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Liberty and Justice...For Who?

By Catherine Ryan Hyde

A few weeks ago I made a new "Internet friend" from Kentucky, a young gay book blogger who told me the following story. 

After discovering reading as an escape, a place where he "felt normal," he had the courage to ask the school librarian why--in stacks of books about gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy--he found not one LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) title.  Not one.

Her answer?  "This is a school library. If you are looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a book store." 

Then, when I'd foolishly lulled myself into thinking I couldn't be any more shocked by the institutionalization of prejudice against the LGBT community...

On July 27th, School Library Journal published a similar article,but not about a school library. 

A public library in New Jersey removed all copies of the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson, 2000).  In spite of the fact that the book was named by School Library Journal in 2001 as one of the best adult books for high school students.  In spite of the fact that it was celebrated by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, as "the first creative resource by and for queer and questioning youth of every color, class, religion, gender, and ability."  In spite of the fact that there had been no formal book challenge.  Just an informal tip from the Glen Beck-inspired 9.12 Project.

Library emails instructed that all copies needed to "totally disappear."

This is an ugly echo of the process by which the book was pulled from school libraries in the same area, while two other LGBT books were questioned.  "The controversy began at a school board meeting in March when a group of 18 residents, who later identified themselves as part of the 9.12 Project, a nationwide government watchdog network launched by the talk-radio and television personality Glenn Beck, called for the banning of three books, all dealing with teenage sexuality and issues of homosexuality." 

My question:  Are there any other books in the school library dealing with sexuality?  Hetero-sexuality?  Do they get to stay?

Then, to round it all out, I recently learned that a current candidate for California State Senate, Sam Blakeslee, called Harvey Milk Day, a holiday honoring the first-ever openly gay elected official, "Noxious."  

So...to phrase this as patiently as possible...I think we, as a country, are still having issues with acceptance.  Simple acceptance.  Acceptance, in my view, is the ability to understand that certain things just are—no matter your feelings about them—and the maturity to know that mental resistance will change nothing.

But don't take my word for it.  Disapprove of the LGBT community all you want, and see if it goes away.

Discrimination of this sort is blatantly un-American, in my view.   We ask kids to stand and put their hands over their hearts while pledging allegiance to a country "...with liberty and justice for all."

Meanwhile marriage equality is denied at almost every election. (In November ‘09, Maine becamethe 31st state to oppose same-gender marriage in a popular vote.)   States can—and often do—restrict adoption based on sexual orientation.Job discrimination against LGBT individuals is perfectly legal in 29 states, gays still can't serve openlyin the military, and gay teens commit suicideat four times the rate of straight teens.

Yet some would still deny LGBT youth a simple refuge, the solace of a mirror of literature in which to find themselves.

Two questions for the New Jersey and Kentucky librarians, the California politician Sam Blakeslee, and the 9.12 Project, which purports to defend the constitution:  What part of the First Amendment don't you understand?   And how can you ask LGBT youth to pledge allegiance to a country that pledges no allegiance to them?

I asked my young book blogger friend how he feels about "The Pledge."  It bothers him.  But he says it.   Here's what he told me: "How can I be pissed at America for not respecting me if I don't first respect America?"

So...your turn, America.  Time to return the favor.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of sixteen books, including Pay It Forward, which was made into a major motion picture. Her newest titles are Second Hand Heart (September 2010, Transworld/Bantam UK) and Jumpstart the World (October 2010, Knopf Books for Young Readers). Jumpstart the World and her 2006 novel Becoming Chloe are both LGBT titles.

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5 Comment count
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I think we're in for more book banning,

that seems to be the dark political climate. One indicator: last week Blakeslee was a successful candidate for the California State Senate.

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Here's a good article

by a 15 year old gay book reviewer who writes about the exasperation he experiences trying to find LGBT books in the library and how important these books were to him as he was growing and discovering himself. It's a bit winded, but he writes with passion about something very important.

Thank you for adding your voice to the issue, Catherine. I thought it was a well written article.

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Hi Steve

Yep, that's him.  That's my book blogger buddy.  Yes, I was very impressed by is story, too.  It really inspired this piece.  And I love what he said about America.

 Thanks for your thoughts.  

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You're right.

We seem well on our way into one of those hysterical outbreaks of paranoia that sweeps over us every generation or two. When we get this way, there is nothing too bizarre or unlikely to not gain some sort of credence with some part of the population.

There seems to be something in the American character that is ready to believe the worst about someone. Maybe Salem was the first time this devil raised it's head, or maybe some Native Americans felt it before that. It's always been there, and I suppose it always will be.

I'm expecting to turn on the TV some day soon and see some yahoos standing around a burning pile of books, celebrating themselves. It was a great mistake to not have a commandment against self-rightousness-it feels like virtue, and we fall into that trap way more often than a great people should.

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I am not in any particular

I am not in any particular side but I think there's nothing wrong with these kind of books. Actually, it is a big help for those who are trying to find themselves. Glen Beck's inspired 9.12k project, for me, is just a form of exercising freedom.