about to launch a new marketing campaign via a Google grant we received. We anticipate serving about 50 students this year. We are designed to expand as necessary, and would like to hit 150 students within the next 2 years.

Lee: It's pretty exciting that you have a scholarship program (with Greg Louganis!) Is it purely need-based? Do students apply separately to it? What criteria are the scholarship committee looking at?

David: Yes, indeed! We’re thrilled to have Greg on our team! He is a great role model for the students and is sure to bring plenty of positive attention to the school. The scholarship is based solely on need, and students can apply at the same time of their application or following their admission to the school. Once we build up the funds to the desired level, full and partial scholarships will be available to both full- and part-time students. Besides collecting donations for Greg’s scholarship, we’re also in the process of contacting other individuals who may be interested in sponsoring additional scholarships.

Lee: Okay, David. Last question: I'm curious about your personal connection with the school and the whole idea of a GLBTQ Online High School. How did this become your passion, and your job?

David: This is always a difficult question for me to answer succinctly because there are so many factors that have contributed to this being the right school at the right time for me personally and for the educational landscape. The short answer is that for almost 20 years, I’ve been very interested in how schools can successfully educate populations who have previously been underserved and disenfranchised by the system. Virtual schools provide a powerful tool for doing that, and glbtq students are certainly a group that has been highly underserved, dis-served, and disenfranchised by our system. We have the tools to do a better job and provide a better education to these kids right now, so let’s do it!

Over the last couple years, I’ve been reading about Chicago Public School’s efforts to start a bricks & mortar school for GLBTQ youth. They failed. Politics, homophobia, and splits even within the queer community led to that failure, and the kids that wanted or needed their own school in order to be among their peers were denied the opportunity. It was obvious to me that the time was right for an online school for queer kids. This school could serve not only the kids in urban areas like Chicago that have no such schools, but it could also serve kids in rural areas that have few local peers and no way to connect to other queer kids – at least not in a safe, academic environment. This school could even serve kids around the world in countries where homosexuality and queerness are crimes. It was also obvious that we would need to be independent of local politics and the whims of a school board. Anything that relied on tax dollars was subject to major objections, so creating an online private school was the obvious choice.
That’s another answer.
Since at least the sixth grade, I have memories of thinking homophobia made no sense. So what if that teacher was gay? Why do those kids always pick on the one they call “sissy?” In high school, if I knew I was straight and my girlfriend knew I was straight, what did I care if someone misinterpreted a comment I made and might think I was gay? “Accused of being gay.” Like that was a bad thing? When I was a young teacher and that brave young man requested to speak to the entire student body to come out and describe how that school’s environment was hostile to gay students, why did the head of the school refuse to attend the meeting? Why did some of that student’s teachers start making nasty comments in class? As a teacher in rural Minnesota when I witnessed some of the comments heard all too often in schools, I put a stop to it as best I could. Why did the kids respond by saying that none of the other teachers ever objected to that kind of language? When I worked for the Department of Education and someone put a box of Humans Unafraid of Gays (HUG) buttons out and available for staff, why did the department leaders take that box away within minutes? How would these incidents make me feel?
That’s another answer.
My first year of teaching in Minnesota was in a small, rural district. It was hell. Students and parents objected to my teaching to the high standards I had come to expect from my previous school. Teachers who had been in the district looked at me with suspicion because I didn’t always use the cookie‐cutter approach promoted by the textbooks. And then, when it became known that I was (gasp!) Jewish, the real hell began. Swastikas on my chalkboard and carved into my desk. Taunting in the hallways. Ineffective disciplinary response from the administration. Public humiliation at the required‐attendance Christmas assembly held during school. A school board who criticized me for being too sensitive. People who called themselves my friends asking, “Isn’t it like this everywhere?” or “Shouldn’t you just get used to it?” Or even trying to lighten the mood by telling Jewish jokes. The loneliness of isolation in the midst of a community I couldn’t call my own.
That’s another answer.
In the “old days” before the Internet, we were able to and required to live largely in our own neighborhoods. We may have been bused across town for school as I was, but that’s as far as we had to go. As kids, our options were limited by what and who was within the distance we could ride our bikes. We had three television stations. Relatively speaking, we were isolated by geography and limited in our contacts to the people we saw.

Now there’s Facebook and Twitter and virtual schools and a 24‐hour news cycle and hundreds of television channels specializing in our every interest. We have more choices. Nowhere does anyone’s life have to revolve around just the limited people in their immediate vicinity. We have tools and techniques to connect on a world‐ wide basis with the entire range of humanity. We can create communities in which each and every individual can thrive.
So why create GLBTQ Online High School? Because it is needed and because we can. And that’s the only answer we really need.

My thanks to David Glick for his time and for sharing his passion about the GLBTQ Online High School. For more info on The GLBTQ Online High School, check out their website here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tom Robinson - Glad To Be Gay (Secret Policeman's Ball)

Here's what you need to know to put this in context historically. Or queer-storically.

In 1979, in London, there was a fundraiser for Amnesty International. They asked Tom Robinson, "the most prominent gay rock star," to perform for them, even though at the time, Amnesty "refused to acknowledge gay prisoners as human rights cases."

here's one lyric:
Have you heard the story about Peter Wells
Who one day was arrested and dragged to the cells
For being in love with a man of 18
The vicar found out they’d been having a scene
The magistrates sent him for trial by the Crown
He even appealed but they still sent him down
He was only mistreated a couple of years
Cos even in prison they look after the queers

Tom explained

What happened to Peter Wells was a genuine scandal and a reason to be very f[***]ing angry. But, specifically with the Secret Policeman’s Ball, Amnesty had ruled that gays did not count as political prisoners and therefore they didn’t support gay prisoners. That’s why I was singing it and that’s why I was so angry, because I was singing it to an Amnesty audience. Hence the venom. Amnesty asked me to come and perform, OK, well have this then.

I think this was very brave of Tom, and still has so much power today. And Tom and this song were part of the movement that changed things to where Today, Amnesty International DOES fight for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights - because our rights are finally understood as being Human Rights. But we still have a distance to go to get to full equality. There's still a lot to be angry about. We still have to raise our voices to protest injustice. We still have to be proud!

Check out more about Tom Robinson and his performance at the Secret Policeman's Ball here.

My thanks to Daniel for sharing this with me, so I could share it with you!

Sing if you're glad to be gay,
Sing if you're happy this way!

(I'm going to be singing that - as an Anthem of fierce pride - all weekend!)


Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Frenzy - A Teen Girl Werewolf Novel with a Gay Best Friend

By Francesca Lia Block

Liv had a secret. Since she turned 13 four years ago, it was like her body was not her own. She had rages, that could turn her into... she couldn't even think about it. She took a lot of psychiatrist-prescribed pills to keep herself calm.

There was only one person Liv could share her deepest thoughts with. Her friend Pace.

"Pace wasn't a monster like me. He was just a boy who loved boys."

Liv's boyfriend Corey was perfect, but she was too afraid to tell him the truth about who she was. What if he could no longer accept her? What if he would no longer love her once he knew?

But things were coming to a head. There was a woman watching her. A pack of wild boys in the woods near her home. And then Liv learned the truth about the curse that caused "The Frenzy" in the first place.

Add your review of "The Frenzy" in comments.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's My Blog Birthday - 3 Years of posts on GLBTQ Teen Books, Culture and Politics!!!

Have a virtual cupcake. Go ahead - they're delicious. And guilt-free!


3 Years.

More than 369,000 page loads. Over 219,000 unique visitors. And topping 25,000 repeat visitors!

Readers from over 100 countries around the world. And so far,

129 books with Gay Teen Characters/Themes

69 books with Lesbian Teen Characters/Themes

8 books with Bisexual Teen Characters/Themes

6 books with Transgender Teen Characters/Themes

18 books with Questioning Teen Characters/Themes

13 books with Queer (Gender Non-Conforming) Teen Characters/Themes

23 books with an Ensemble that includes GLBTQ Teen Characters

35 books with a GLBTQ Parent/Caretaker

9 books on Friends and Family of GLBTQ Characters

10 books with Homophobia as a Theme

16 GLBTQ YA Graphic Novels and Comics

1 Easy Reader/Chapter Book with GLBTQ (and Gender Non-Conforming) Content

15 Picture books I Wish Had Been Read To Me When I Was A Little Kid

2 Books with Surprise Gay (GLBTQ) Content

A GLBTQ Middle Grade Bookshelf

The Gay (GLBTQ) Fantasy Bookshelf

And, thanks to our fabulous first Summer Intern Hannah, 14 books in the GLBTQ Teen Short Story Bookshelf!

And more than those numbers, this blog is about Books revealed. Information shared. Lives touched.

"i'm seventeen, and i'm about to come out to my parents... i'm scared as hell, but i'm just so tired of hiding and lying. I always knew I would do it eventually, but when i read posts like yours, it gives me more courage and strength. Coming Out Day is in a few weeks:)
thank you :D"

"Love your "I'm here. I'm Queer." blog. It's help me find books I can relate to and those books have helped me through some really rough times."

"I think what you're doing is really great. I love reading lgbqt books because they're so much more interesting and realistic than the run-of-the-mill cliche love story. I have big issue with stereotypes and ignorant generalizations, and through reading these books one finds how unique all of our stories are. It's awesome that you've created a place where people can go to find these books."

This blog is part of a vibrant community engaged on culture, politics, and literature.

And my heart is so full of joy.

Thank you to all of you - my online community.

Hip-Hip Hurray! Hip-Hip Hurray! Hip-Hip Hurray!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hannah's Summer Adventure: Our First Summer Internship Was A Great Success!

Hi Everyone!

I am extremely sad to see that summer is ending. It means that I have to go back to school and that we have reached the end of the Summer GLBTQ Teen Short Story Bookshelf.

This past summer, we have covered 14 anthologies of young adult short stories. It's crazy how fast it went! Some highlights of mine include How They Met by David Levithan and Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald.

When I look back to my first post in July, I remember the anticipation I felt. I was so excited that all of my work was finally going to be seen, but at the same time I felt like an outsider. I was scared that if I misused a certain word or didn’t word a summary the right way, I would come off as offensive. I struggled through my first assignment, highlighting and erasing a section every 10 minutes.

However with the help of your supportive comments, the amazing Lee Wind, and the beautiful characters in all the stories that I read, I began to feel more and more self-confident and a part of a community. This year I am even joining my school’s GSA.

I cannot tell you how much your comments have meant to me. Thank you so much for reading my posts and have a great year.


Thank you, Hannah, for doing such a great job with these GLBTQ Teen Short Story Anthologies and Collections!


Monday, September 13, 2010

The "Gay" Life of a Kookaburra in Australia... And the opportunity in a word

Down Under there's this famous song, "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree."

Here's the lyric...

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra
Laugh, Kookaburra
Gay your life must be.

So now a primary school in Australia has decided that their kids should sing that final line as "Fun your life must be."

The reason?

Garry Martin of Le Page Primary School in Melbourne decided to replace the song's last line "gay your life must be" with "fun your life must be" to end the laughter that erupted in the classroom when the children sang the word "gay."

..."Seventy years ago when the song was written 'gay' meant you are happy. Nowadays we know it's got all sorts of different meanings," Martin told Reuters.

I know the school's getting a lot of flack about this being too politically correct, or maybe just not politically correct enough, but what I wish had happened is that they'd talked with the kids about the word "gay."

Yes, "gay" can mean fun.

It can also mean a boy who falls in love with another boy. Or a girl who falls in love with another girl.

And sadly, "gay" has also become slang for "icky" or "bad" as in, "that's so gay."

If the song had been using the word "gay" in a negative way, I don't think I would have been upset about a change in lyrics to stop slamming down a minority.

Think of the racist songs that we no longer sing today (Yeah, Disney never did re-release "Song of the South," did they?)

But in this case, the use of the word "gay" has a good connotation. "Gay" can mean fun - and why are we protecting children from knowing THAT?

I'm glad to know that they're having second thoughts:

Due to the controversy, Martin said it might be better to revert to the original word "gay."

"I possibly should have stuck with the original and explained that in a tender, caring way," he said.

Because if the kids are snickering and laughing at the use of the word "gay" - that's a great opportunity to talk to them about how we gay people are just that - people.

And sometimes, our Gay lives are fun, too. Just like that Kookaburra.

Here's a video of a children's choir singing the song with the word "Gay" intact:

How do YOU think kids should sing the song?


Here's a link to the full news article.

The song was written by Australian teacher Marion Sinclair.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back To School: An Interview with Ethan, Who Started The Non-Profit "The AIDS Cure" when he was 11!

Maybe the hardest part of being a kid is feeling like there's all this stuff happening in the world, and you're not really empowered to do anything about it. You can't vote yet. You don't work yet (at least not full-time) so you don't have a lot of money to donate to help other people's efforts to fix problems. You can't just pick up and fly somewhere to help out in places where people need help. I mean, you're a kid, living at home, going to school. What can you do?

Check out what Ethan did – he started his own non-profit, The AIDS Cure.

I'm really excited to interview him and find out more.

Lee: Hi Ethan!

So, tell me about The AIDS cure.

Ethan: Well, I was 11 years old when I started The AIDS Cure. The reasoning for this was because I was hearing a lot about AIDS everywhere and how much it affected families not just here in the U.S., but that it was a problem on a worldwide scale. I knew that something needed to be done. So, I started small and took donations and clothes and put them in a safe place. There was only one problem, I had no idea who to give the money and clothes to. A couple of weeks later, I was talking to my aunt about this problem and she told me that she knew a non-profit that worked for families affected by AIDS called Ten Thousand Homes. I thought that would be better than sending the money to AIDS research, because millions are already donated to that and basically would be a waste of time. So I talked to my aunt's friend, a mission worker. We had talked about it and he said that I could give everything to him and he would make sure it would go into good hands. So, I went home and I began counting the money I had raised thinking, "I'll only have just a few bucks, but something is better than nothing!" I was surprised to see after about a month I had raised $129.07 and about 3-4 large trash bags full of clothes! I knew with this much money and clothes, they could help many families that are in need. So i thought about it and after a lot of work, I had built The AIDS Cure. What I do is take donations (I stopped taking clothes), set up fundraisers, and spread the word to people about AIDS awareness and how we can help. Now I have had The AIDS Cure for about 2 years now and have taken donations and have given all of the money to Ten Thousand Homes. Happily I have raised a lot more donations since I started. If fact, I have raised at least $50 more dollars in the last month. The best way to summarize what I do is in this little story. A lot of people ask me, "Are you trying to find the cure for AIDS or something?" Without even thinking about it I respond, "In fact, that is not my main goal. Sure, it would be one of the best things the world has ever seen, but my main goal is to go to the heart of the problem, which in my opinion are the families that are affected by the disease. I want to help them in every way I can and I won't stop until there is a cure for this disaster!"

Lee: That's awesome. I'm curious - from your perspective, what do kids your age think about AIDS? For your generation, is there a stigma attached to people who have it or are associated with it - or is it just seen as a terrible disease, like cancer?

Ethan: Well, here is how I see it. Kids my age are exposed to a lot but apparently not to AIDS. Sure kids have heard of the name AIDS, but they don't know what it "really" is. In fact, a lot of the time, I have to explain to people my age when I tell them exactly what my charity is helping. I also see kids making fun of it a lot and saying only LGBT people get it from ... I feel like it's my job to inform the people who " have been lead astray."

Lee: So how do you explain what AIDS is to a kid?

I have the new issue of Harvard Magazine (I did my masters there) on my desk and the cover is "Africa's Epidemic: On the front lines against AIDS" and my child saw it this afternoon and asked about it. As I started to explain, I realized we parents generally don't talk to our kids about diseases - we want to shelter them from even the knowledge about things like cancer, AIDS, Mad Cow Disease... and yet, that sheltering just creates a vacuum of information that gets filled with rumor and things that aren't true.

I told her that AIDS was a disease that some people get and while there are drugs to help, they are very expensive and many people can't afford them. And that on the continent of Africa, there are a lot of people with AIDS who need the drugs and can't afford them. That's a problem, and there are lots of people trying to figure out how to help.

And maybe that's an okay answer for young elementary school kids... But what do you say to other middle schoolers? How do you explain what AIDS is to them?

Ethan: Well, I try to keep it as simple as possible when trying to explain it. What I usually say is this. "AIDS is a disease that affects your immune system so bad, that even the common cold can kill you. Sure, it might be alright for "some" people to get the medication they need here in the U.S., but people living on continents like Africa are mostly poor. In this case, they don't have the money to get the medication they need to stay alive. This is a problem, and what The AIDS Cure is trying to do is to help them by sending money over there so they can get the most important thing they need to not only keep from dying, but to make life easier.

Lee: That's really well said, Ethan. Unfortunately, there are a lot of diseases and problems in the world. Can you share with us why you've decided to focus your creativity and energies on helping with this one - why helping people with AIDS matters so much to you?

Ethan: Here is how I see it. The main one we all know of is cancer. Everyone knowing about it is a good thing and there are a lot of big organizations helping it. Of course there are more, but there are a few that are not "exactly" recognized. AIDS is one of those diseases. Like I answered before, part of what i try to do is spread awareness to the unknowing. Another reason is, because of the day it became personal. My mom's best friend, my uncle Scott, was just recently diagnosed with HIV and I knew right then how families feel. I knew it could get worse for other families than it is for me, especially if the families' relatives were to die.

Lee: Thanks for sharing that, Ethan. I hope your uncle Scott is doing and feeling well. What do you think is the best way to get kids involved and wanting to take action to help if they don't have a person they know dealing with HIV/AIDS? What will motivate other kids to want to help?

Ethan: As anything in this world, sometimes it is easy and sometimes it's hard. In this case, some people just have the good personality and want to help and some have the "I don't really care" type of personality. So, I have relate to both sides. I have to show them what and how things happen when this disease is put into play. The more relatable to them it is, the more they care and want to help. I try to spread the word, so for someone who knows nothing of AIDS, I try to teach them about it and again try to relate to that person. I try to help people understand it on an emotional level as well. I tell them, "People's families are affected so much that people die or they get their medication but don't have enough money to pay their bills." Then I say, "How would you feel if this happened to you? I bet you would want to help them any way you could. That's what I try to do for these people."

Lee: Yeah, empathy - putting yourself in other's shoes - is key.

So, Ethan - What can my blog readers do to help you help others?

Ethan: Word of mouth is the most important thing, first and foremost, to spread awareness. Second, if anyone is interested making donations it can be done (at this time I'm only set up to receive locally, but my blog site is being created) through Ten Thousand Homes in the name of The AIDS Cure.

Lee: Should we invite people to join your cause and/or donate to help at the facebook page? (Here's the full link: )

Ethan: That would be fantastic! The more supporters and donations to help, the better!

My thanks to Ethan for everything he's doing and for telling us about it! I know I’m inspired. How about you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not The Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens - A GLBTQ Short Story Anthology

Edited by Jane Summer

Published in 2004 by Alyson Publications

When I first tried locating this book, I had no success. It turns out that "Not the Only One" is out of print, and that is such a shame. Filled with entertaining and relatable stories this anthology is incredibly fun to read. Each selection is creative and shows a different aspect of GLBTQ culture. (Used copies are still available at Amazon, and hopefully in some libraries...)

Mrs. Houdini’s Wife by Angela Brown
While supporting her husband, Harry Houdini, at one of his many shows, Bess Houdini meets Berta Thomashefsky, otherwise known as Tom, a beautiful Jewish woman who feels more comfortable in men’s clothing. The two become close and bond over Tom’s Jewish faith. As their relationship turns romantic, Bess falls for Tom’s masculinity and vivaciousness.

Guarding the Punch- and Alice by Bonnie Shimko
When Charlotte first laid eyes on Alice Weinstein in 6th grade, she knew that Alice was the one. Now at the senior prom, forced into a prom dress monstrosity by her mother, Charlotte talks to Alice, the prom queen, and discovers that they have had mutual feelings all along.

It Feels Great by Pam McArthur
When a girl named Gina comes out to her school, she inspires another girl to confront her confusions about her sexuality and go to a Gay and Lesbian Youth Alliance meeting. There she gains the confidence to tell her sisters about herself.

Sara by Michael Thomas Ford
Thomas, a rather astute fourth-grader, uses his imaginary friend Sara to help him escape his nagging parents.

Fooling Around by Claire McNab
Brett’s mom completely freaks out when Steve’s dad calls her to tell her that he caught Brett and Steve kissing at a party one night. Brett doesn’t understand what warrants this type of reaction from his mom, who tells him to play off the whole ordeal as a joke, even though Brett knows that it was anything but. He then discovers that his dad is more like him than he could have ever known.

The Widest Heart by Malka Drucker
A girl meets Marcia, an overweight and overworked girl from a Greek family. The two become great friends and dream of moving to the east coast and starting their own book shop. However, Marcia’s strict Greek father stands in their way, because he does not believe that Marcia should go to college, since she’s a girl. The two are driven apart but one day Marcia introduces her friend to Dannie, her girlfriend.

Somebody’s Boyfriend by Laurel Winter
When Alex meets his sister Maggie’s boyfriend Jeff, he finds that he has fallen head-over-heels in love with him. One day his sister divulges that the two haven’t even kissed and Alex ashamedly sees a ray of hope. Maggie employs her brother’s help to find out if Jeff really likes her, but Alex finds out so much more.

Her Sister’s Wedding by Judith P. Stelboum
Veronica is attending her sister’s wedding as a bridesmaid, but all she can think about is how she will never be able to have this ceremony with Leslie, her love. She lets a boy named Buddy dance with her and he even asks her out, but she soon realizes that she can’t live this lie anymore.

Rain by Christina Chiu
A girl feels as though she can’t get out of the shadow of her over-achieving sister, Rainy. Rainy and her best friend Jade had always been the ones to get A’s while Rainy’s sister got by with B’s and a football player boyfriend. Rainy’s sister becomes jealous when Rainy is the one to receive the scholarship. However, one night Rainy and Jade are found together by Rainy’s twin and she realizes how much she needs to let Rainy go to college.

New York in June by Brian Sloan
A boy and three of his peers from his school newspaper get the opportunity to go to Columbia University for a week to study journalism, but they end up learning so much more. Through the trip the boy starts to realize his feelings for his older editor, Roger, and with the help of the musical A Chorus Line, the boys are able to express their feelings.

Crossing Lines by Judd Powell
Forrest and his friends used to make fun of the reclusive old man named Mr. Mueller in their trailer park by calling him a Nazi. When he is a teenager, Forrest begins to realize that this pains the old man and decides to help him out. However, one night their relationship crosses a line and Forrest does not know what to feel or why he stayed. This story reminds me of the Novel and Movie The Reader. Yes, it is disturbing that this old man and this boy have a sexual relationship for a point in time, but it makes for an interesting story.

Two Left Feet by Jane Summer
A girl from a small town in Ohio becomes absolutely infatuated with her attractive and young new Spanish teacher. However, one day a fun activity in class goes horribly wrong and the repercussions affect the girl, Miss Sydney, the town, and even the girl’s family.

Happy Birthday by Nan Prener
At a birthday party Grant meets Willie and the two go on an excursion in the woods. They bond over the various specimens of nature and Grant, overcome with happiness, eats a mushroom. Later that day he feels queasy and is rushed to the hospital, but Willie is the one who comes to his rescue.

Just Like a Woman by Lesléa Newman
Just before Cassie is about to go to the mall with her secret girlfriend Tammy, she discovers her dad applying makeup to himself and serenading his reflection in the mirror with the song, “I feel pretty”. Cassie is angered and confused, especially since her parents have always berated her for dressing masculine. Cassie and Tammy go to the mall and Cassie decides to get a makeover, but when her parents see the makeup on her face their response is unexpected.

The Honorary Shepherds by Gregory Maguire
Told with a great narrative voice, The Honorary Shepherds tells of two young men, Lee and Pete, who represent the mixing pot of America. Lee is Puerto Rican, Polish, and Irish while Pete is Black and Asian. They decide in their film class to make a film that defies all the previous stereotypes about homosexuality. This story is also included in the LGBTQ Teen Anthology, Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence

God Lies in the Details by Donna Allegra
An African-American girl goes on a dance and drum trip to Africa with five other black women. They see how badly African-Americans are treated there and try to assimilate into the culture. The girl befriends a lesbian couple but grows increasingly anxious when she sees there is strife between them.

Throwing Rocks at Cats by Brent Hartinger
A boy, jilted by his dad who's found a new wife, finds a boyfriend named Trey, who is beaten by his own dad. One night Trey takes his boyfriend on a journey to show that he is a better man than his dad.

She Won’t Bite by Willam Moses
A man tells of an important time in his childhood, when a dog bit his face and his stepmom, who blames his deceased mom for his being gay, rushes him to the hospital.

Forensics by Stephen Greco
Aaron is a young man working at an art gallery when he becomes a victim to gay-bashing. A couple of weeks later a man calls Aaron wanting to find the man that caused him harm. This man was the illusive Velvet Kidnapper. He finds gay-bashers, gives them a complete fashionable makeover, and puts them on the street for all to see. Aaron helps the Velvet Kidnapper find his predator and later the Kidnapper comes to him with photos for Aaron to sell. Reuben, the man who beat Aaron, finds him through this new publicity and shows how much the Velvet Kidnapper has helped him.

--Posted by Hannah

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Growing Up Gay: A Literary Anthology - Including Lesbian and Gay Teen Short Stories

Edited by Bennett L. Singer
Published in 1993 by the New Press

Mostly consisting of non-fiction entries and excerpts from novels, these short stories in the anthology "Growing Up Gay" are few and far between, but each shows an interesting perspective. I also noticed that if you compare these stories, which were published in 1993 and show the harsh oppression of homosexuality, to current stories today, they show just how far people have come.

Johnnieruth by Becky Birtha
A young girl catches two women kissing in the park and reflects on her experience.

Life Line by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
La Prieta and Suel spend a wonderful summer session at UT in each other’s company. However when they return home, Suel won’t return any of La Prieta’s calls and when they see each other a year later, Suel runs from her former love.

Cat by Julia Carter
At 12 years old Cat wants nothing to do with the new girl Sheila, but at 16 years old the two girls discover just how much they like each other. However, everything goes awry when Sheila’s Uncle comes home early from work one day and sees the two girls together.

Dawn by James Purdy
Timmy’s old fashioned father sees his son’s underwear ad in a newspaper. He rushes to New York where he meets Timmy’s “roommate” Freddy. Timmy and his dad hash their issues out but Freddy knows that he has lost Timmy forever.

A Whisper in the Veins by Terry Wolverton
Gregory lost touch with his parents years ago, after he came out to them. However he goes to visit his widowed mother after the death of his partner Roger and what he does next surprises the both of them.

In My Own Space by Calvin Glenn
Chris is extremely excited to be in college and decides to be who he really is, gay. He decorates his new dorm room with poster of his favorite band, a lion, and the perfect man. However, his two roommates say that the picture makes them feel uncomfortable and try to harass Chris to move out. But, it is the reaction of the school dean that shows the progress being made.

Teamwork by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
When a frat boy yells a homophobic phrase at a woman’s college basketball game, the morale of the team is ripped down in a way that even Coach Montgomery can’t repair.

Abominations by Lev Raphael
Brenda shows support for her brother Nat when his dorm room is torched for his being gay.

--Posted by Hannah

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Francesca Lia Block gives you a sneak peek into this Saturday's SMASHING STEREOTYPES! Writing Workshop

So I saw Francesca recently, and we shot this short video:

We're both really excited about our hands-on writing workshop this Saturday, September 11, 2010, from 11am to 3pm in West Hollywood, CA - and hope you can join us.

Here's the ad book soup ran for it!

And it was even covered in a local paper here in LA!

You can still get tickets here or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

The workshop fee is $50.-, with a $10.- discount for students, teachers, librarians, and members of SCBWI. Oh, and 10% of ticket and book sales at the event will go to City of Hope (a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center located just northeast of Los Angeles) - the charity Francesca chose. And did I mention the workshop includes a hot catered lunch?

But most important, it's a chance to learn from Francesca Lia Block, and to explore together the tools and techniques for SMASHING STEREOTYPES in your writing, and in your life!

Want more details?

Hope to see you there!

ps- I found the amazing (and license-free) Aurora Australis background image I used in the video here!

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Article is Published in "Hunger Mountain, The Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal of the Arts!"

Hi Everyone,
I'm really excited about this!

Hunger Mountain is an amazing publication, and I'm quite honored to be included in the current issue, with my article,

"GLBTQ Teen Coming Out Stories: Move Beyond Them, or Keep ‘Em Coming?
An Imaginary Yang and Yin Dialog by One Writer of Two Minds"

I was asked by the editors, who run a column called "flipside" in the Young Adult and Children's Literature section of the journal if I would take one side of the argument: more GLBTQ Teen Coming out stories, or let's just move on. When I sat down to figure out which side I wanted to take, I realized I had strong feelings and beliefs on BOTH sides of it. So I took a chance, and wrote it out as a fun dialog between the two sides of my brain...

I liked it. The editors at Hunger Mountain liked it, and now you get to read it, too!

Anyway, I hope you check it out - and read the rest of the September issue as well.

Hunger Mountain is an amazing resource for the writing community and beyond, and I'm thrilled to be part of it.


Friday, September 3, 2010

The “R Word” – A Back To School Guest Post by Karol Ruth Silverstein

“That’s so gay!” What does it feel like when you hear someone say that? Maybe even a friend. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself (and secretly felt weird about it). Everyone says it, right? It’s just something people say when they’re goofing around.

Your friends may insist that the expression isn’t really an insult against gays and lesbians, but they’re kidding themselves. It’s an insult. No one ever says, “that’s so gay” when someone shoots a three-pointer in basketball or aces a test or reaches some other admirable goal. They say it when someone’s acting stupid or uncool, or when a guy does something his friends think is “girly” or feminine.

Here’s another popular expression: “What a retard!” How does that one make you feel? Not as bad? Maybe you’ve used this one yourself – and didn’t feel weird about it at all. Everyone uses the word retard, right? As long as you don’t use it to refer to someone who’s actually mentally challenged, it’s no big deal.

Guess what? The word retard is a derogatory slur – just like all those other racial, ethnic, religious and homophobic slurs you probably wouldn’t dream of using. Just because “everyone says it” doesn’t mean it’s cool. It’s not very kind either.

Just like “that’s so gay,” the message behind calling someone a retard is that the person’s being stupid or uncool. But on a deeper level, what both insults are saying is that being gay or mentally challenged – a fag, a retard – makes someone less of a person, less worthy of taking up space on the planet.

I personally am not lesbian or mentally challenged, so why do I care? First of all, I’m a human being. Secondly, I have a physical disability, so I have some experience with being a derided minority. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was 13. I walked slowly and with a limp, and a lot of kids at my school teased me for being weird and different. When I transferred to a new school for 9th grade, my arthritis was less severe because of the medication I was taking. I could hide it, and I was determined to keep my “terrible secret” from my new classmates. I was so ashamed of being sick, of being different, because the kids at my former school had let me know how completely uncool it was.

Now that I’m older and hopefully a little wiser, I’m at peace with all the different things that make me who I am – including my disability. And when I hear my friends casually using the word retard, not realizing it doesn’t sit well with me, it really bothers me. I’m intelligent and well educated, so I guess they don’t realize I identify with people who have intellectual disabilities – but I do. They’re “my people,” and I look out for them, especially since they may not be able to look out for themselves.

My friends are generally kind, compassionate people. They obviously aren’t prejudiced against people with disabilities (I mean, they’re friends with me after all). I began to wonder if people maybe just don’t realize that the “R word” is, in fact, a slur. So I started the Facebook group – Guess What? “Retard” is a derogatory term, cut it out! – to educate people and spread the message that using the word retard just isn’t cool.

A new school year starts soon for most of you. If you find yourself about to call your buddy a retard, why not make the choice to be bigger than that? Help spread the good word that retard is NOT a good word! Click on this link, join the Facebook group, and invite your friends to join. Standing up for kindness and compassion is one of the coolest things you can do for the world.

-- Karol

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Love & Sex: Ten Stories Of Truth - A GLBTQ Teen Short Story Anthology

Edited by Michael Cart

Published in 2001 by Simon and Schuster

Though I loved Michael Cart’s other anthology, How Beautiful the Ordinary, the GLBTQ stories in this collection disappointed me. Though I enjoyed “The Welcome” the other two were not as pleasing. However, I do love the theme of a true portrayal of love, even though at times the stories do become pretty racy.

The Cure for Curtis by Chris Lynch
After having a fantasy dream about himself with another man, namely his cousin, Curtis is very confused. He is convinced that he became gay overnight and tells his girlfriend Lisa and cousin Phil. Lisa helps Curtis talk through his identity crisis and shares some dreams of her own.

The Acuteness of Desire by Michael Lowenthal
Note: This story would be considered erotica.
After becoming ‘excited’ by a game of strip poker in 8th grade, Matt is teased by Jesse and his friends. All throughout high school Jesse makes an effort to separate himself from Matt, until they are put in the same math class. There Jesse must confront his true feelings of desire for the boy he once teased for the same thing.

The Welcome by Emma Donoghue
Luce came out to her mother at 16 and moved to a all-women commune called The Welcome. At 18, these women have become her family and when a spot opens up they welcome one more member, JJ. Immediately the usually picky and prude Luce is attracted to JJ’s strong hands and handsome appearance, but years later Luce will find out that not everyone fits into neat little boxes.

--Posted by Hannah

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back To School: A Letter from a High School Freshman

Imagine growing up, being told that your family was not real. Imagine being a four year old girl in preschool, not being invited to your best friend’s birthday party because of your family. Imagine never being comfortable in your own skin. Imagine going on a cruise, just for families like yours. Imagine learning that your family was perfect the way it is, imagine feeling so comfortable it made you cry tears of joy. Imagine making the best friends you’ve ever had, all with the same family as yours, made in different ways. Imagine having to leave, go home, leaving your friends and your sanity behind. Imagine having to watch the pain in your parents' faces as they adjusted back to reality. Imagine what an unstable teenager would do in this position. Imagine turning this into your motivation, deciding that you were put in this planet to change it. Imagine, your dream, stop discrimination against my family, let my parents get married everywhere in this country and maybe even the world. Imagine being so determined, nothing will ever get in your way. Well your imagination is my reality.

My name is Amanda and I am an incoming freshman in a tiny high school in a tiny town in Massachusetts. I have two moms and a little sister. I was born through donor insemination, me and my sister are full siblings. I was raised by the most loving parents in the world, but the world doesn’t see us that way. I was extremely resentful of my parents for bringing me into this world without a father until last summer. Last summer I went on a cruise to Alaska on an R Family cruise, just for families like mine. I learned that my family was beautiful the way it is. Something in me clicked, I discovered that I wanted to change this country, make it so that my family can get married everywhere, and I will.

Tomorrow is my first day of high school, and I am beyond excited. I make my family very known in my town, that is, pretty much every student in the high school knows about my family, or will know. I don’t hide it because I would rather have people know and judge me for who I am, then not know and judge me for who I’m not. If people don’t like it, then they can go away. I only surround myself with people that accept and support me. They know not to use homophobic words around me because I get extremely mad. My friends have literally trained themselves not to say words like “gay” or “fag” around me. And anyone who says those words around me and will not stop, or does not understand the offense in saying them is not welcome around me. My new school doesn’t have a GSA (gay straight alliance). Which is extremely irritating because my school needs one. I live in a very white, conservative town. However people are mostly accepting and friendly here, they do not understand where members of the LGBTQ community are coming from. And I am going to make that happen. Maybe not in my freshman year, but I will start a GSA in this school sometime during my high school career. For now, I will continue being a very spontaneous activist and representing my family in the most positive way possible. My family comes first to me, this year will mark the start of change in this town. This year people will stop talking and start listening. This year, in this high school, homophobia ends.