By Mollie Pharo, MLS
Diversity. Inclusion. Tolerance. As librarians, we have reached the consensus that these are worthwhile and important ideals. We have also agreed to ensure that libraries uphold them, so that collections support and reflect the broad spectrum of patrons who use them. But it’s valuable to remember what the availability of LGBT(QAI+) titles can mean to individual patrons on a deeply personal level.
I am one of those patrons. I’ve seen both sides of this issue: as a library selector and as a patron who has read many such titles and found them to be moving, inspiring, and important to me in my life.
As I began to plan this article, I reflected on the ways my family and I have turned to LGBT titles over the years. My wife Nancy and I are a lesbian couple who have been together nearly 30 years and raised two children. We’ve benefited from both fiction and nonfiction books for children, young adults, and adults.
We grew up and raised our children during a historical period when we benefited greatly from changes happening in the writing and publishing of books for an LGBT audience. Literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, and much of the 20th century, included few titles with overt gay themes or characters. Often books that touched on such themes or characters did so in coded, sub-textual ways. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that sodomy laws and book content started to change. From the 1970s to the present, we’ve seen an increase in mainstream acceptance of LGBT people and, most recently, the legalization of gay marriage. This has coincided with waves of feminism, as well as a rise in acceptance and promotion of multiculturalism and diversity.
Nancy and I first got together in 1986, and at that time we found very few titles with LGBT characters or themes at our public library. Bookstores were our go-to places, especially independent women’s and LGBT bookstores. Jane Rule, Katherine Forrest, and Armistead Maupin were some of our favorite authors.
Our parenting journey led us to appreciate the practical Nolo Press legal guides we found at the library, current versions of which are “Making It Legal” and “A Legal Guide for Gay and Lesbian Couples.” We also read books about options for becoming parents, looked up studies and journal articles about children raised by gay and lesbian parents, and, of course, consulted general guides on having a baby and rearing children.
One of the ways our family benefited from raising our children when we did was by having access to more books with representations of LGBTQAI+ families and diverse characters than had been available even a few years earlier. Children who are gay/lesbian or who come from families with gay or lesbian parents benefit greatly from seeing their situations represented in fiction and nonfiction. In short, it validates them. That’s what inclusion is all about —not reaching quotas, but helping people to feel like they belong. We had our children in 1991 and 1995. “Heather has Two Mommies” was published in 1989, and “Daddy’s Roommate” in 1991. The 1990s also marked the emergence of more YA novels exploring LGBTQAI+ issues and characters. More recently, both children’s books and picture books contain more LGBTQAI+ characters and themes, although these are still rarer than they are in YA or adult titles.
Nancy and I have been pleased to see the recent upsurge in books by and about transgender and queer people and issues as well. According to a 2015 NPR story, hundreds of children’s books featuring transgender characters have been published since 2000. What’s more, most fiction genres — along with comics and graphic novels — now include titles that feature LGBTQAI+ characters and themes. And, as always, there are still pulp fiction and erotica titles, though not so much in public libraries and mainstream bookstores.
I’ve seen and lived this issue from both sides. If you have thoughts to share, from any perspective, please include them in the Comments section. I’d love to hear from you!
October is LGBT History Month, and Brodart’s Bibz Featured Lists – Hot Topics – LGBT History Month, is a great place to start. Bibz Featured Lists – Hot Topics also sometimes includes other lists of interest. Another place to check in Bibz is in the Awards lists – ALA section. Included here are the Over the Rainbow Project Book List 2017, Rainbow Project Book List 2017, Stonewall – Barbara Gettings Lit Award Winner/Honors 2017, Stonewall – Israel Fishman NF Award Winner/Honors 2017, and Stonewall – Morgan/Romans Youth Award Winners/Honors 2017.
I also recommend checking out the Lambda Literary website. The Lambda Literary Awards (the ‘Lammys’) “identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.”
Mollie unofficially retired at the end of November 2012, which has given her time to enjoy reading more books — mostly mysteries. She has worked as a part-time remote selector for Brodart since 2013. Click here for more.