Thursday, June 30, 2011

What's the Gay Community's Response To Racism? Silence? Well, Here's A Moment Where We Can Raise Our Voices Against Anti-Black Bullying & Violence!

This is really horrible. A sophomore on the wrestling team, an African American student at Santa Monica High School in Los Angeles County, California, was heading to practice and was confronted by the sight of a brown practice dummy with a noose around its head. Then he was grabbed by two teammates, and chained to a locker. Racial slurs were used (the TV report says they called him "slave.")

My friend Dermot (who is black and gay) who gave me the heads-up about this, and pointed out that if the student had been gay, the gay community would be, right now, in an uproar.

The student targeted by this hate crime was black, and our GLBTQ community hasn't stood up to shout about how horrible this was. Is. How unacceptable. How important it is for us to change not just anti-gay bullying and prejudice, but ALL bullying and prejudice. We have to end Homophobia, Yes. But we also have to end Racism. And end Misogyny. Gay people. People of Color. Women. Our Allies. We all need to stand up and shout that we won't allow these events to occur to ANYONE.

Also insidious is the element of the cover-up by the school and team, stories of students told to delete photos of the incident, the targeted student's own silence, all to try to silence that this happened and to avoid it 'reflecting poorly' on the team or the school.

This incident happened back in May and it only hit the news yesterday.

I want to tell my friend that the Queer community DOES stand up when racism happens. That our voices ARE raised up in protest.

But looking back to the past, I'm not sure I can point to any anti-black incident and say "Here. We, the Gay community, stood up here on behalf of black equality."

And when I realized that, I was even more horrified. I want to help change this.

This is NOW.

And I think we, and our allies, need to raise our voices!

What's the best way to do that? A petition? A call for diversity training for that team? The whole school? How can we best raise our voices? Let me know your thoughts in comments.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Me by Ricky Martin

I’m not going to lie; I didn’t have the highest of expectations for "Me" by Ricky Martin. Actually, even when I went to the book store to buy it the cashier looked at me and said, “really?” I decided to delve straight into it anyways and see what Ricky Martin is really all about. And as I read his book, I realized that I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge it. His story is actually quite interesting.

Martin’s writing style is typical of most celebrity autobiographies, which is fine. I also had to remind myself that he is an actor and musician, not a professional author. He starts his story reminiscing about his days as a six-year-old boy in Puerto Rico, singing into a spoon for his family. I thought that was a nice, cute way to start the story. Not only is it a nice anecdote, but it also completely (and obviously) ties into his career in the future. In this, I mean to say he does a nice job tying up loose ends that would seem not to fit into the story. The spoon anecdote is definitely a good one, but what would have been the point of including it if Martin had not become a singer in his adult life? This may seem like a minor good point, especially for a written work (where it can be so easy to tie everything together), but it actually points to a greater skill. Ricky Martin has the incredible ability to psychoanalyze himself and everything he’s done and relate it all back to something in his childhood. Everything connects to something previous. He’s also found a deeper spiritual meaning for every event that’s happened in his life and he never fails to explain it. Some people would probably get bored reading that, while others will enjoy it. But that makes the book much more than a celebrity autobiography.

Me, being the nitpicky reader I am, have only two real criticisms. The first being the amount of the book where he talks about his humanitarian efforts. Obviously it’s great that Martin’s devoted himself to such a noble cause, (that cause being trying to stop human trafficking), but spending around a quarter of the book talking about it seemed a bit much in my opinion. After seeing the phrase “men pay thousands of dollars for the virginities of eight-year-old boys and girls” for about the fourth time, I’ll admit that I had to skim the rest of the section. But I will say that I do believe him when he says that his efforts are not simply to make him look good. He really does believe in his cause and is truly horrified by the problem. My other criticism, being a very minor one, is one of fact checking. Being a musician myself, I was very happy to see that he cited his early musical inclination was rock music. But he mistakenly said that Led Zeppelin was an American rock band, when in reality the entire band is from England. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be so disturbed by that mistake, but Led Zeppelin is my favorite band. And the fact that he made a mistake about where one of the most famous bands in history is from makes me feel a little hesitant about the truth of all the other facts in the book. But that’s just a really minor error.

Though this book is written for adults, I believe that kids as young as 15 could read it. The style is very clear and his word choice makes the book a universally easy and quick read. There are brief sentences about sexual encounters and a large section of the book is about human trafficking, so I probably would not want to read this book if I was not mentally ready to hear about those things.

The best point of Martin’s memoir though would be his message. Though the underlying theme is Zen Buddhism, he makes sure to incorporate all beliefs into his book. His main idea is really that of coexisting. He preaches, without being overtly didactic about it, that we must not simply tolerate other people and what they do or believe in, but we should accept them as they are and peacefully live with them. I think that distinction between tolerance and acceptance and spreading the message of acceptance is going to play a really key role in these next few years, especially for the GLBTQ community.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Me" by Ricky Martin in comments!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bruce Coville: The Exclusive SCBWI Team Blog Pre-#LA11SCBWI Conference Interview

Bruce Coville has written over 100 books for children and young adults, and if you haven't yet seen him speak, you're in for an incredible experience - Bruce isn't just an award-winning and best-selling author, he's a master storyteller.

His talk about the importance of the "numinous" is something I often think about in regards to my own writing, and I can't wait to experience his Monday intensive on "The Art Of Writing Fantasy."

Here, Bruce gives us the scoop on his upcoming conference Keynote, and it sounds amazing...

For more information about the conference and to register, go here.

And don't forget to bookmark The Official SCBWI Conference Blog!

I hope you can join me in seeing Bruce weave his magic!


Monday, June 27, 2011

Say "I Do!" Gay Marriage Will Be Legal In New York State in less than a month!

This is very exciting!

Late Friday night, the gay marriage law passed the NY Senate and was signed into law by Governor Cuomo.

I liked Maureen Dowd's column where she told it like it is about Obama getting three-quarters of a million dollars from gay donors while this whole vote was on the verge of happening in New York and yet Obama still did NOT come out for Gay Marriage rights:

"But for the president, “the fierce urgency of now” applies only to getting checks from the gay community, not getting up to speed with all the Americans who think it’s time for gay marriage."

Super frustrating.

But this fascinating analysis of how gay marriage became law in New York state here gives me a lot of hope about the power of coming out and living our truth, and the future.

Very exciting times we live in, people.

We all just have to keep on standing up for equality and fairness across the board for EVERYONE, and teach and learn how to celebrate our differences!

And we'll get there. Person by person. State by State. Country by Country. Until we've transformed our world.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Hudson Taylor is an Ally to the GLBTQ Community, and he's trying to change the world of sports to be less homophobic & more respectful of all people!

Hudson was a three time All American wrestler in Division One of the NCAA and was ranked number three in the entire nation. He's straight, and wrestled with a Human Rights Campaign equality sticker on his helmet to show his support for GLBTQ equality, for which he got a lot of flack.

Now he's the wrestling coach at Columbia University, and he's created a website and campaign, Athlete Ally, where people can go to sign this pledge: "I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field."

How awesome is that? Check out this interview with Hudson:

Want more to love about this Ally? He's getting married (to a woman) in Washington, D.C., because it's somewhere Gay people can get married as well!

So what are you waiting for? Go sign the pledge!

And Thank You, Hudson!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transition: The Story Of How I Became A Man

By Chaz Bono

Upon buying my copy of Chaz Bono’s latest memoir, "Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man," I was very excited to start reading. I was ready to hear all about his recent gender reassignment surgery and the way his family reacted to everything. However, I got much more than I was expecting. And I mean that in a good way, a really good way.

Having a huge interest in psychology, I was delighted to see that Bono started his book from the very beginning of his memory. From the first anecdote about “a girl named Fred,” I was drawn in. All the preconceived notions I had about transgender people were slowly debunked and explained to me. I never really understood how a person could feel like such a stranger in their own body. But the way Chaz wrote about his entire life seemed so natural. When I read the first sentence I had no doubt about the author’s gender being male. Most people who have never met a transgender person automatically assume that it’s easy to tell what gender they were born as. And I have to say that that is a complete and utter falsehood. I can’t see Bono as being anything other than male; especially from the way he describes his feelings as a child. The way he describes the symptoms of his gender dysphoria (which would be defined as the discrepancy between how the body presents its sex and how the brain perceives its sex) is an example of incredible self-reflection. It is also incredible that he looks back on coming out as a lesbian and still didn’t feel completely comfortable. Chaz’s ability to look back on his life and point out the definite signs of his being born into the wrong body is really what sets this memoir apart from others. My only criticism of his writing is that sometimes he tends to go off on short tangents - for example, he talks about his relationship with his dad during his childhood. The book works in a linear, chronological manner so it becomes unnecessary for him to add that later on his dad became more traditional because he talks about it in later chapters. The book is a short and relatively quick read at about 240 pages. I also recommend this book for people who are 16 or older because there are many sexual and basic self-discovery elements that I wouldn't have gotten until I was an older teen.

The most important thing about his book is the message it gives to all people. More than being a guide to Chaz’s own life, this book is a guide to everybody’s lives. "Transition" shows Bono’s physical transition into becoming a man, but more importantly it highlights his journey to self-acceptance. He struggled so much throughout his life trying to find himself and who he really was. And though he admits that he came into his own a little late for his taste, late is always better than never. His message is overwhelmingly positive, and utilizes certain properties of Zen Buddhism that I personally believe are integral in everyone’s lives. He reminds us that we have to accept the fact that we cannot control everything. At a certain point, we have to live for ourselves, and anybody who cannot handle that does not matter to us. Each and every one of us is free to be whomever we choose. His book and message give everyone in the world who reads it the idea that we belong in this world as we are, and nobody can take that away from us.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Transition: The Story of How I Became A Man" in comments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Introducing our 2011 Summer Intern, Soraya! AND the launch of the GLBTQ Biographies and Memoirs Book Shelf

Hi there! I’m Soraya, this summer’s intern, and I’ll be entering my senior year of high school in September. I’m very excited to be working with “I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?” this summer! As an ally to the GLBTQ community, I think it’s really important to reinforce the fact that there are people who go through the same experiences and that nobody’s alone. We as people tend to lose sight of the fact that many people have stories for us to learn and grow from. I’ll be writing reviews on a wide range of biographies and memoirs from GLBTQ celebrities and activists, so keep your eyes peeled for those! Thanks for reading!

So here's what we've got so far of the still-coming together list of GLBTQ Biographies and Memoirs that Soraya will review this summer:

1) Transition: The Story of How I Became A Man - Chaz Bono
2) Me - Ricky Martin
3) Man in the Middle- John Amaechi
4) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas- Gertrude Stein
5) Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen Degeneres- Kathleen Tracy
6) Just Kids- Patti Smith
7) Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer- Chely Wright
8) The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade- Justin Spring
9) Unbearable Lightness- Portia de Rossi
10) Naked- David Sedaris (he's one of my favorite authors, EVER)
11)The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk- Randy Shilts
12)Deflowered: My Life in the Pansy Division- Jon Ginoli

Do you know about a great GLBTQ Biography or Memoir of great teen interest that Soraya should consider adding to her list? Let us know in comments!

Congratulations to Soraya on getting the internship, and to all of us, because we're going to find out about some great queer non-fiction this summer!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nightsiders: A postapocalyptic short story collection with a Transgender Teen Character!

By Sue Isle

"In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East and organized infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside."

The Transgender teen searches and finds both a way to physically realize the person they are and also an acceptance of this in a postapocalyptic world.

Add your review of this collection of four short stories, "Nightsiders," in comments!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Harold Underdown: The Exclusive Team Blog Pre-#LA11SCBWI Conference Interview

As part of the fantastic group of kid lit blogging superheroes that make up SCBWI Team Blog, I had the chance to virtually interview Harold Underdown about his being on faculty for the upcoming SCBWI 40th annual summer conference in Los Angeles, August 5-8, 2011.

For more information about the conference and to register, go here.

And don't forget to bookmark The Official SCBWI Conference Blog!

Hope to see you there,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"From Here To Eternity," James Jones' Classic Novel, Gets Its Gay Content RESTORED!

A couple of years ago I blogged about how one of the most iconic images of heterosexual love, this passionate make out scene of Bert Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, from the movie version of "From Here To Eternity,"

was based on the award-winning book that had had the gay content censored out of it by its publisher.

Well, technology is creating new ways of doing things, and now there's a digital version of James Jones' famous book, "From Here To Eternity" with all the gay content back in.

Called the "restored version," it's available now, and I think it's pretty fascinating to see how technology is going to help us get past censorship... even if it is, in this case, sixty years later.

So if you're going to read a classic, read the REAL classic, the way the author wrote it!

And thanks to my wonderful husband for letting me know about this, so I could share it with you!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Announcing... The First-Ever Kid Lit Drink Night - Los Angeles!

Inspired by the Kid Lit Drink Night cooked up by author/blogger/librarian Betsy Bird and editor/author Cheryl Klein in New York City, Los Angeles whips up our own version of the drop-by-for-drinks-and-food (you buy your own) and great conversation with cool people in the Children's Literature Industry Evening!

Calling all Children's Literature:






Art Directors






Aficionados passionate about creating creative content for children and teens!

join us tomorrow, Saturday June 18, from 6-8pm


Pink Taco at the Century City Mall, outdoor patio
10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067

It's an event masterminded by myself, poet/author/blogger Greg Pincus, writer/photographer Rita Crayon Huang, debut author (whose amazing book "Harbinger" is coming out February of 2012) Sara Wilson Etienne and literary agent/poet Jill Corcoran! We hope you join us and further invite you to spread the word and invite your L.A.-based Kid Lit World friends.

And if you're on facebook, you can let us know you're joining in the fun!

Also, note that The SECOND Kid Lit Drink Night - Los Angeles! Will be held on Sunday August 7th in the same location, right after the day's events conclude across the street at the 40th anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference! (We're thinking it will be from 6-8pm as well.) By the way, have you registered yet? Today's the last day to get the early registration discount!

So hopefully, if you're coming into town for #LA11SCBWI, you can join us locals for Kid Lit Drink Night-L.A. as well!

Hope to see you there,

p.s. - the photo is by Rita Crayon Huang, and is of a group of kid lit folks at pink taco!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

With Or Without You: A Gay Teen Novel

By Brian Farrey

"High school seniors Evan and Davis are tired of being outcasts—and tired of being bullied. So when a charismatic runaway named Sable recruits them to join a group called the Chasers, Davis is swept away by his promises of status and friendship with other gay teens. But Evan’s suspicious. He shies from Sable’s volatility, retreating to spend time with the boyfriend he’s kept secret for almost a year.

Then the Chasers meetings turn dangerous. And Evan must choose between his best friend and his boyfriend before the Chasers’ final initiation—a ceremony that involves having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive member of the group who has successfully chased the virus."

Add your review of "With Or Without You" in comments!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gender 101, Episode Ten: Gendered Words in our Language and Culture

Please check out this latest installment of our talks on gender with Benji, a Gender Queer Activist and an awesome new friend of ours here at this blog!

I adore these conversations with Benji. When editing this, I almost cut out the part where Benji says they don't know exactly how to pronounce "Mx." but then I realized it's one of the things I adore best about them and these discussions. Understanding that the lens with which we view gender is so rigid in our society, and the issues of gender conformity so broad-ranging, that even someone as plugged in and on top of things as Benji could have a moment/issue where they still had things to learn, too.

And I think that's a great thing to remember for all of us as we continue thinking about Gender within ourselves and our culture - that we can all continue to learn, and grow, and expand our world-views to embrace gender non-conformity.

Oh, and Benji wanted me to share with everyone that "honorific" was the word they intended to say, rather than "honorarium." No worries, I'm constantly having the wrong words pop out, too, to my kid's amusement (and my husband's eye rolls!)

Gender 101 will be taking a summer break, but look for our Gender 101 video series to start up again in September!

If you've missed any of the ten episodes so far, here are some quick links:

Gender 101, episode 1: Don't Box Me In

Gender 101, episode 2: Thinking about Gender

Gender 101, episode 3: A New Vocabulary

Gender 101, episode 4: Cis, Trans, Queer: Words to Describe Gender

Gender 101, episode 5: "Bisexual" and "Pansexual" - What's the Difference?

Gender 101, episode 6: Being Gender Queer In Our World

Gender 101, episode 7: Gender Neutral Bathrooms - And Why They're Important

Gender 101, episode 8: Gender Queer Advice and Resources

Gender 101, episode 9: Family and Coming Out as Gender Variant

Gender 101, episode 10: Gendered Words In Our Language and Culture



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Drawing Love: An In-Between High School And College Lesbian Art Novella

By Juli Jousan

"Mo is 18-years-old and done with high school.

She spends the summer in Amsterdam taking an art class before she heads off to college in the fall.

She carries her journal with the secrets of Samantha whom she loved but has left behind.

Playing guitar on the streets of Amsterdam, Mo meets a saxophonist, Elka.

Mo falls in and out of love... and in again."

"Drawing Love" is an art novella written in journal form and published by the author's own company. You can add your review in comments!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Katie Davis: The SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference #LA11SCBWI Interview

During our podcast interview, I turned the tables and interviewed Katie Davis for SCBWI Team Blog. Here, she gives us the scoop on her ProTrack workshop, "Podcasting Your Way To Success" at SCBWI's upcoming 40th annual summer conference in Los Angeles, August 5-8, 2011.

For more information about the conference and to register, go here.

And don't forget to bookmark The Official SCBWI Conference Blog!

Hope to see you there,

Friday, June 10, 2011

Think B4 You Speak - Changing The World

So a couple of weeks ago, in the New York Times on May 25, 2011, this full page ad ran on page C8, the back of the Arts section:

It reads:

"gay (ga) 1. there once was a time when all "gay" meant was "happy." then it meant "homosexual." now, people are saying "that's so gay" to mean dumb and stupid. which is pretty insulting to gay people (and we don't mean the "happy" people). 2. so please, knock it off. 3. go to"

It's the same campaign that created that great basketball player psa (at the bottom of this post)!

Love it, and had to share!


Thanks to my awesome husband for sharing this with me, so I could share it with you!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive

By Vanessa Libertad Garcia

"A collection of short stories and poems interwoven into a gripping narrative that follows a group of gay & lesbian Latino club kids during the course of the 2008 presidential elections.

As they plunge deep into the agonizing lows of anxiety and addiction, we see how they affect and are affected by the national politics happening around them."

"The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive" was published by the author's own company. Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gender 101, Episode Nine: Family & Coming Out As Gender Variant

This week we continue the discussion with gender queer activist Lucy, who shares stories of their family and advice on coming out as Gender non-conforming.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Catch Trap: A Gay Historical Romance

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

It's the 1940s and 50s - in the world of the circus.

Mario Santelli, of the famous flying Santelli family, is a great trapeze artist. Tommy Zane is his protege.

"As naturally and gracefully as they soar through the air, the two flyers find themselves falling in love. Mario and Tommy share sweet stolen moments of passion, but the real intensity of their relationship comes from their total devotion to one another and to their art. As public figures in a conservative era, they cannot reveal their love. But they will never renounce it."

My thanks to the blog reader who wrote to tell me about this book, saying "I don't know if it will help but it helped me."

And add your review of "The Catch Trap" in comments!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The More Gay-Friendly A Community Is, The Better It Is For Straight Teens, Too!

This study of 11th graders in Oregon, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the environment being supportive or not directly impacted not only attempted suicide rates of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual students, but of ALL students.

They looked at five measures of the social environment surrounding queer youth on a county-wide level that included:

1) proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual students;

2) proportion of schools with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs);

3) proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation;

4) proportion of same-sex couples; and

5) proportion of Democrats in the county.

The rates of attempted suicide in the more gay-friendly communities were 20% lower for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual students and 9% lower for heterosexual students.

If schools needed to justify anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, and celebrating diversity programming to non-queer communities (Have I mentioned I'm booking speaker visits for the 2011-2012 school year?), this data should help them make the point that the safer we can make our culture and schools for queer students, the safer it will be for everyone.

And that's really important.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Operation Marriage: How One Gay Marriage Picture Book Is Becoming A Reality

So Craig Wiesner of Reach and Teach is publishing Author Cynthia Chin-Lee and Illustrator Lea Lyon's picture book about gay (well, lesbian) marriage and they're financing it in a non-traditional way - by teaming up with a non-profit to raise the funds needed. I had the cool opportunity to correspond with all three of them about the project, and am excited to share those discussions with you.

My interview with Cynthia:

Lee: Why was this story you had to tell?

Cynthia: Kathy and Lee Merkle-Raymond have been friends for several years. I know them through our church, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, a more light church. They told me the story of how they got married one weekend. But I was perplexed because I considered them as "married" and didn't think about the fact that as a gay couple, they didn't have the legal right to marry for the most part and that if Prop 8 passed, they would lose the small window in time where they could get married. At the urging of their children, Alex and Nikki, they decided to marry even though they already had almost all of the legal protections in place anyway. I thought about it from their daughters' point of view and my heart was moved. I know as a heterosexual, I take my legal rights for granted! However, I may be more sensitive than others as I grew up as a minority (an Asian American) in the 60s in Washington, DC.

Lee: You've had five picture books previously published: "A is for Asia," "Almond Cookies & Dragon Well Tea," "Amelia to Zora," "Akira to Zoltan," and "A is for the Americas." Do you think if you had done a gay marriage picture book as your first title that would have limited you in terms of what people thought you could do?

Cynthia: Probably. There's often the issue of typecasting.

Lee: Did you experience that same resistance given that four of your books are non-narrative alphabet/biographies when you were trying to find a publisher for "Operation Marriage?"

Cynthia: Perhaps. I didn't seek publishing at many publishers for this story because I knew Reach and Teach was beginning to publish children's books and I know the owners/editors personally. It seemed like the right book to bring to them and I'm so glad they were open to it.

Lee: Working with a smaller publisher, has there been the chance for any give and take with the illustrator?

Cynthia: Definitely. With a small publisher, I get to have more influence with the whole project and it's been eye-opening to work with Lea Lyon, the illustrator. Lea likes to have models pose for the characters in the book so we got a group of kids (including my 9 year-old) and adults together; some are members of my church and the gay community. We had a potluck at my house and posed for the scenes in the book. Lea took photos and will use them as the basis for her watercolors. It was great fun. She's a terrific artist.

A rough sketch of an interior page of the picture book

My interview with Lea:

Lee: You've illustrated a number of picture books that are very issue-driven. "Playing War" (about the impact of playing war and real war on children), "Say Something" (about bullying), and "Keep your ear on the ball" (about a blind student in school.) Do you need an emotional connection to the story when you take on illustrating a picture book?

Lea: To tell you the truth, I’ve always had a strong emotional connection to the books I’ve been asked to illustrate. I don’t know how I would react to a book to which I didn’t connect emotionally. I was extremely fortunate to have as my first publisher Tilbury House Publishers in Gardiner, ME. All the children’s books they publish are about social issues. That suited me fine! And they hired me for three of them – and they each won an award. When Audrey Penn, author of the “Kissing Hand” books, asked me to illustrate her Hanukkah book that connected to me too. Now I’m so lucky to be illustrating “Operation Marriage.”

Lee: What is your connection working on "Operation Marriage?"

Lea: My connection to this book is my connection to Craig and Derrick the publishers, who thrilled me by asking me to illustrate this important project. Their Reach and Teach is wonderful and they have sold my other social issue books.

Lee: Have you felt any internal or external resistance as you've been bringing this story to life?

Lea: I have felt no internal or external resistance to this project. I have fallen in love with all our “models,” who were members of the church that Cynthia Chin Lee and Craig and Derrick belong to. The more I draw and paint them the more real a family they are becoming. I can only hope that shows in my illustrations.

I have always supported same-sex marriage rights and was distraught when Proposition 8 passed. I am surrounded by friends and family who feel the same. My husband is excited about this project too. In fact, the only questioning I got about this book was from a friend who said that her four year old daughter has friends with two mommies and she doesn’t want this book to make her daughter think this is unusual. She already accepts it as a given part of life. Would that everyone did. I thought that was the best reason I could think of to not want this book around. I have found that even people who are a bit taken aback when I tell them about this book I am illustrating, hesitate to make any comment other than “good.” It almost feels as if it would be politically incorrect for them to say anything negative. But, I live in Northern California, so I’m sure I have a skewed view of the population of this country.

Thanks so much, Lee, for talking about our book. Hope you love it as much as we do.

Interior art!

My interview with Craig:

Lee: Tell me about Reach and Teach and what you're trying to do.

Craig: Reach And Teach works to transform the world through teachable moments. We create and distribute books, music, DVDs, toys, games, curriculum, parent/teacher resources, and other products that promote a more peaceful, inclusive, and healthy world. We imagine ourselves as the "Discovery Store" of peacemaking.

Lee: What was the journey for "Operation Marriage" to end up being published by you? How did you find the manuscript, choose the artist, etc...

Craig: Our journey includes our own marriage story. My husband Derrick and I were the first same-gender couple to be married in the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto over 20 years ago. Then, during the brief window in California history when we could get legally married, one of the ministers from our ceremony 20 years earlier was able to sign our marriage certificate. Within the congregation was another family, two women, who have two daughters. During the battle over Proposition 8, one of the daughters saw a "Yes on Prop 8" sign on a good friend's lawn. That meant the friend's family was against gay marriage and it hurt. The daughters wanted their moms to get married while it was still legal and convinced their moms to do it. Cynthia Chin-Lee, also a member of that church, knows the family and decided that it would make a wonderful children's book. Reach And Teach had been selling Cynthia's other award-winning books, Amelia to Zora and Akira to Zolton, for a few years and she offered us the opportunity to publish "Operation Marriage." We jumped at the chance! We are treasure hunters, gathering peace and social justice oriented products from small publishers and organizations around the world. With our partnership with PM Press, we're also able to publish our own titles, and are especially drawn to projects that might otherwise not get launched.

Lee: Reach and Teach has teamed up with a non-profit to raise the funds to publish "Operation Marriage" - that seems very groundbreaking. Can you tell us more about the decision process behind that and how it's going?

Craig: Publishing a full-color, hardcover, children's picture book is very expensive, especially if you want to do the printing in North America. Breaking even or making a profit on these books can be difficult, if not impossible. For this title, which we hope will be a huge seller, coming up with the up-front expenses to pay for advance-royalties and printing was going to be tough. Those expenses can be prohibitive enough to keep a small publisher from taking on such a project. With the issue of gay marriage being a critical social issue today and we believe for the next few years, publication of this book can have a great impact on the conversation children and adults have about marriage in the coming years. Inclusion and equality are key issues for the non-profit that is helping raise money for the book. We've raised about half of what we need and are confident we'll raise the rest by the time we have to go to print.

The interesting question people often ask us is why Reach And Teach isn't a non-profit. We may be naive to believe this but, we truly do think that we can do something that is wonderful for the world and do so as a for-profit business. Being for profit helps us keep our voice. Partnering with a non-profit when our missions align, though, feels quite right.

Full Disclosure: I am also on the board of MicahsCall, the non-profit helping to raise funds for this book. I, of course, recused myself from the board's vote on whether to help raise money for this project. MicahsCall will get paid back for the funds disbursed on the book when/if the book is profitable, and MicahsCall will use those funds for further work on the issues of gay marriage, inclusion, equality, and social justice.

Lee: How can people help?

Craig: People can donate money and pre-order copies of the book through this link. They can also tell all their friends, family, and colleagues about this project.

...And I'd say that's a pretty fascinating road to publication for this picture book celebration of our queer families and our right to marry.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hidden: A Gay Teen Novel

By Tomas Mournian

Ahmed is 15 when he accidentally outs himself to his parents, and they send him to a residential "treatment" center in the Nevada desert to be "fixed."

Eleven months into his sentence of torture, molestation and indoctrination to become straight, Ahmed escapes to a secret safe house for runaway gay teens in San Francisco.

But even with a new name - Ben - life inside the safe house is not completely safe...

Add your review of "Hidden" in comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Walking the Enlightened Gender Walk: Parents Keep Their New Baby's Gender Private. Very Private.

It's pretty much the first question people ask when they hear someone's had a baby: Boy or Girl? It's usually before they even ask if the child is healthy.

Now check out this story from Canada:

When the third child in Kathy Witterick and David Stocker's family was born, the parents decided they weren't going to let society dictate what kind of person that child would be, so they've kept the child's physical gender a secret - even from the grandparents!

As the father put it:

"If you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs."
The couple also have two sons whom they've encouraged to be as gender non-conforming as they wish, allowed to wear pink and have long hair, and the kids are often mistaken for girls... with some resulting discomfort.

As a parent, my mind boggles at the idea of trying to side-step the MILLIONS of times "Oh, it's a boy!" or "Oh, it's a girl!" or "Oh, which is it/he/she?" must come up. And all those forms that only have two boxes to check, boy or girl. Male or female.

As we're learning in our Gender 101 video series, gender is more complex, more diverse, more wonderful than we've been taught, but the lock-step of baby pink and baby blue for babies is so intense in our culture, that something this simple seems completely revolutionary.

The baby's name is STORM, and ze already is - a STORM of Inspiration!

So, cheers for Kathy and David and their kids for walking the Enlightened Gender Walk - you're changing the world for all of us!

What do you think?


ps- My thanks to Karol for sharing this with me so I could share it with you! And here's an article where Storm's Mom defends their position.