For the third year in a row, George, a book about a transgender girl, topped the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) annual list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books, and LGBTQ-themed books remained dominant among all the censorship attempts tracked by the ALA. Unlike in the previous few years, however, books with themes of race and racial justice, not LGBTQ themes and characters, made up the majority of books in the top 10. That’s still awful.
The Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020 list was released yesterday as part of the ALA’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report.” “Challenges” are documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, calculated from censorship reports submitted through the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) as well as from media mentions. More than 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, said the ALA, and overall, “Demands to remove books addressing racism and racial justice or those that shared the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color grew in number. At the same time, books addressing themes and issues of concern for LGBTQIA+ people continued to dominate the list.”
George is the only book in the top 10 to have been challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content last year. That number is down from eight ot the Top 10 in 2019, six in 2018, and five in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that the the decreased number of LGBTQ titles in the top 10 means we’ve made progress, though. LGBTQ-inclusive books are still plentiful in the full list of challenged titles, and continue to be challenged, as we saw when two school districts in Texas recently tried to ban Call Me Max, a book about a transgender boy. And LGBTQ authors still get uninvited from author talks at schools, even when they’re not talking about their LGBTQ-inclusive books. More importantly, while the number of LGBTQ books in the top 10 may be down, the number of books being challenged for dealing with race and racism is up, and that’s just as bad. This isn’t a contest anyone should want to win or see others win. Instead, we should ask ourselves why books by, for, and about marginalized communities of many types continue to be targeted for removal or restricted access, and what we can do to address this. Librarians remain vital lifelines for many marginalized youth and need the tools to do this work, which can be literally lifesaving.
While the total number of books challenged last year was down to 273 from 566 in 2019, much of that can presumably be attributed to the many library closings or restricted hours because of the pandemic. If you know of books being challenged in your community for any reason, please report the incident to the ALA through their online form or by e-mailing or phoning the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.545.2433 x4226.
Here is the full list of top 10 titles from 2020 and the reasons they were challenged:
George, by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message.
Or in video form:
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Since starting the Lesbrary, I (Danika) have read a whole of bi and lesbian books! After 10 years of reading and recommending, I know it can be intimating to know where to get started, so I keep a master list of all my recommendations–just the bi and lesbian books that I have personally read and would recommend. Most of them are linked to my Lesbrary reviews, so you can find out more about each title.
The Lesbrary Recommendations List has been updated with all the sapphic books I’ve read and loved so far this year! Check it out!
The American Library Association has just announced its 2021 Rainbow Book List—with a record-setting number of 129 librarian-approved LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books! There are so many, in fact, that for the first time, there are two Top 10 sub-lists of books with “exceptional merit,” one for younger children and one for older youth readers. Learn more and see some charts that illustrate just how the genre has grown.
Unlike the recently announced Stonewall Awards for children’s and young adult books, which recognize only a very few titles at the peak of excellence, the Rainbow Book List is a larger selection, intended to help young people find “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content” and assist librarians in developing their collections and advising readers. Its value is not only in recommending quality titles, but also in offering the imprimatur of the oldest and largest library association in the world, which can help convince communities to keep these books on the shelves. It’s a great resource for parents and teachers, too.
This year, the Rainbow Book List Committee of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Rainbow Round Table nearly 600 books (a record number!) and selected 129 titles of fiction and non-fiction books for toddlers through young adults. The committee noted: “This year’s offerings give us everything from precious board books, touching picture books, astonishing true stories and biographies of remarkable people. We provide you with titles that incorporate the wide and varied lives of young people, non-fiction titles that challenge the status quo, and fiction that will break your heart and mend it together again.”
Also, “As a result of the sheer number of eligible titles and those ultimately chosen,” the committee also for the first time ever offered a whopping 20 picks “of exceptional merit,” 10 in each of two age categories. The Top 10 Titles for birth through middle grade are:
Burgess, Matthew and Josh Cochran (Illustrator). Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring.
Mercurio, Peter and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator). Our Subway Baby. 2020.
Neal, DeShanna, Trinity Neal, and Art Twink (Illustrator). My Rainbow.
Pitman, Gayle E. and Violet Tobacco (Illustrator). My Maddy.
Simon, Rachel E. and Noah Grigni (Illustrator). The Every Body Book: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families.
Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies.
Sass, A.J. Ana on the Edge.
Leyh, Kat. Snapdragon.
Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish.
Smith, Niki. The Deep & Dark Blue.
I hope you’ll go check out the Top 10 list for Young Adults and the full list of books for all ages. Many of the books are also ones in my own Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More (which can be filtered to show just the books from 2020 or any year), though my focus is on picture books and books for parents, with some select middle grade titles, since I’m only one person and can’t do everything. On the other hand, I’m probably a little more willing to include some titles simply to show the range of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books today, even if they don’t all rise to quite the level of quality needed to make them library recommendations (though I do try to give an indication of quality in my reviews). With slightly different goals, we’ll end up with slightly different lists—but all with the aim of getting these books into readers’ hands. (Also, note that the Rainbow Book List includes books published in 2020 and between July 1 and December 31 of 2019, so it’s a little more than just one year—and may have omitted a few books published towards the end of 2020 that will be caught in next year’s list.)
I also want to share two charts to show visually just how much the number of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books has accelerated in the past few years. The first chart shows the number of Rainbow Book List titles since the List’s founding in 2008. I’ve hand counted the number of titles from the Rainbow Book List website; all errors in tabulation and charting are my own. Even this doesn’t fully show the sweeping change in LGBTQ-inclusive titles, though; several of the committee’s picture book picks in the earlier years, for example, had rather vague or highly allegorical queer content. Today’s books, on the whole, are more likely to show clearly queer characters. You’ll see the big leap starting with 2019’s list, which covers books published between July 2017 and December 2018. (Notes on method: In 2021, the Rainbow List broke out “Juvenile Fiction” into its own category for the first time; I’ve kept it with Middle Grade for the purpose of this chart. I’ve also counted Board Books as Picture Books, since they haven’t always been broken out. Graphic/Manga includes both middle grade and YA titles; since the Rainbow List has never broken them out, though, neither did I.)
The second chart shows the number of books the Committee evaluated each year before coming up with their final selections. This chart starts in 2013, when the Committee began regularly reporting this data. Again, the past few years have seen a significant jump. As I said last year as well, the fact that the committee evaluated so many titles and selected a much smaller percentage (roughly 17 to 32 percent) speaks both to the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive books that are being published and the fact that many of them still have a ways to go in terms of quality and “significant and authentic” LGBTQ content. Let’s hope that budding authors find ways of improving their skills and getting feedback on their drafts. I’ll also suggest that prospective authors read widely among existing LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books and other diverse, top-rated children’s titles before embarking on efforts of their own.
For a bit of history, here’s my interview with Nel Ward, chair of the Rainbow Book List Committee when the list first launched in 2008. It’s been a pleasure watching the number of titles grow and diversify over the years.
As always, many thanks to the librarians who put together the Rainbow Book List and to all of the librarians everywhere whose recommendations and support continue to positively impact the lives of so many young people and families.
Lesbian literature is an extensive genre-spanning over 2,500 years. Though the ancient Grecian poet Sappho is credited with producing the earliest forms of lesbian writing, the genre as we know it today began taking shape in the 19th century. Works from this period relied heavily on subtext and most often ended in heartache or tragedy, while the early 20th century saw the arrival of specific references to lesbianism in literature. The Well of Loneliness, published in 1928, is considered the first English language novel with explicitly lesbian themes. Lesbian literature surged in popularity during the ’50s and ’60s with the publication of pulp fiction novels and Women’s Barracks, Tereska Torres’ dime-store novel about World War II was the first of its kind. The foundational texts of lesbian literature were written in the latter 20th century. Today, the genre has expanded to include a more diverse and intersectional representation.
Overwhelmed with the myriad of great titles to choose from? Hungry for more lesbian literature? Use this list to find the best lesbian books in any genre.
Lesbian Fiction Books
The Price of Salt (1952) – Patricia Highsmith
The critically acclaimed film Carol is based on The Price of Salt, one of the earliest lesbian romance novels with a happy ending. In a tale of infatuation at first sight, discontent department store worker Therese is instantly enamored with Carol, an elegant older woman who purchases a doll for her daughter. Carol leaves her address so the doll may be delivered which Therese uses to send Carol a Christmas card. Carol, who is in the midst of a bitter divorce, responds. As Carol and Therese begin spending time together, their attraction intensifies.
Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a poor girl living in the rural South under bitter conditions. Celie is abused by her father then married off to another abusive man, Mister. Mister’s mistress, a sultry jazz singer named Shug, comes to stay with Celie and Mister while recovering from an illness. Celie and Shug develop an intimate relationship.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987) – Fannie Flagg
While visiting her mother-in-law in an Alabama nursing home, bored housewife Evelyn Couch strikes up a friendship with Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly resident. Ninny tells Evelyn about her childhood in the 1920s when Ruth Jamison, a pious and proper young woman came to live with the Threadgoodes in order to tame rambunctious tomboy Idgie. Idgie and Ruth become inseparable and develop an unspoken attraction. To Idgie’s dismay, Ruth must leave Whistle Stop at the end of summer to marry Frank Bennett. Years later, Idgie and Ruth reconnect.
Jess struggles to navigate life as a butch lesbian in1970s upstate New York. She finds refuge and community in gay bars and is taken under the wings of older butches. Cops raid the bar, harass and arrest everyone inside, and the bar closes down leaving Jess homeless. In a harrowing tale of survival, Jess searches for another place to fit in and finds herself along the way.
Sarah Waters is a prolific writer of lesbian historical fiction. Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, her two most prominent works, were adapted into BBC mini-series. Fingersmith follows Sue, a pickpocketing orphan raised on the streets of Victorian London. One night, she is approached by a con man who seeks her assistance in defrauding the heiress Maud Lilly and having her committed to an insane asylum. Sue agrees and poses as a maid to gain Maud’s trust. When they form an unexpected bond, Sue begins regretting her involvement in the con man’s scheme, but it may be too late.
Zoe and her husband Max want to have a baby but are unable to conceive. They try in vitro fertilization and give up after multiple unsuccessful attempts. The couple’s fertility issues strain their marriage leading to divorce. Later, Zoe meets Vanessa Shaw. The two women fall in love, get married, and decide to have children using the frozen embryos from Zoe’s previous marriage. But first, they need permission from Max, now a born again Christian uncomfortable with his ex-wife’s new relationship.
Annie on my Mind was one of the first young adult books to portray a lesbian love story between teenagers. Annie and Liza are two seventeen-year-olds coming of age in New York City. Annie lives in an upscale neighborhood and attends a private school while Liza comes from a lower-class background. Despite their differences, Annie and Liza meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on one fateful rainy day and fall in love.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985) – Jeanette Winterson
Though not a memoir, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is semi-autobiographical and details Jeanette’s experience coming of age in an evangelical household in England. Because of her staunchly religious upbringing, Jeanette is an outcast at school. She begins a relationship with another girl which makes her an outcast at church as well and complicates her feelings about faith.
Peters is a well known YA writer whose books feature LGBT characters. Other prominent titles include Luna, Between Mom and Jo, and Rage: A Love Story. In the novel, 17-year-old Holland is crushing her senior year of high school—she has a great boyfriend; she’s Student Council President, and she’s headed to an Ivy League. But the arrival of new girl CeCe makes Holland question everything.
The House You Pass on the Way (2003) – Jacqueline Woodson
Staggerlee has never fit in: she’s biracial in a predominantly black town and her grandparents were killed in an infamous racist bombing. As a result of unwanted attention, Staggerlee is quiet and keeps to herself. All that changes when Trout, her outspoken cousin, comes to visit. They spend a transformative summer together helping each other come to terms with their identities.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012) – Emily M. Danforth
In 1990’s Montana, 12-year-old Cameron Post loses her parents in a car crash and is taken in by her religious aunt and grandmother. While processing her parents’ death, Cameron begins questioning her sexuality and falls in love with her best friend Coley Taylor. Cameron’s conservative aunt finds out and resorts to drastic measures in order to “fix” Cameron. The novel was turned into a 2018 film which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
A dazzling retelling of Cinderella, Ash is the story of a teenage girl forced to live with her cruel stepmother after her father’s death. Ash finds solace in fairy tales and wishes a fairy would steal her away. One night, she is approached by a fairy prince with the power to grant her wish, but the next morning she meets the King’s Huntress Kaisa and falls quickly in love with her. Now, Ash is faced with a difficult decision: go with the fairy prince or stay with Kaisa. A prequel, Huntress, is set in the same universe.
Denna has been betrothed to the prince of Mynaria since childhood, but she has the ability to conjure fire which and magic is forbidden in Mynaria. As future queen, Denna must learn to ride warhorses and her teacher is none other than her betrothed’s sister: Mare. Denna and Mare do not get along, but when an assassin strikes, they must team up for the fate of the kingdom.
Carmilla is one of the earliest vampire stories, even predating Dracula. When a mysterious girl named Carmilla arrives in town unexpectedly, Austrian teenager Laura is happy to have a new friend. The two become close, but Carmilla’s sudden mood changes and refusal to divulge anything about her past drives a wedge between them. Meanwhile, girls in nearby towns are dying from an unusual ailment. The book inspired the popular lesbian web series Carmilla and a movie of the same name. The entire novella can be read online at Project Gutenberg.
Told through a series of vignettes, The Gilda Stories depicts the many lives of a black lesbian vampire over a 200 year period from 1850 to 2050. The novel won two Lambda Literary Awards, one in fiction and one in science fiction.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2007) – Alison Bechdel
Adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Fun Home is a graphic memoir of Bechdel’s relationship with her emotionally distant father who ran the town’s funeral home. When her father dies mysteriously, Bechdel uncovers his hidden gay past while also discovering her own sexuality. Bechdel is the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award. Other works include a second graphic memoir Are You My Mother and Dykes to Watch Out For, a lesbian comic strip that ran for 25 years.
Lumberjanes (2014) – Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
In this comic book series, Lumberjane Scouts Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo realize they got more than bargained for when they discover mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena at summer camp. The gang decides to solve the mystery of these strange occurrences, earning scout badges along the way. Noelle Stevenson is also behind Nimona, a sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel about a mad scientist’s shapeshifting sidekick.
Successful lawyer Katie Cassidy must reevaluate her ideal of a perfect life when her fiance suddenly dumps her. Reeling from the breakup, Katie agrees to have after-work drinks with a coworker, the confident and dapper Cassidy. Katie and Cassidy push each other out of their comfort zones and a sexy game of cat and mouse ensues.
Payton and Kendall have been best friends since childhood, but Kendall is a rising starlet poised to become Hollywood’s next “it” girl. To keep herself grounded, Kendall moves Payton to Hollywood with her. Payton has been harboring a secret: she is in love with Kendall and terrified her feelings won’t be reciprocated. Payton must pluck up the courage to confess her feelings even if it might ruin the friendship they both cherish.
Her Body and Other Parties (2018) – Carmen Maria Machado
A lyrical debut combining multiple genres of speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, fabulism), this collection uses magical realism to center women and their experiences in society. Each story examines what’s inflicted upon women’s bodies whether it’s sexuality and sensuality or violation and violence.
In this collection, Allison interrogates the South’s troubled history with evangelicalism, social class, racism, sexism, and homophobia in raw and realistic detail. These stories offer a visceral portrait of heartache and humanity’s darkest impulses that are difficult to encounter but impossible to ignore. Allison is also the author of the novel Bastard out of Carolina.
The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) (2018) – Amy Spalding
Out 17-year-old Abby Ives runs a plus-size fashion blog and dreams of making it big in the fashion world. When she has the opportunity to intern at her favorite boutique over the summer, Abby feels like her dreams are finally coming true. Complicating matters, Abby starts crushing on Jordi Perez, a fellow intern she’s competing against for a paid position at the boutique.
After a drunken hookup with a man, 24-year-old Andrea Morales discovers she is pregnant. Though her tight-knit group of queer friends express concern, Andrea decides to keep the baby. 10 years later, Andrea’s daughter Lucia wants to know more about her father.
Nicola attends the Seigel Institute, a college preparatory summer program and quickly fits in with a group of new friends. Nic is inexplicably drawn to one of them, the beautiful Battle Hall Davies, and their dynamic soon evolves from friends to something more.
Three best friends and proud geeks attend the popular fan convention SupaCon. Charlie, a vlogger and actress who just had a public breakup with her costar Reese has her eyes set on the con’s surprise guest: Alyssa Huntington.
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Baylea Jones is a freelance writer and high school teacher living in Houston with her wife. She holds an MFA in fiction from Western New England University. Her writing has been featured on HuffPost, Buzzfeed, Autostraddle, Electric Literature, and more
Extra! Extra! is back! It’s been a wild three weeks and sometimes the news becomes more than we can bear. But we’re back, and we’ll be moving to a biweekly schedule moving forward.
So much has happened, and in many ways it feels impossible for me to not look at everything through the lens of the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. This is just one of those times where it’s as much as I can do to look at all the many ways America is, quite simply, falling apart right now. So this week’s Extra! Extra! is pretty much limited to American news: several angles of breaking down everything that’s horrifying about the insurrection, the Trump administration’s parting shots and how COVID continues to rage amid American incompetence. If there’s pressing international news we’ve missed please do share in the comments.
Rachel: I agree with the overall thrust of this article, which is that the Republican party is beyond the point of no return in terms of its ability to publicly denounce the actions of its leaders that are objectionable even to their own stated values of country & party. I do, however, differ on the details of their analysis, which is that the failure of the GOP to join the Democrats en masse in impeaching Trump is “confirmation of how in thrall to Trump the Republican Party remains.” I don’t think the party or at this point almost any individual members of it are ‘in thrall to Trump;’ I don’t think Trump as an individual has had any real internal power for quite some time, even since before the election. All the internal sources say that Trump’s own staff has been avoiding him; now that he doesn’t have the carrot of future staffing in a second term to dangle, he has no leverage. The GOP is certainly in thrall, but it’s not to Trump; it’s to his base, and the critical mass of agitated white nationalists that he’s allied himself with. Multiple GOP members of congress said they received death threats related to their voting to impeach, something many progressive members of congress, especially representatives of color, are very familiar with. The GOP made a pretty literal deal with the devil to get the level of unchecked power they’ve had for so long, and the violent, ruthless groups they’ve made it with are open to turning on them at any time.
Natalie: It’s unsurprising to me that the Squad — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — have been as clear-eyed about the danger the insurrectionists — and those who enabled them — posed to the members of Congress. Since being labeled enemies of the far right, they have had to hire additional security and work under constant threat. They know danger when they see it.
What’s increasingly distressing — aside from the simple fact that these women are subjected to this treatment in the first place — is that the threat is coming from inside the House (literally). It’s not just the insurrectionists climbing through shattered windows that these members have to be scared of, it’s their fellow members of Congress. Frightening.
Himani: I knew a woman in college, once, who would talk idyllically of joining the army, going to Iraq and shooting up a lot of people (this was the final years of W. Bush, for context). As the only brown Asian person in our department, I was always extremely disturbed by this sentiment expressed by one of the few people who actually talked to me and otherwise treated me decently (which is really more than I can say for most of the other students or my professors in my department, but I digress). I think I’m going to upset a lot of people when I say that I’ve always felt it takes a certain amount of dehumanizing of other people to be part of military operations knowing that your job will entail going to a different part of the world you don’t actually know anything about and then coming up with justifications for murdering them. And then the leaks started coming out about a fraction of the atrocities committed by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, and another fellow student in my department who was formerly part of the military very much took the attitude of “yea, that’s not great that this was leaked” as opposed to “it is horrifying that U.S. committed these acts of torture and debasement.” So imagine my surprise at reading that there’s a problem of extremism within the U.S. military and among veterans and that it’s been largely ignored and dismissed.
And as for the police, well — there really isn’t any more to say about that. The problem of white supremacy having a stronghold over police organizations is so well-established and has been reported on so, so many times that really I think it came as a surprise to no one when a video was posted showing Capitol police officers practically holding the door open for the heavily armed and violent mob.
In an interview linked further down, a Sri Lankan writer says “And, the violence of your culture, which has always been projected outward, is now falling in.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot because he is completely correct. See, this is the slippery slope of justifying all those civilian deaths abroad and all those Black lives cut short at the hands of law enforcement and their accomplices. The definition of who can hold power, who is human, — simply who is allowed to live, becomes infinitely narrower, and it’s only a matter of time before you, too, end up on that list of people it’s better to just kill rather than to reason through disagreements with. Which, as the insurrectionists are being prosecuted, it’s become undeniable that is exactly what they were there to do.
Natalie: So, I come to the table with a bit of a different perspective on military service than Himani…in part because so much of my family’s served and my existence literally would not have been possible without it…but we’ll save that conversation for another day.
I understand the concern about a “digital oligarchy” and, certainly, that’s something I’d want to guard against…but the thing with Trump and other right-wing users that have seen their accounts banned in the last week: TWITTER AND FACEBOOK ARE PRIVATE ENTITIES — THERE’S NO FREE SPEECH GUARANTEE HERE — AND THEY’VE ALLOWED TRUMP TO VIOLATE THEIR TERMS OF SERVICE FOR YEARS.
Per Natalie’s comments above about the response from European leaders, a lot of people want to act like this is going to herald in a new era of censorship on the internet. But the internet is already censored. It’s just not censored for straight, white, cis people who hold jobs we haven’t demonized.
Natalie: In my home state of North Carolina, the governor has mobilized 350 National Guard members to assist law enforcement in Raleigh, where Inauguration Day protests are expected, and sent another 200 headed to Washington, D.C. to support the federal efforts. These are 550 national guardsmen that could be spending their time helping the state effectively distribute the COVID vaccine to North Carolinians who qualify for it.
The lies and incompetence of this current administration continues to negatively impact us all.
Himani: And in his final sweep, Pompeo is hard at work to do as much irrevocable damage to non-white people around the world as he can. These actions would be egregious in any context, but they’re particularly hard to bear witness to right now, given that terrorists raided the U.S. Capitol last week with the intent of killing countless numbers of people but hey they aren’t really “terrorists” because they’re not brown, right?
Himani: Patrick Gathara spares no words for how badly American democracy has failed and he is absolutely, undeniably correct. As he writes: “[America’s] election system was an anachronistic mess long before the storming of the Capitol. Its imperial presidency is still the stuff of third world nightmares and its sycophantic legislature is reminiscent of our daytime realities. It may have more stuff and bigger guns, but at heart the west is simply a richer version of the rest.”
Himani: This is probably the best perspective I have read on the events that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol last week. For me, as I was in some amount of denial and numbness to the news that was coming in, reading this interview with Sri Lankan writer and podcaster Indi Samarajiva really communicated the severity of the situation in the U.S. right now, and his palpable frustration with American exceptionalism is something I can deeply relate to. But perhaps the most poignant part of the interview, for me, was this observation:
“You guys have been inflicting all of this trauma on the world and now the chickens have, to a large degree, come home to roost. … I don’t mean that the rancor is coming home to roost. I mean, that’s sort of the militarization of your society, the violence of your society. A lot of the people who would have attacked your Congress, they might have been serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, causing God knows what problems to the people there. The militarization has come to your borders. Your militarization at the edges of your society has come home to roost. And the violence of your culture, which has always been projected outward, is now falling in.”
Nevertheless, They’re STILL Contesting Election Results…
Rachel: This lawsuit is an unprecedented step, the first time in history a state AG has sued a police department; AG James’ statement is pretty scathing: “There was ample ability and opportunity for the city and N.Y.P.D. leadership to make important changes to the way that officers interact with peaceful protesters, but time and time again, they did not… They did not train, they did not supervise, they did not stop officers who engaged in this misconduct. …And they did not discipline them either. Instead, they failed the people of the City of New York.”
However, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel like in material terms, this isn’t enough. From the NYT: “If Ms. James is successful, a monitor would join another already keeping watch over how the city implements changes to its stop-and-frisk policy. In 2013, a federal judge appointed a monitor after finding that officers targeted and stopped Black and Hispanic people without sufficient legal reason in violation of their civil rights.”
So, even if this lawsuit is granted, the outcome is… a monitor? In addition to the already existing monitor, which clearly hasn’t worked? In addition to being ineffectual, a new monitor would be one more avenue through which money and resources are actually being routed into policing, and another office that’s invested in the continued existence of police (and in fact, their misconduct) so it can keep funding. This isn’t a dig at AG James’s office; it’s just a reflection of how limited the options are in terms of ‘reforming’ this institution.
Things That Happened Before the Insurrection That Already Laid This Bare
Once again, it’s Banned Books Week—and a new list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books from the last decade reminds us that LGBTQ-inclusive books for kids remain among the most (needlessly) controversial.
The American Library Association (ALA) has compiled its annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists into a list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019. Many are acclaimed novels, like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and even the Bible. As the Banned Books Week Coalition said in its press release, however, many of the books on the list were targeted for LGBTQIA+ content. They include:
Many more of the books on the list also include LGBTQ characters or ones of other marginalized identities. When the annual list for 2019 came out this past April, the ALA noted “a rising number of coordinated, organized challenges to books, programs, speakers, and other library resources that address LGBTQIA+ issues and themes. A notable feature of these challenges is an effort to frame any material with LGBTQIA+ themes or characters as inherently pornographic or unsuitable for minors, even when the materials are intended for children and families and they are age and developmentally appropriate.” Additionally, they observed:
Organized groups also continued to protest and disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour events held in libraries, claiming that the events advance political, social, and religious agendas that are inconsistent with the groups’ conservative Christian beliefs about gender and sexual identity. In 2019, OIF [the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom] tracked more than 30 challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and other Pride programs, and identified a new and distressing trend of disinviting authors who had been invited to speak or read from their books, solely on the grounds that the authors identify as LGTBQIA+ or because their books include LGBTQIA+ themes. [Here’s my coverage of a school that disinvited author Phil Bildner from a virtual visit this May, and one that disinvited author Robin Stevenson from a talk last year.]
I don’t think I need to remind readers here of how damaging such censorship can be to LGBTQ children, children of LGBTQ parents, and also their peers, who will grow up never fully learning about the world around them. This is not to say that all books are appropriate for all children; some are clearly geared towards different age ranges. Yet even children of the same age have differing levels of maturity, so it is ultimately up to us parents or guardians to decide what books are appropriate for our own children. I will also add, speaking as the parent of a child who is almost grown, that inevitably our children will learn about some things in life before we think they should. It’s then up to us to help them understand and contextualize this information—and books are often more of a help here than a hinderance. Banning books from schools and libraries is rarely the answer and can even make a parent’s task harder.
The ALA also reminds us that the censorship of books in libraries is a violation of our First Amendment rights, yet 82 to 97 percent of challenges remain unreported. (To confidentially report a challenge, use this handy ALA online form.)
Despite the continuing challenges to LGBTQ books, however, I see several reasons for hope: Although Heather Has Two Mommies has been under fire since 1982, when it was used as an example of “the militant homosexual agenda” by an Oregon group campaigning to allow anti-gay discrimination, it came out in a new edition with revised text and graphics in 2015. And Tango Makes Three saw a 10th anniversary edition in 2015 that brought the tale to the board book format. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which has seen challenges since 2008, came out in a new edition this past May. Clearly, the challenges haven’t slowed down the popularity of these books or the commitment of their publishers.
As I wrote in April, too, I believe that the increase in challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and queer-inclusive children’s books is in part an indicator of their success as they spread to more libraries and communities. I’m also heartened by the many, many LGBTQ-inclusive books I’ve reviewed that haven’t been banned, although I do wonder whether this is because they’re not becoming known and getting into libraries in the first place. I’d like to think that even though queer-inclusive books will undoubtedly face more challenges, it will be harder for them all to be challenged as their numbers grow. In 2018 and 2019 there was a rise in the number of queer-inclusive children’s books published, and 2020 is continuing the surge. Get them for your own family or recommend them to your local children’s librarian.
Want to hear more about banned books from an author who’s dealt with many challenges? Alex Gino’s George, an award-winning middle grade novel about a transgender girl, has been on the yearly Top 10 list for four years in a row, topping the list in 2018 and 2019. Gino will be joining the Banned Books Week Coalition and OIF for a special Facebook Live event on Wednesday, September 30, to talk about censorship and representation in literature. For even more (mostly virtual) events on various topics related to censorship, inclusion, and more, see the Banned Book Week Events listing. Read proudly this week and every other!
(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)
The number of LGBTQ-inclusive picture books has grown exponentially over the past decade, particularly in the last few years. There are some topics and types of representation that are still lacking, however, so instead of reviewing existing books in this piece, I want to discuss some of those gaps.
First, we need more picture books that show LGBTQ characters and their families but aren’t “about” being LGBTQ per se. There is a slowly growing number of such titles, but far from enough. Sometimes a family with LGBTQ parents just goes to visit grandma; sometimes a transgender or nonbinary child has an intergalactic space adventure that has nothing to do with their gender identity.
At the same time, such books don’t always have to completely ignore the characters’ LGBTQ identities. Kyle Lukoff’s When Aiden Became a Brother and Max on the Farm are masterful examples of how to achieve this balance, bringing up the characters’ gender identities when relevant to a specific situation, but not focusing the stories on them.
We also need far more books centering the experiences of LGBTQ people of color and their families. Most LGBTQ-inclusive picture books of the past few years do indeed show people of color, but the vast majority of them involve making one parent a person of color (usually Black) and the other one White, or showing a classroom of children with various racial identities. It’s great to see this representation of multiracial families and schools—but we also need more books where the protagonist and their entire family are people of color. (There are a few, but not many.) Also sorely lacking are picture-book biographies of famous LGBTQ people of color that show their intersectional identities.
I would also like to see more LGBTQ-inclusive picture books that reflect the characters’ ethnic and/or religious heritage. There are none, to my knowledge, that show LGBTQ people or families celebrating Hanukkah, Easter, Kwanzaa, or Diwali, for example, and very few for other holidays. Such content would help show that LGBTQ people’s lives do indeed intersect with the many communities of which we are part and that LGBTQ identities, faith, and tradition are not mutually exclusive. Creating this content in authentic ways, however, also means engaging “own voices” creators who share identities with their subjects. Smaller independent publishers such as Flamingo Rampant, Reflection Press, and My Family Products are leading the way here; larger publishers would do well to follow their examples.
There are also no picture books that show clearly bisexual parents. I think there are ways for writers to make a parent’s bisexuality visible and still avoid centering the book on it as an “issue”—a parent could mention or encounter a person they dated in the past, of a different gender than their current spouse/partner, or a single parent could convey an interest in marrying someone of any gender, for example.
We also need more picture books that feature kids with transgender or nonbinary parents, in addition to the happily growing number with trans and gender creative kids. Gayle Pitman’s recent My Maddy stars a child speaking lovingly about her nonbinary parent, but there are many more stories to be told.
Despite the need for more “non-issue” books, too, children can still benefit from thoughtfully written titles that do address some of the specific situations that kids of LGBTQ parents and LGBTQ children may encounter—and there are many such topics that have not yet been covered extensively in picture books, such as a parent’s gender transition. The upcoming She’s My Dad! by Sarah Savage will help fill the gap here, but it shows only one possible story out of many. Another topic in need of more treatment is how queer families form, especially from the perspective of a child watching their LGBTQ parents go through the process of bringing a new sibling into the home, whether by assisted reproduction, fostering/adoption, or other means. A few, mostly self-published books exist, but given the variety of queer experiences, there is room for many more.
Children could also benefit from picture books about other potentially puzzling or difficult family moments, like when parents are divorcing, dating someone new, or remarrying, told through the lenses of LGBTQ families. There are a couple of self-published works that cover these topics (and the very first LGBTQ-inclusive picture book in English, Jane Severance’s 1979 When Megan Went Away, was about parental separation), but again, there are many possible situations and stories that have not yet been covered.
It’s worth noting, too, that many LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books have been self-published because the authors felt a need, often stemming from their own families. They deserve our praise for taking the time to write themselves into these stories. Yet self-published books can be a mixed lot, quality-wise, and often don’t get the marketing required to become known to the readers seeking them.
We should therefore support independent authors, not only by purchasing their books but also by finding ways to help them polish their works (e.g., constructive but kind feedback in online reviews) and to share them widely when we enjoy them. (Highlights Foundation last year held a workshop on writing LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, with instruction from published luminaries, which was another step in the right direction.)
At the same time, we should push larger publishers to seek out diverse talent (across many dimensions), to bring out additional LGBTQ-inclusive picture books on the topics above (and more), and to reach out to LGBTQ organizations, journalists, and other writers to help spread the word. Children of LGBTQ parents and LGBTQ children will benefit—and so will their peers. Everyone enjoys an intergalactic space adventure now and then.
(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)
(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)
Someday (hopefully) soon, quarantine practices will be phased out, and we’ll be free to travel around the world.
On Reddit, users are listing their favorite saunas, prompted by a guy asking for steamy recommendations.
“Maybe you’re like me — deprived of human touch since the pandemic and reminiscing about your past ways,” the original poster wrote, kicking off the conversation. “While gay saunas are not for every guy, I miss going to safe places to meet men and just feel liberated.”
Related: In response to coronavirus, gay sauna refuses entry to people who are ‘too hot’
Here are the saunas commenters recommended, illustrated with Instagram pics geotagged at each location.
The Babylon, Bangkok, Thailand
Der Boiler, Berlin, Germany
Sauna Sitges, Barcelona, Spain
Sauna Paraíso, Madrid, Spain
Related: Guys reveal their best and worst bathhouse experiences
It’s illegal to be LGBT in 70+ countries. Some of these countries hold the most incredible wonders, brightest adventures, and most sought after travel experiences. We believe that all people, regardless of their identities, deserve to see the beauty and wonder of the world. We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be. Traveling with a group is always safer in high-risk countries because it allows you to blend with a crowd and gives you direct contact with bilingual people in case there are any complications. Which is why we put together this list of incredible experiences LGBT people can enjoy on the next holiday.
Hike to the Treasury in Petra
Jordan might be a lesser-known travel destination but it is emerging as a true powerhouse in recent years. At this point, everyone has seen the stunning photos taken on the hill from above the Treasury on Instagram. A night spent sipping tea at a desert camp with the Bedouin people followed by a hike to the Ancient City of Petra. You can imagine that would be the highlight of visiting Jordan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like it’s been ripped straight from the pages of an Aladdin fairytale book. With the camels, gorgeous carpets, and beautiful sandstone colored buildings. However, if you ask anyone who’s been there what their favorite part is and everyone will tell you the people. There’s really nothing more magical than that.
Spot the Big 5 in the Serengeti
Have you thought about visiting Tanzania yet? We’ve all watched the magic of the Serengeti through the eyes of the National Geographic Channel for years. Everything from the lions hunting for prey to the vultures cleaning up the mess was documented for us. However, there is no substitute for being right in the middle of it all. With the rhino growing closer and closer to extinction the time is now to go see these majestic animals. Just in case you didn’t know the big five includes the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino all five can be found in the Serengeti.
Haggle for goods at the Medina of Fez
The Medina in Fez is a swirling center of hectic chaos that has not changed for centuries. Your senses will but absolutely overloaded in all ways when you visit Morocco but the Fez is the peak of that beautiful chaos. When you think you simply can not take anymore you’ll pop up to a rooftop terrace to sip tea overlooking everything. Fez is bright, it is colorful and it’s loud but there is an energy there that is nearly unmatched. Once you’ve had your tea, navigate the narrow streets and negotiate a good price on something for the home. Don’t take it easy, these merchants are seasoned veterans and drive a hard bargain. Getting a good deal here is a notch in your traveler belt you can proudly claim forever.
Visit the Splendor of the Taj Mahal
A visit to India undeniably belongs in a prominent place on all travel bucket lists. While the whole country is spotted with beautifully unique cities any trip would be incomplete without making a stop at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a physical gift symbolizing an emperor’s deep love and appreciation for his wife. The Taj Mahal complex is very large with massive gardens and outbuildings but the mausoleum is the highlight. It is an architectural blend of Persian, Islamic and Indian design. The Taj Mahal and its surrounding complex are one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. It is worth noting that while there are efforts being made to protect the Taj, pollution is harshly affecting the stunning white marble.
Marvel at the wonder that is the Pyramids of Giza
Only one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World still exists. That wonder is, of course, the Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are located on the outskirts of the bustling metropolitan city of Cairo. In fact, you can see the skyline from the Pyramids, a crazy blend of old and new. A visit to Egypt just is not complete without taking time to kiss the Sphinx. Built almost 5000 years ago the Pyramids of Giza are a truly exceptional architectural feat. While there are still many theories on exactly how and who built the Pyramids there is no doubt it belongs on every travel bucket list. Seeing the way the dust kicks up off the camels’ hooves as they pass through the desert is truly any photographer or travelers’ dream.
Tour the historic walls of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia
Close your eyes and picture your self visiting Russia. There’s a really good chance you pictured the colors, patterns, and shapes of St. Basils Cathedral. Located at the southern end of the famed Red Square. St Basil’s Cathedral has become Russia’s most iconic building. A UNESCO World Heritage site that was ordered to be built by Ivan the Terrible in 1561. The interior of the cathedral is smaller and more compact one might expect. However, while visiting the ornately decorated nine chaples you will often find choral groups singing.
Explore the Magnificent Petronas Towers in Malaysia
Malaysia was home to the tallest building in the world from 1998 to 2004. Located in Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Towers are still the tallest twin towers in the world. To get a birds-eye view you can buy a ticket to go inside or view this stunning architectural feat from the ground. On the 41st floor, you can walk the sky bridge, the highest of its kind. From there you’ll keep traveling upwards to the 86th-floor viewing platform where you’ll see the whole city. Built by an Argentinian architect there is a distinct touch of Islamic influence. With five tiers of the building representing the five pillars of Islam. Make time on your visit to Malaysia to check it out in the evening, they are truly stunning lit up at night.
Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
The world’s second-largest coral reef is located in Belize. No matter if you are an expert scuba diver or snorkeling for the first time, Belize is right for you. There are over 500 species of fish that call this reef home. If you are interested in becoming PADI certified this is a great destination to do so. If snorkeling is more your speed, you can expect to spend lazy days under the sun spotting more sea life than imaginable. If you’re looking for a Caribbean destination Belize is a great option.
Trek with Gorillas in Uganda
Be prepared to get a little sweaty and dirty on this adventure in Uganda. You’ll be hiking though the thick mountains of Uganda looking for the mountain gorillas. With nothing between you and these massive animals, your anticipation will be building with every step. While there is no barrier between you and the gorillas they are very familiar with humans. Take the time to observe them with their families in their most natural habitat. When you’re packing for this one don’t forget to pack some patience. Even with an experienced guide, it can take hours to track the gorillas down.