Prohibiting kids from reading books simply because they include homosexual characters is built on an unfounded argument and serves to enforce rigid stereotypes in children. It does more harm than good and needs to stop.
The American Library Association has found that of the 10,415 complaints on record against children’s books, 28 percent, the largest portion, are made against books having “sexually explicit” material. Tango Makes Three is one such controversial book about two male penguins that raise baby Tango together. It’s a story of a nontraditional family that’s based off a true story. Daddy’s Roommate is another that’s told from the perspective of a boy who spends time with his dad and lover doing normal, fun activities, from flying a kite to fishing. Never are there scenes of gay sex. When the boy’s mother tells him his father is gay, the boy discovers “being gay is just one more kind of love. And love is the best kind of happiness.”
Herein lays one of the central messages of most of these novels that stir up so much controversy. As Salt Lake Community College instructor of children’s literature, Sue Briggs, explains, “These books say [to kids] being different is okay.” Briggs emphasizes such books aren’t about sexuality or sex; they’re about love, family, lifestyles and celebrating differences.
The American Bar Association estimates eight to ten million children are being raised in three million gay and lesbian-headed households in the United States. For these children, there is little for them to relate to with their prescribed diet of books. Thus, reading books about different families will not normalize the experiences of these ten million children. It will also bring awareness to children who do live in the typical, nuclear, middle class family with a female mom and male dad who don’t know there are other types of families.
Allowing children the right to read such literature will familiarize them to the diversity the world has to offer and the people living in it. This would curb the number of playground and classroom taunts of someone or something being “gay,” “homo” or a “faggot,” that are synonymous to being stupid, unusual, pathetic, or any number of connotatively negative, undesirable qualities.
The presence of homosexual themes in children’s literature, in environments where peers and adults alike read such stories, can facilitate a young adults “coming out.” Children who are struggling with their sexuality, possibly suffering with psychological problems, ranging from low self-esteem, guilt, internalized homophobia, and in certain cases even suicide, could find solace in books about characters similar to them.
The amount of discrimination towards children who have gay parents or who deviate from what’s expected of the socialized gender roles are potentially placed on the receiving end of jokes, rejection, bullying and discrimination. Because so many adults bar children from reading about these nontraditional families, they not only present kids with an underrepresented view of the world, but reinforce the idea that any family different from the ones they read about is abnormal, wrong and weird.
Chris Crutcher, an author of young adult fiction who isn’t afraid to include homosexual characters, says the censoring of such books is “legalized bigotry.” In that same 2009 interview, Crutcher said, “Being anti gay is bigotry, pure and simple, and in ten or twenty years, the loud voices against homosexuality are going to look as stupid as the anti-black voices of our early history.”
“Homophobia encourages children to engage in sex-role stereotypes which destroy the possibilities of female assertiveness and male sensitivity, and is used as a rationale for discriminating against gay men and lesbians,” says Sandra K. Chapman, an early childhood developer and elementary teacher said in a 2005 interview.
Books of damsels in distress, lonely princesses waiting for their prince to rescue them from peril and a life of solitude, reinforce the gender norms that females are weak and need males to save them and bring them meaning and happiness. By allowing children to read novels that treat homosexual characters and lifestyles as normal would help establish the idea gender roles aren’t so rigid and narrow. The idea people are not defined by their genitalia or prohibited by society’s labels of gender is empowering. By starting earlier with a flexible attitude toward seemingly strange roles of a male and female, children may grow up to be whoever they want to be, as cheesy as that sounds.
To avoid indoctrinating a prejudice as ignorant and cruel as racism and broaden children’s perspectives on what constitutes a family, it’s important to allow children the opportunity to read these novels. Seeing that people can find happiness as they choose, that being different is okay and that people don’t have to be restrained by gender roles is empowering and beneficial to a child’s growth. Opening them up to a literary world that isn’t so narrow in scope, allows children to celebrate similarities and differences, as well as think outside the boxes of society, literally.