Friday, April 29, 2011

The Idea That Ghandi Was Bisexual Got This Book Banned... But Shouldn't It Be A Cause To Celebrate, Instead?

I didn't know that Ghandi, while he was a lawyer in South Africa, left his wife to live with a guy in Johannesburg. The guy was Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jewish architect.

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Joseph Lelyveld writes in his biography of Ghandi, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India,"

“... It was no secret then, or later, that Gandhi, leaving his wife behind, had gone to live with a man."

Check out this article in the New York Times about the uproar going on in India about this book and how it is being banned.

Homophobic things are being said on many sides of the world, including in this country. The Wall Street Journal's review said in it's first paragraph:

""Great Soul" also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he [Ghandi] was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him"
(Note to Andrew Roberts, who wrote that review: Being bisexual does not make someone a sexual "weirdo.")

Evidently, the whole idea of this idol of civil disobedience, peaceful protest, and India's transformation into an independent nation being in any way queer is so disturbing that rather than read and discuss the lingering homophobia in the culture, the powers that be would rather ban the book and keep the "dangerous" information away from the public.

Again, from the New York Times:

"India’s law minister, M. Veerappa Moily, said on Tuesday that “the book denigrates the national pride and leadership,” which he said could not be tolerated. Officials “will consider prohibiting the book,” he added."

The author of the biography writes in this interview in The Times Of India that he personally believes Ghandi and Kallenbach were celibate - in an apologetic tone, as if that would make Ghandi's love for another man somehow 'less gay' - but still says quite clearly:

"I think my discussion of Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach — which have been in the public domain for nearly 20 years — shows very clearly that Gandhi had a deep love for his Jewish friend and wanted him by his side for the rest of his life. He says as much."

And yet, with all the noise about banning this book, and, whatever Ghandi and Kallenbach did or did not do in the privacy of their own home, I have to say:

Ghandi loving a man makes me kind of ridiculously happy.

Ghandi's first name was Mohandas.

A more youthful image of
Mohandas Ghandi than I'm used to seeing

And here's a photo I found of the two men together:

The caption is in German:
"Gandhi mit seiner Sekretärin Sonia Schlesin
und Dr. Hermann Kallenbach kurz vor dem
historischen Marsch von Natal nach Transvaal,
1913," from which I gather it is Gandhi on the left,
his secretary Sonia Schlesin in the middle, and
seated on the right is Hermann Kallenbach.
The picture is from 1913.

Mohandas and Hermann, a lawyer and architect, living together in the largest city of South Africa, and... in love.

Ghandi's always been one of my heroes. And now I discover, he's a queer one.

*Delightedly adding another book to my To Be Read pile*


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Christian, The Hugging Lion

By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Amy June Bates

From the duo that brought us the wonderful "And Tango Makes Three" comes another true story, about a two-guy couple, Ace and John, who rescue a baby lion, Christian, from a fancy department store and raise him in their apartment.

And the three of them become a family.

"Most of all, Christian loved being with Ace and John. The three of them had become the most unusual family in all of London."

But of course, Christian is a lion, who grows... and grows... and grows!

Pretty soon they realize that Christian should go back to the wild. And they take him there. And he roars for the first time!

Back in London, Ace and John miss Christian's hugs.

They fly back to Kenya to try to find Christian, and they do.

And when the now wild lion, all grown up and with cubs of his own sees them, what does he do?

(detail of one of the beautiful interior pages)

He hugs them!

It's a heartwarming story with a great message that love is what makes a family. There's nothing overt about Ace and John being in love, but then again there's nothing overt about Madge and Bernie Wubbington being in love in the Chowder books. Chowder is a book about a dog and his loving humans, just like Christian, The Hugging Lion is about this lion and his loving humans. The fact that they're clearly a couple and both men doesn't change the truth that the love is the very same thing.

This is truly a picture book that I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid.

Have I convinced you to get this book and read it to a child you love yet? (And don't forget your own inner child!) Well, this should clinch it. Watch this actual video footage of Ace, John and Christian, the Hugging Lion:


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Celebrate Nation Poetry Month with GLBTQ Poems... by our Gender Queer Friend, Lucy! And a Queer Poetry Roundup!

So if you've been following our video series Gender 101, you're familiar with Lucy (also known as Benji, pictured above.) In honor of National Poetry month, ze's kindly agreed to share two poems with me so I could share them with you.

So today, instead of a video discussion with Benji, we have some poetry written by Benji:

The Law of Conservation of Emotion

I am an artist, right?

I write these things and they are art

I have decreed that they be art, and so they shall stay

I swipe the beauty of the October leaves, not given to me

or made by me, and this too becomes art

I take the images dispersed in my brain, originally

chemicals in my veins, and I become a genius

I have never created new matter. Nature

was inspired, and created those leaves, and I take their

dying and create something new, and you take this paper

and continue the assembly line

Perhaps the beauty I absorb today will end up in a farm

in Iowa. Perchance the sadness I diffuse will be one

step in the funeral march of my great-granddaughter.

Yet there’s this passion for redirecting the route of emotions

leaving one's mark on them. That is my art.



I hereby enter the ranks of writers

too important for mere paper

who scrawl lines more important than literature

on the bathroom stalls

we are all nameless, except those initials bordered by hearts

set free to be


We state our right-or-wrong ideas

for all to judge

but will never hear the criticism

of those not bold enough

to add their own rebuttals

and enter our ranks

our ‘meeting of the minds’

Thanks, Lucy!

And because the month has flown by and we haven't gotten to as much new GLBTQ Teen poetry as I'd planned, here are links to some of my favorite queer poems. Enjoy!

Sappho! Lesbian Poet of Ancient Fame

Rumi -

My Blog's very first "Great Queer Poem"


Three More Amazing poems by Rumi


More "essential" Rumi!

Quentin Crisp's World War Two Gay Experiences in London: Poetry where you don't expect it!

I Love Gay Poetry! Walt Whitman's "We Two boys Together Clinging" From Calamus


Celebrate Gay Poetry! Walt Whitman's "Calamus"


Walt Whitman Uncensored! His early Gay experience and the Poem through which it sang through him: "Once I pass'd Through A Populous City"

SHAKESPEARE: The Bisexual Poet and his Two Loves!

Celebrate Gay Poetry! Dennis Cooper's "James Kelly"

Poems can be Laser-like, cutting to the core: Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

Celebrate Ancient Epic Gay Poetry! Homer's "The Iliad"

GAY POETRY IS ALIVE! Steven Reigns' "Joe!"

and his poem "Inheritance"

Lord Byron's Love Poems to John Edleston

Muhammed Shams ud-din Hafiz, Drunk with Pleasure

And some more:

A Gay Joke for National Poetry Month

Celebrate Gay Poetry! Robert Friend's "Shirts"

A Gay Pocahontas? A Beautiful Native American Man IS a Poem in Theodore Winthrop's "John Brent!"

CELEBRATING YOUR POEMS! "For Him, Disappearing Before Dawn" by j.e. robinson

YOUR favorite Queer Poems: Mark Doty's "TIARA" and CP Cavafy's "THE GOD ABANDONS ANTONY"

Maurice Kenny (Mohawk)'s Poem on the role of Gay men in Native American tribal life and history.

Celebrate Bisexual Poetry! Rumi's "The King and The Handmaiden and The Doctor"

Celebrate Lesbian Poetry! Paula Gunn Allen's "Some Like Indians Endure"

Jacqueline Lapidus' breath-taking Lesbian poem, "Athens"

Celebrate Transgender Poetry! Aaron Shurin's "Woman on Fire"

Gloria Anzaldúa's "La Prieta" - A Bisexual Poem that blew me away!

Lesbian Teen Poetry: Sarah Laurenson's "First Love" and "How Bare My Soul" - Poetry Across Time

Transgender Poetry 2010: Alex Davis is "Man of The Year"

And of course, some Langston Hughes.

So much queer poetry to celebrate!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The ALA releases the Top Ten most frequently challenged books of 2010: Let's Make It A Reading Challenge!

Every year about this time the American Library Association comes out with their list of the top 10 most challenged books in America. Books that are seen by some as too dangerous to be in library collections. Books that some people not only want to make sure their own children don't read but these people want to make sure no one else's child gets to read them, either.

Often, these are the books that challenge stereotypes. That tell it like it is. That change (and save) lives. Sometimes they're just a good story that contains something controversial, and sometimes they're, well to some people, challenging.

In 2010, once again the #1 most challenged book in America was one of my favorite picture books of all time, "And Tango Makes Three."

But... They're so cute!

What's "dangerous" about this book? By telling the sweet (and true) story of two male penguins who become a couple and then loving parents, "And Tango Makes Three" directly challenges the stereotype that gay men can't find love - that we can't be parents, and if we do somehow become parents, we can't be good parents. Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, with Henry Cole's heart-warming illustrations, have created a story where it's so clear that LOVE is what makes a family - and with the parallel of penguins - readers see that gay love is that same kind of love.

There are other wonderful books on this list of the top ten most challenged books: "Crank" by Ellen Hopkins, a searing novel in verse about a good teen girl's descent into drug addition. Ellen has gotten so much flack about her books in which teens make bad decisions with sometimes horrible consequences - they're riveting and wrenching and so important - because no one who reads "Crank" is going to think, "wow, I gotta try that stuff. It sounds great." Because it doesn't.

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, a wonderful, funny, and not-afraid-to-look-at-the-ugly-stuff novel that I talk about in my Smashing Stereotypes workshops all the time as an example of how writers can deal with stereotypes not by ignoring them but by tackling them head-on.

There are popular books like "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins and "Twilight," by Stephenie Meyer.

There are queer books, like "And Tango Makes Three" and "Revolutionary Voices.

And even a few books I haven't heard of till now. (Sonya Sones! Your books are awesome, but I haven't read this one... yet.)

So I want to put out a CHALLENGE to you:

Let's read them.

Let's read all ten of these books as our protest to the ridiculous notion that books of literary merit should be pulled from library collections to avoid offending certain people.

Here are the ten titles with the reasons given for challenging each:

Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2010

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence

3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit

4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit

5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence

6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint

9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality and sexually explicit

10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence

Because a book that is challenging shouldn't be challenged - it should be read and discussed.

Leave your update in comments to share how you're doing with the challenge - and I will as well!


Monday, April 25, 2011

GSA Mondays: The "Gay" Caveman... How Queer People Were Not Just Around 5,000 Years Ago, We Were RESPECTED

So there's been this flurry of news reports of a "Gay Caveman" discovered recently.

And I think it reveals a lot about our culture and media... and the biases still going on.

Here's the scoop. Archeologists found the "Gay Caveman" among these 5,000 year old graves in the Czech Republic.

"During that period, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.

In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another clue is that men tended to be interred with weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side.

Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

The ‘gay caveman’ was buried with household jugs, and no weapons."

It's hit a number of news outlets, and when CNN's article came out, it thankfully included this quote:

"Dudes! I could be wrong, but I think that to have a 'gay caveman,' you need a skeleton that is both gay and a caveman. And this ain't either!" John Hawks, an associate professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote on his blog in bold type.

So it's 5,000 year old skeleton of a man buried in the style close to that honoring a woman. What the rash of media seems to have missed is that a man who lives his life as a woman is not "gay" but rather transgendered. And in fact, as we're trying to show in our conversations about Gender here with our Gender 101 series, Gender is more varied than our current two box system of thought encompasses.

There are so many possibilities of why this genetic man was buried in the style of a woman, but what leaps out at me is that this burial was done with great respect. (Look at that photo.) Their culture all those years ago embraced a gender non-conforming individual, and gave them the burial rite that fit - a little of the ritual for a man, and some of the ritual for a woman.

The media outlets that equate gayness with gender non-conformity are just spreading a stereotype - one of the same stereotypes that made it so hard for me to come out as a gay teen. After all, my logic went, I didn't want to be a woman, so I couldn't be gay. But I was attracted to guys...

In many ways, our society is more advanced than we were 5,000 years ago. After all, we have all this cool technology.

But in burying this member of their community in a manner that respected their gender non-conformity and difference, the culture 5,000 years ago in what is the present-day Czech Republic was a lot more civilized.

What do you think?


Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrating Half A Million Visits By GLBTQ Teens And Their Allies... Including YOU! And some other good news!

Well, it's quite a milestone... We just passed 500,000 visits to this blog since I started over three and a half years ago.

While figuring out the number of blog readers one has isn't an exact science (or perhaps it is, but I am no scientist) this is not counting everyone who reads this blog via syndication or their google-readers or any other not-reading-it-here method of reading my posts. This is pure clicks to come here and check things out. To find out about the books for kids and teens with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning characters and themes, and to explore queer teen culture and politics and Children's literature and our world and how to make our world a better place for all of us.

I blogged it. (Today's post is #1,004!)

And you came.

Over half a million visits!


To celebrate, I'm opening up an "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" logo store... where you can get T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other "swag" featuring the amazing blog logo that the incredibly talented Jim DiBartolo designed!

It's fun,

It's fresh,

It's refreshing,

It's even a little bit cheeky,

And hey, it's a stylish way for you to celebrate all the great GLBTQ Teen and Kid Literature that exists today (as well as all the new stuff on the way!) and to show your pride, your smarts, and your support!

But most of all, I have to say thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. 500,000 thank yous.

I am so honored to be here, and to be read by you.

As far as other good news, I'm pretty excited to tell you that this past week two really nice things happened:

1. It's been formally announced that I will be the co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Los Angeles starting November 1st, working with the fabulous Sarah Laurenson. (I'm currently the Assistant Regional Advisor for our region.)

Here I am getting my ceremonial "scepter" - and yes, if you must know, it's a toilet plunger wrapped with sequins and a wiffle ball wrapped with tin foil attached with a string to enable me to play the try-to-catch-it game... which leads me to believe my position does double duty as royalty and court jester.

2. Also at our recent SCBWI-Los Angeles Writers Day event this past Saturday, I was given the Sue Alexander Service and Encouragement Award - it's our region's highest honor for acknowledging the contribution of a volunteer in the last year, and I was stunned, and moved, and incredibly honored to receive such an amazing tribute.

And hey, that's an actual lead crystal award - a book! (I joked that perhaps I should call it my "first book" as it's the first book to have my name on the cover - getting my interviews published in CWIM was swell, but I didn't make their cover!)

So it's been a big week - I am so grateful. And I'm excited to say to myself, and to all of you...

Get ready, there's more great stuff to come!


ps - And Happy Earth Day!
pps - my thanks to Rita Crayon Huang for the great photos of me getting my scepter and book!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating A Life Worth Living - The book!

Edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller

So the youtube phenomena is now a book, and I was fortunate enough to get to meet Dan and his husband-in-Canada, boyfriend-in-America Terry at a recent book signing here in California.

The video revolution that Dan and Terry started (here's a link to their first video) has been heart-wrenching and inspiring. I've done one of my own and featured a number of my favorites (of the thousands of videos people have contributed) here on this blog.

At the book signing, Dan shared that they

"know for a fact that these videos have saved lives."

One of the most poignant moments of the evening was Dan sharing that his straight brother was also bullied as a teen, and that Dan didn't want his brother to think that by doing this project Dan was now saying that bullying for other reasons besides queerness wasn't also a terrible thing that needed to be changed.

And his brother responded, saying that the difference between their both being bullied was that

"I had Mom and Dad but you didn't."

Dan and Terry spoke about the spin off version of the project launched in Great Britain, It Gets Better Today.

They read excerpts, including sharing the transcript of this video by Jules Skloot that opens the book:

They answered questions from the audience, gave advice, signed copies and posed for photos

like this one with me!
From left, Terry Miller, Me, and Dan Savage.

All in all it was a great evening.

It's an important book, and one I'm happy to have be the first title in our new virtual bookshelf/category: GLBTQ Teen Non-Fiction.

Add your review of "It Gets Better" - the book in comments.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gender 101, Episode Four: "cis," "trans," and "queer": Words To Describe Gender

I'm learning so much from these discussions with Benji, my gender queer activist friend - and I hope you are, too!

Today is our conversation about the word "cis," as in "cisgender" - and about the words we can use to talk about gender.



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Gay Teen In Montana Comes Out - And Changes Our World For The Better!

Kevin is 18, a senior in High School, and he's out as a gay teen.

Watch his amazing, honest, heartfelt coming out/it gets better video where he shares his own steps to coming out and talks about bullying and how to deal with it, and what a surprisingly positive reaction he's had to being honest about who he is:

And in the article about him in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, "Out of the closet, onto YouTube," Kevni's Mom says about her son's coming out:

"I'm very proud he has found his voice," Killeen said of Kevin. "I'm just very proud of him, of all of who he is, proud he has the courage to share his story."

Wow. What an inspiration - both mother and son.

Thanks, Kevin, for sharing your story with all of us!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Must Read: John Amaechi Responds to Kobe Bryant's Anti-Gay Slur

Okay, here's what you need to know from the New York Times:

After Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant directed an antigay slur at a referee Tuesday night [April 12, 2011] from the bench in a game against the Phoenix Suns, the N.B.A. fined him $100,000. Bryant has apologized, saying his words should not have been taken literally. He said he would appeal the fine.

Now go check out this amazing response by openly Gay former NBA player John Amaechi.

Bravo, John!

And my thanks to Asako for sharing this with me so I could share it with all of you.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Ellen Hopkins: The Exclusive Pre-Conference #LA11SCBWI Interview!

Registration for the 40th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference opens today! (And there are some amazing intensive classes that will fill up fast.)

I sat down with New York Times Bestselling Author, SCBWI Board Member and SCBWI Regional Advisor for Nevada Ellen Hopkins and got the scoop:

So go check out the offerings, register, and I hope to see you there!

And remember, you can stay on top of all the pre-conference interviews and news by checking in on our Official SCBWI Conference blog and on Team Blog Captain Alice Pope's indispensable SCBWI Children's Market Blog - bookmark them both!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The Princess" Gals’n’Pals Digest Issue #1" - A Featured Review At Prism Comics

Prism Comics is is a nonprofit organization (and amazing website) that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) comics, creators, and readers.

I was recently contacted by Prism Comics' Paige and Kevin and asked if I would like to do the occasional review of kid and teen comic books for their "Color Commentary" feature... and I said yes!

My first review (of "The Princess" Gals’n’Pals Digest Issue #1) was published online yesterday,

and today I'm sharing it here:

Feature: Color Commentary
The Princess: Gals’n’Pals Digest Issue #1
by Lee Wind

Seth feels that he’s really a girl and wants to wear a dress. In fact, he’s decided to call himself “Princess Sarah!”

His mom is not supportive, ordering him to change. “PANTS, SETH. NOW.”

His dad (his parents have split) is supportive (bought him that dress), and tells the mom she’s over-reacting. She explains that life is hard enough, and she’s just trying to protect their son.

Seth sneaks out as Princess Sarah (in her dress) and while some kids point and laugh, she makes a new friend, Irma. After Seth explains why he’s wearing the dress to her, Irma says

“So…. You’re a girl. Okay. What should I call you?”


“Well all right. Sarah it is!”


Turns out Irma loves “boy” stuff as much as Sarah loves “girl stuff.” They hang out, watch monster movies together, and become friends.

In the morning, on the way to school, Seth encounters Chuck, who freaks out about Seth wearing a dress and stuffs him in a trash can.

Irma is incensed, and she digs into her costume box and transforms them into The Black Terror (Irma) and The Pink Pixie….err, The Red Bee (Sarah).

The new superheroes face down the villain, and the outcome isn’t what you might expect.

While like most comics on the first blush it looks like it’s just for kids, there was so much here for every reader. Deep issues and themes are at work in Christine’s comic book, smoothly inserted within the plot. From a great analysis of Japan’s fascination with monsters to a plausible cause for why the bully Chuck is a bully after all, there’s so much to think about and love about this comic.

Princess Sarah (Seth) is really likable, with her passion for being herself and not being deterred from that goal by anyone or anything.

Irma is a great best friend, and her open-hearted acceptance of Sarah made me adore her.

The mom’s objections don’t seem cruel to be cruel – she has her reasons to want Seth to conform, and we see her struggle.

It’s nice that the opposing forces Sarah faces aren’t two-dimensional (though they’re drawn that way!) which makes the resolution much more satisfying.

My only quibble is that I thought the color cover was overly pixilated with shading that felt amateurish – and that the cover might hold people back from reading this great comic book. In contrast, the black and white art inside felt more carefully executed, and worked really well in service of the story. The hand lettering helped carry the mood of each speaker, and facial expressions are deftly portrayed. There’s also a nice abstract way that backgrounds are dealt with that fills things in and makes the focus of each panel really clear.

The panels throughout the book stayed the same square shape, eight panels per page, and I’d love to see Christine experiment more with the form - some panels of different shapes and sizes, and perhaps letting some moments impact visually rather than have dialog or text for each one.

Overall, “The Princess” is a comic book that packs a punch: good characters that I cared about, interesting themes that I’ll be thinking about for days, and a fun style.

I’ll be looking for more of Princess Sarah’s adventures, and more from Christine Smith!

Editors' Note - Princess Sarah, Irma, Chuck, and all the rest can be found at where the story continues Mondays and Fridays! Thanks for reading! - PKA

LEE WIND’s award-winning blog, “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?” covers GLBTQ Teen books, culture and politics, and has had over half a million visits from teen readers and their allies. He is the Advisor for the Trevor Project’s book club and visits middle and high schools to create Safe Space and lead Smashing Stereotypes workshops. His interviews and articles have been published on-line and in print, and he is a founding member of SCBWI Team Blog. A co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Los Angeles, he is currently writing both a YA and MG novel. You can find out more about Lee at

The Princess: Gals’n’Pals Digest Issue #1 © 2010 Christine Smith. Review © 2011 Lee Wind.

My thanks to Paige and Kevin for the opportunity.

And please add your review of "The Princess" Gals 'n' Pals Digest Issue #1" in comments!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gender 101, Episode Three: A New Vocabulary

Join my continuing conversation with Lucy, my Gender Queer activist friend, as we delve into the world of gender-neutral pronouns.

Get ready - 'cause this is stuff they don't teach in schools!*

*but they will someday, hopefully!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jo Knowles on the importance of GLBTQ characters in teen fiction

Young Adult Author Jo Knowles (who wrote Lessons From A Dead Girl) posted this essay for Gay YA: GLBT characters & pairings in YA Fiction, and I thought it was beautiful. She was kind enough to allow me to share it here with all of you:

Last weekend I was driving near the Brown campus in Providence, RI with my family. When we stopped at a light, two male students crossed the street, holding hands. They were chatting away, smiling, like what they were doing was the most natural thing in the world. My husband and I both commented on how nice that was. And how rare.

Because honestly? In most places in this country, you will not see two boys walking along a busy street holding hands. Carefree. Safe.

In most places in this country, there are still boys and girls just like those two ,wondering what’s wrong with them. Wondering if their parents will kick them out of the house if they tell them they’re gay. Wondering if their best friends will still be their best friends. Wondering if they will get the crap kicked out of them if anyone finds out.

I hate that this is true.

When my book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, was banned from classroom use in a Kentucky school, the objection was that the book contained "inappropriate themes, including homosexuality." Calling homosexuality inappropriate is ridiculous. I know this. You know this. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t.

In my latest book, PEARL, a blogger who reviews books wrote that, while she liked the book very much, she couldn’t recommend it because of the homosexual content. A reader thanked her, saying homosexuality in books made her feel “uncomfortable.”

When I read this, I cried. Not because I care about the review, but because of what it says about where we are in this country. The irony about all of this, is that the objectionable piece in the book is about two women who love each other and hide it all their lives because they’re too afraid to be themselves. And why? Because who they are is “inappropriate.” It makes people feel “uncomfortable.”

What message do reviews like this give to gay teens who stumble across them? Keep hiding.

That’s why I cried.

My older brother was gay. He didn’t come out until he was in his twenties. He waited to come out because he was afraid, too. The whole first half of his life he had to be two people. In public, he was one Scott. In private and among a small group of friends, he was the real Scott.

I was lucky enough to know the real Scott. The real Scott had a huge heart. He loved adventure. He loved to travel and eat and read and cook and watch James Bond movies and Dr. Who. He wanted to share all of these things with the people he loved. He used to force me to watch cheesy movies with him, trying to convince me to love them as much as he did. He could put his arm around you and I swear you could feel the unspoken words he meant in that simple gesture. The love he gave in it. But far too few were lucky enough to experience this Scott. This beautiful man who was bursting with love and life and never able to fully share his true self. Because for some crazy reason, for some reason I will never accept, people thought who he was, was “inappropriate.” So he hid that side of himself for years. And that is tragic.

What do we do about this?

That’s my big question. How do we make the world a more accepting place? How do we make our communities, our schools, our classrooms, our homes, more accepting places?

I wish I knew the big answer.

But I think one small one, is books.

The beauty of books is that they show us a new point of view. They show us what it’s like to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a while. They show us the world through a different lens. Sometimes it’s a more frightening world. Sometimes it’s a more beautiful one. Sometimes, it’s a more accepting one. Sometimes, it’s ugly. But even in those frightening, ugly worlds, we see some tiny reflection of ourselves and the world we know. We find connections to what we ourselves believe, and maybe we shift those beliefs just a little. Maybe we step away a little less intolerant, because we’re able to see more clearly the ignorance our intolerance stems from. Maybe we step away able to see the person down the street who we’ve always been a little afraid of, as a little less scary. I don’t know. But I think always, always, we step away changed somehow. For the better. Books do that.

Maybe that’s what people who ban gay books are afraid of. Maybe they just need to read more. It’s a start.

--Jo Knowles

Jo is right. Books are part of the answer. And I'm so glad she's writing some of them!


Monday, April 11, 2011

What Actually Happens At A Gay-Straight Alliance Meeting: A Little Education For Rhode Island Republican State Representative Dan Gordon

So, here's the skinny:

In Rhode Island, a piece ran in a local-news website about the Tiverton High School's new GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance). It's a really nice article, about how as her school project a gay senior started the GSA, and how it's become so much more for her - mainly a safe space, a catalyst for change, a "family."

The article has gotten a lot of comments (over 300), including one from the above-named elected official. Here's his comment (a second posting) that started the firestorm:

Rep. Dan Gordon
10:22pm on Wednesday, March 20, 2011

Bill, I didn't delete the comment. In fact just got off of the phone with the editor and had a conversation about it. I stand by what I said. Here is again, under my name.

"And this is why if I have anything to say about it, Tiverton will lose school funding to local charter schools. It doesn’t matter if gay or straight, if sexual meet-up groups are being promoted in our schools rather than improving test scores, that school is failing. Is it really more important for our children to get ’sexed-up’, than learning advanced math?"

According to the article about this at,

Gordon went on Providence radio station WPRO Thursday to explain his stance further. He said he is not antigay, that he has a gay cousin and gay friends, and that he served alongside gay people in the Marine Corps. He also said, “Anything of a sexual nature should not be taking place at a taxpayer-funded facility,” adding, “When I was in school, if there was a group for heterosexual students that was going to be meeting after school, I would all day be thinking about who are all the new faces that would be there tonight. That’s just human nature.”

Sexual Meet Up Groups? Getting Sexed-Up?

Wow. I've been an advisor to a Los Angeles area High School's GSA for the last three years, and I can tell you that so much of what is discussed is how to deal with this kind of ignorance and misinformation about what it means to be queer. A GSA meeting is one where students get together in a safe environment and are able to talk about the challenges and triumphs in being themselves - gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and straight allies. They talk about TV shows and homework, racism and homophobia, language and attitudes. In fact, here are 14 weeks worth of topics that many GSAs have used as starting points for their own discussions.

Cynda, the teen who started the GSA, responded to Rep. Gordon , and I like her comment so much I'll share it here:

4:56pm on Thursday, March 31, 2011

I figured by now it was high time I post something up. Being the creator of the THS GSA I am absolutely shocked. I am shocked that a representative would say such harsh and insulting comments on a topic he clearly knowns nothing of. As I said on a different article, nowhere in our agenda is there anything about sex, or sex related topics. Not only is the topic of sex completely irrelevent to the purpose of a GSA, but that is not a topic to be discussed. Mr. Forrest, our advisor, and myself, wouldn't allow it. We are here to make a change, to make a difference, in the school and the lives of the students that go here. We're trying to get people to understand that bullying, and not just towards gays, is wrong. We need people (students) to know that if they are having a problem at school, or even at home, and they don't know where they belong, that they can come to us. We will be there to support them no matter what, because we believe in equality. No matter what your gender is, or your sexual orientation, your race, religion, anything..we are all equal. That is what this GSA, and all other GSA's are for. Not for getting "sexed-up." Not even anywhere near that. I am absolutely in shock that Gordon, and those who agree with him would make such an assumption. You claim you are adults. Why don't you try acting like one, and start learning about those things that you don't quite understand before making assumption that aren't only rude, but also insulting and hurtful to others.

Thank you, Cynda.

And really, Representative Gordon. If you're so concerned with education, perhaps you could become better educated yourself about what really happens at Gay-Straight Alliance meetings before assuming that everything to do with gay people instantly becomes all about sex. Presumably, the state government of Rhode Island is full of heteroSEXuals. Would I be correct to assume that you are all able to go about the business at hand without yourselves getting all "Sexed Up" simply by meeting with each other?

I find this combination of ignorance and homophobia so frustrating.


Friday, April 8, 2011

An Irish Ad To End Anti-Gay Bullying: "Stand Up! - Don't Stand for Homophobic Bullying"

Wow. Watch this!

My thanks to Anne for the link - and to the people that put this together.

I had to fight back the tears as I watched it - it made me so happy.

Please share it.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

God Loves Hair - A Teen Short Story Collection About Growing Up Queer and Indian

By Vivek Shraya

Twenty short stories follow a tender and curious child as he navigates complex realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion and belonging.

The stories are accompanied by the award-winning illustrations of Toronto artist Juliana Neufeld.

Check out the book trailer:

GOD LOVES HAIR (Teaser) from Vivek Shraya on Vimeo.

A self-published book, "God Loves Hair" was recently announced as a finalist for the 2011 LGBT Children's/Young Adult Lambda Literary Award. Add your review of "God Loves Hair" in comments!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gender 101, Episode Two: Thinking About Gender

We're back with a further discussion with Benji, our friendly Gender Queer Activist, about HOW you can think about gender. In under two minutes, Benji really changed my own mental construct of how I think about Gender, and I'm excited to share this with all of you:

Thanks, Benji.

That really blows my mind - in the best way! I love learning about this stuff.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Celebrate National Poetry Month with GLBTQ Poetry: Jan Steckel's INTERSECTION

It's April, and once again that means celebrating GLBTQ poetry - though this month I'll just be popping them in throughout the month rather than doing a solid week. Today's celebration contribution is by Jan Steckel:


When I help a woman on with her jacket,
my sexuality grabs my gender identity
and waltzes it around the room.

I’m a woman, but there’s a man in me.
He’s a bit of a fop, sort of a pansy.
He might be a fag.

Why shouldn’t everything about me be fluid?
I’m a squishy skin-bag of water and salt,
ocean inside and out.

As a child, I was sure I was a boy.
The heroes of all the best books were boys.
I pretty much lived in my head, what I read.

Now I feel more like a woman –
except around straight women.
Then I feel like a butch lunk.

My husband thinks I’m a femme
because I wear lavender, (color and scent),
and ask him to open jars.

All roads meet in me:
butch when I wake up,
femme at lunch.

Androgynous at dinner,
totally trans all night .
Can I get that door for you?

Jan Steckel, 2010

Jan writes "My story Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) won the Gertrude Press fiction chapbook award for LGBT writers. My chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) won a Rainbow Award for lesbian and bisexual poetry. My writing has appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere." Jan's website is here.

I was really happy when Jan shared this poem with me and agreed to let me share it with all of you. I thought this poem was a great match with our exploration of Gender in the new video series GENDER 101!

Be sure to check out these great kid lit celebrations of poetry, (My thanks to Irene Latham for spreading word about them):

Greg Pincus' amazing 30 poets 30 days (An annual event feature poetry by some AMAZING poets!)

Susan Taylor Brown will post Lessons Learned (Mostly About Me) in a Poem-a-Day at

April Halprin Wayland will be writing and posting an original poem a day during April.

Liz Garton Scanlon will give us her third year of a Haiku-a-Day every day in April!

Jone MacCulloch will post 30 Days-30 Students: A poem a day from students

A Poem A Day: A Personal Journey

Poetry Postcard Project: Have a student written and decorated poem sent to your
home. Email her at macrush53 @yahoo. com.

Jama Rattigan will present her 2nd Annual Poetry Potluck (original poem and favorite recipe by guest bloggers) at

Irene Latham will host a month-long Poetry Party: poetry quotes, trivia, craft tips, publishing resources & free books!

Andromeda Jazmon will be doing her fourth year in a row of haiga (original haiku + my photos) at A Wrung Sponge

Janelle at Brimful Curiosities will host a National Poetry Month Kids Poetry Challenge in which kids are invited to create pictures for the poems she posts each Friday. For details:

Biblio File will be featuring a poem or review of a novel-in-verse every day in

Anastasia Suen has set up a blog and a Twitter account for students (of all ages) to write
Haiku (about what they leaned at school that day).


Tricia Stohr-Hunt will host a Poetry in the Classroom series, which will highlight a topic, theme, poet, or book and talk about uses in the classroom.

Stasia Kehoe will be including poetry links, a giveaway of signed arc of debut YA verse novel AUDITION and reviews every Thursday of verse novels.

The Poem Farm will introduce a different poem idea-strategy or poetic technique for children and teachers every day. Each idea-strategy/technique will be followed by links to a few poems from this past year. The blog will also feature poem sharing ideas through "Poetry Peeks" into classrooms.

Mary Lee Hahn will be writing a poem a day again this year, and posting them at A Year of Reading.

If you're doing a celebration of kid lit and poetry at your blog/website, feel free to add it here in comments!

You should also check out the weekly Poetry Friday celebrations here:

National Poetry Month Poetry Friday schedule:
April 8
April 15
April 22
April 29

Namaste, and enjoy!


Monday, April 4, 2011

A Jewish and GLBTQ Children's Picture Book Manuscript Contest!

Keshet, a Jewish GLBT organization has launched

"a Jewish children’s book contest to help solve the “I’m Jewish, I’m Queer/Want an Inclusive World, What Do I Read to My Kids” problem."

They're looking for manuscripts - with a small cash prize and the possibility of being published by "a leading Jewish publisher."

The deadline is April 15, 2011.

Check out all the details here.

And hurray for this effort to make picture books in the Jewish market more inclusive of GLBTQ characters and families!

What are you waiting for? Go enter!

Because I'm sure the winner will be a book that I'll have to feature in my "Picture Books I Wish Had Been Read To Me When I Was A Little Kid" list!

My thanks to Bonnie from Keshet for letting me know about the contest, so I could share it with all of you.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Wicked Pretty Things: An YA Anthology That Tried To De-Gay A Character and How Two Writers, Jessica Verday and Seanan McGuire, Stood Up And Said "NO!"

Not as a reporter, but as a commenter, I have to weigh in on what has been publicly shared about this. Here's what I understand:

Author Jessica Verday was one of a number of authors whose short stories were slated to be published in an upcoming Anthology edited by Trisha Telep,

"a collection of dark fairy YA stories (with a bit of a romantic edge)."

Last week Jessica announced she has pulled her story, "Flesh Which Is Not Flesh," from the collection.

"I was told that the story I'd wrote, which features Wesley (a boy) and Cameron (a boy), who were both in love with each other, would have to be published as a male/female story because a male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers."

When I heard that she'd pulled her story rather than let it be heterosexualized, I was unbelievably proud of Jessica for standing up. For having the courage (and conviction) to take the financial hit and the disappointment of not being published in a book she was so excited about, and to instead see the big picture, and say,

"And the message I want to send is this: You don't choose who you fall in love with and you don't choose to be gay.

We're constantly bombarded with messages from sick people who try to tell us that it's a choice or a lifestyle or an agenda. But Wesley and Cameron's story isn't an agenda or an issue. It isn't an "I have to prove something to the world" story. Wesley and Cameron's story is a love story. About one boy who loves another boy so much that when something bad happens to him, he'll do whatever it takes to get him the help he needs.

Just bittersweet, hopeful, first love. And I think the world needs more of that."

Too often these de-gaying events occur silently, and the authors struggle on their own with what seems like a stark choice: be published or stand on principle. It's rare that an author blows the whistle on this kind of homophobia, as Lauren Myracle did in the controversy over Luv Ya Bunches, when Scholastic's Book Fairs told her she'd need to make one of her characters' two moms a normal family - and she said NO. And the 'request' and her refusal and the subsequent fallout got published in School Library Journal. Ultimately, after petitions and uproar (here and elsewhere) the lesbian moms stayed in Luv Ya Bunches, though Scholastic only carries it in their middle school book fairs and it has to be requested for elementary school fairs (it's about 5th grade girls.)

But here's the thing - standing on principle is what changes our world for the better.

Jessica is standing up and calling them on this, and that's great.

But wait, the story gets more interesting.

The next day after Jessica posted on her blog that she was pulling the story, it seems the editor responded saying that she may have been too rash and that the publisher actually would have been okay with it being a gay story as written. (That's at the bottom of the post.)

And then, the publishers, Running Press and Constable & Robinson, responded, offering Jessica to keep the story as is, but also saying that they remained behind the editor 100%. (Go here to read their full responses as published on Jessica's blog, saying they are supportive of GLBTQ writing.) This is from Jessica's blog:

"Would you include your story if the publisher let you keep it as an m/m story?
- I have been asked by the publisher if I would reconsider including it in the anthology due to the fact that they would be perfectly okay with accepting it as-is (meaning m/m, not m/f), but I have said no. I was informed that Trisha Telep would still be the editor for the anthology (and considered the "author"), and due to her preconceived notions, I can't support any of the royalties from this project going to her."

And now, on Monday of this week,

Seanan McGuire, another author with a story slated for the same anthology, announced that they'd pulled their story as well. Seanan wrote:

"In light of the ongoing situation, my own discomfort with this whole thing, and the fact that discriminating on basis of sexual orientation is never okay, I have withdrawn my story from the collection.


I am not withdrawing from this book because I'm not straight. I am withdrawing because of my little sister and her wife, and because of my girlfriend, and because of my best friend, and because of all the other people who deserve better than bullying through exclusion. Thanks to Jessica for bringing this to our attention, and thank you to everyone who has been supportive of my decision to withdraw.

I am sorry this had to be done. I am not sorry that I did it."

I am beyond proud of Seanan for also standing up.

Here's the thing: If enough authors stand together and say "NO!" to this kind of homophobia, it will stop. The cost (in bad publicity) will be too high, and publishers and their editors will have to think twice about these sanitized for the status quo's protection moments. Because the status quo has way too much hate and bullying and exclusion of queer characters and queer love in it.

And Jessica and Seanan are standing up for us all. And I'm cheering them on.

And yet... at the same time, I'm a touch confused about what's going on and I wonder about the path forward.

If this was an organized labor-inspired queer rights moment, I would have thought the goal would be to do what could be done until the editor and publisher agreed to include the queer love story as is.

But, they've done that.

Jessica's ongoing refusal is now based on the editor's continued involvement, which leads me to think there's information about what's going on that I don't have.

But it needs to be said that I want there to be queer stories in anthologies that aren't ALL queer - it's a way to reach kids (like me) who were too deep in the closet to dare pick up an overtly queer book.

Could this perhaps be a teachable moment? Is it possible for the editor to learn from this experience? To look for and include GLBTQ stories in the future anthologies she edits? To become an Ally? Or is the situation beyond saving? Here's the editor's comment to Jessica's post in full, and the statement just released by her (scroll to the bottom of the post), which I copy here:
I sincerely regret the sequence of events which has led to Jessica Verday’s story ‘Flesh Which Is Not Flesh’ being excluded from the forthcoming anthology Wicked Pretty Things. This has been the result of a misunderstanding on my part which is entirely regrettable. Along with publishers Constable & Robinson Ltd, who commissioned the anthology, and Running Press, who are due to co-publish the book in the United States, I fully support LGBTQ issues. I apologise wholeheartedly for any offence that I have caused and offer the assurance that I would not in future reject any story on the grounds that it included a gay (or any LGBTQ) relationship.

Trisha Telep

I don't know how this is going to ultimately resolve.

But what I do know is that between Jessica and Seanan's three blog posts about this, they've had over 750 comments in the first week. Word is getting out that de-gaying children's and teen literature is NOT okay. That authors won't quietly agree. That editors and publishers will be called on their homophobia.

And that shift in "business as usual" is the best news of all.

What do you all think?


ps - my thanks to Joni and to Mark for making sure I knew about this, so I could share with all of you!