By John Coy
Recently, I had a disheartening and eye-opening experience. I appeared at a suburban Minneapolis bookstore for the last half of a discussion of my young adult novel BOX OUT. The teachers and librarians assembled spoke positively about the book and liked Liam Bergstrom, the main character, who’s brought up to the high school varsity and encounters a coach who is leading team prayer.
Days later, however, I received an email from someone who had been there for the whole discussion. She said that although she didn’t enjoy sports, she really liked BOX OUT. She thought it would be a great book for eighth and ninth graders and was sad to hear media specialists say that they could not put it on their middle school library shelves because of the mention of lesbianism.
Nobody had hinted at this to me, so I emailed some of the other participants to find out what had happened. In true “Minnesota Nice” fashion, the teachers and librarians had decided not to say anything negative while I was present in order to avoid confrontation. And yes, a number of public school media specialists said they would not¬–and COULD NOT–put the book on their middle school libraries because of the presence of a lesbian character in a story about contemporary high school students. The consensus among them was that, “Someone might object and it’s not worth it to fight with parents.”
In talking with more people in the field, I’ve discovered that for many middle school media specialists the inclusion of a gay or lesbian character is enough to keep a book out of their library. “Those are the books the public library can put on their shelves,” one librarian said. Vicki Palmquist of Children’s Literature Network said, “Media specialists are losing their jobs right and left and in between. They aren’t going to rock their own boat.”
So here are three questions for you:
Have you encountered this ban on books with lesbian and gay characters in middle school libraries?
What message do we send students when one group’s existence is not allowed in the books in these libraries?
And what should we do about it?