Common ground

You know, Barbara Curtis* (Mommy Life) just said something I really agree with:

I’m wondering if a picture book about a boy who wanted to grow up to be a priest – maybe based on a true story – would be acceptable on public school library shelves? Or how about a story of a girl who one day got off the bus crying because two boys – one from a fiercely atheist home – had called her “pea-brain” and “stupid” because she is a Christian? This really happened to my daughter Maddy a couple years ago (the only time she ever came home without a smile on her consistently happy face).

The point is that all children will encounter opposition at some point in their lives – they are too fat, too skinny, too smart, too dumb, too clumsy, too shy. Their house is too small, their car too old, their parents too weird. Maybe their parents are two dads or two moms. You know, I don’t think in the world of little children these things really matter all that much.

The early years are the years for building up character, compassion and kindness so that when these issues come up our kids will respond in the right way. They would not bully someone for being homosexual or having homosexual parents because they do not bully, period.

First of all, I very much think that the two hypothetical books she mentions here should be be included in library collections, just as I think And Tango Makes Three should be included. And bullying for any reason, like what happened to her daughter, should be absolutely unacceptable in our schools and elsewhere in our community. We are the adults, and we need to make this clear to our children. Part of doing that is to show that we, the adults, accept all kinds of people ourselves.

It’s too bad, then, that her conclusion is based on such a false assumption as this:

When a group – many with no children in the public schools – dress up in black and white to defend a book about Penguins, you know it’s about more than penguins.

It’s probably not really her fault that she thinks this (even though many of our GLBT members do have children in our public schools, we’ll set that aside for now), because our local media has been reporting things like this: “Equality Loudoun is encouraging people to attend the meeting wearing black and white.”

This is technically true – we have been sharing with our members and supporters what has been shared with us by other people who have contacted us on their own. These are, as far as I can tell, people who saw our organization mentioned in news accounts of this issue and found us online. They are overwhelmingly people who are not particularly political, and not affiliated with any group. They are also almost all parents, in particular parents who are actively involved in their children’s schools.

So to say that “a group” is planning to attend tonight’s meeting, of which “many” have no children in the public schools, is not really quite…let’s just say “comprehensive in its truthiness.”

As I said, I think Barbara probably has good reason to see things the way she does. Individual parents who are upset by the decision to remove the book don’t have websites; we do. The media is always drawn to framing things as a showdown between advocacy groups. Everything fits into a tidy narrative that way.

And Barbara asks a very good question in another post, which is “why is David the go-to guy” for reporters when they write about issues like this? That may seem like an easy question to answer; after all, Equality Loudoun is the local GLBT community group, and the complaining parent specifically said that what she dislikes about the book is its positive portrayal of a family with two daddies. Of course the reporters called us.

But now, I think it’s quite appropriate to insist that this is not really a gay issue. The issue here is whether a single point of view can be privileged in the public school libraries that many different kinds of families use. Frankly, the answer is no. In my very first post about this issue, I raised this question: What’s next? If a parent can have the idea that a loving family can have two mommies or two daddies removed, what idea is next on the list? That is still the question, and it should concern us all.

*And yes, she does get paid for writing for Focus on the Family. Her upcoming article is about the Parker case, the Massachusetts parents who wanted their children isolated from the children of gay couples – and books about them.

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11 Responses to Common ground

  1. Jonathan says:

    And there is one very well-funded web site that has been agitating against “and tango makes three” for quite some time. Their latest is a childish video titled And Tango Makes Activism. It’s dated 02/26/2008 They should know, because they are the activists. Here’s proof:

    11/21/2006 Gay Groups Use Book to Prove Their Lifestyle is Natural

    date unknown Ex-gay penguins

    10/19/2007 Parents Unite Against Offensive Books

    02/20/2008 Virginia Superintendent Pulls Pro-Gay Book off School Shelves

    02/20/2008 FotF action center – send message to Hatrick

    02/26/2008 Video – And Tango Makes Activism

  2. David says:

    LOL – “Tango” does make activism – for them. That’s one reason this book gets challenged so much – national anti-gay activist groups use it as fodder for fundraising appeals and general agitation, and I’m sure that outfits like Alliance Defense Fund salivate at the prospect of instigating a lawsuit. This is the stuff these activist groups live on.

    Note that they can’t talk about the actual content of the book, though; they have to make up a narrative about things that aren’t there, such as the ‘CWA Ladies’ claiming that it is “very sexually explicit.” And of course, they depend upon the silly, gullible people who are the targets of these campaigns to not question their assertions. The book itself is completely innocuous and inoffensive, which is why most people are amazed that anyone would challenge it.

  3. Jack says:

    If a parent can have the idea that a loving family can have two mommies or two daddies removed, what idea is next on the list? That is still the question, and it should concern us all.

    A fair question. Let me see whether I can answer it.

    How about a book about a loving family with not just TWO mommies, but FOUR, the youngest of whom is 13? Would that be an acceptable book to be in an elementary school library?

    How about a book about a loving family in which the parents are brother and sister? Would that be an acceptable book to be in an elementary school library?

    Keep in mind that the parents will not be told that these books are available to their children, and may be read to their children.

  4. Jack says:

    And when the authors, Peter Pernell and Justin Richardson, are themselves a devoted couple, “you know it’s about more than penguins.”

  5. David says:

    Only anti-gay activists could find something negative about “a devoted couple.”

    ROFL…time for bed. Nighty night.

  6. Jack says:

    You think being a pro-gay activist is a negative?

  7. David says:

    ???

    I’m assuming from your remarks that you think being a devoted couple (your quote) is a negative.

    Sorry if I misunderstood.

  8. David says:

    Jack, these are really good questions; this is the kind of thing I like to see people thinking about and discussing, so thank you.

    The question I would ask about any hypothetical book is what is the age it is written for? If we are keeping this exercise consistent, then we would assume that the books are comparable to Tango, with language and ideas understandable to 4-8 year olds. Elementary libraries have different sections, and Tango is in the “Easy Reader” section. It’s mostly pictures, with very simple words.

    I suppose you could have a book illustrating either of these situations in an age-appropriate manner; they do represent real occurrences and sub-cultures (abeit much less likely to be encountered in a kindergarten class than would be a child with two mommies). To address them in an age-appropriate manner would mean, obviously, that there would be no content involving sexual relationships or genetic issues – it would simply be a story about the families’ daily life, or how they met, etc., or the surprising fact that there are subcultures in the US in which people think it’s ok for adult men to marry 13 year olds.

    These stories would certainly raise questions to explore with your child. I would want my child to know about these things so that he can develop the critical thinking skills to evaluate the ethical issues. I’m thinking, for instance, that the incidence of a genetic brother and sister meeting by chance and falling in love is something that could happen more than once in a blue moon if assisted reproduction using anonymous donor sperm became very widespread. There are valid ethical concerns around this practice. And yes, I am very well aware that 5 year olds do not have the critical thinking capacity to deal with those issues, nor would an age-appropriate book ask them to. Interestingly, this very issue was dealt with in the Star Wars films in the 70’s. I don’t recall anyone having a hissy fit about it then.

    A book that illustrated a fundamentalist Mormon family dynamic would present an opportunity to talk about what marriage is, and why it’s important for partners in a marriage to be on an equal footing. You could certainly have such a conversation with a 5 year old – young children understand the concept of consent and what it means for someone to unfairly have power over them; in fact, it’s one of the questions foremost in their minds!

    As for not being told about every book in the library and every book used in the classroom, I don’t have that much sympathy for parents who don’t have the daily conversations with their child that would give them this information. If you have a healthy relationship with your child, they want to have these conversations with you, because you are telling them that what they do and think about is important, and that you respect them. They want to know what you think about what they read in the library.

    I don’t think that other children and parents in the school system should have to suffer deficits in available reading material in order to make special accommodations for parents who don’t have these conversations with their own children.

  9. Jack says:

    “much less likely to be encountered in a kindergarten class than would be a child with two mommies”

    Only because we actually ENFORCE those laws. Likelihood, however, is irrelevant.

    “To address them in an age-appropriate manner would mean, obviously, that there would be no content involving sexual relationships or genetic issues – it would simply be a story about the families’ daily life, or how they met, etc…..”

    Certainly.

    “…or the surprising fact that there are subcultures in the US in which people think it’s ok for adult men to marry 13 year olds.”

    There are also subcultures in which people think it’s OK for adult men to “marry” 13 year old boys, too.

    “These stories would certainly raise questions to explore with your child.”

    But there’s the rub. Parents are, in general, NOT told when such books are being made available to, or read to, their children. How, then, can you expect parents to discuss ideas to which they do not know their children are being exposed?

    “Interestingly, this very issue was dealt with in the Star Wars films in the 70’s. I don’t recall anyone having a hissy fit about it then.”

    Luke and Leah didn’t get married, did they? So what’s to discuss?

    “I don’t have that much sympathy for parents who don’t have the daily conversations with their child that would give them this information.”

    When children read or are read 4-5 books a day, they are not going to tell you about all of them.

    “I don’t think that other children and parents in the school system should have to suffer deficits in available reading material in order to make special accommodations for parents who don’t have these conversations with their own children.”

    But that is not the case, is it? The book is still available in public libraries, and in bookstores. You, however, would FORCE these conversations on parents who do not think they are appropriate for their children at this age.

  10. Pingback: Fairfax Public Libraries Ban Pro-Family Books « Fairfax Family Forum

  11. David says:

    Sounds just like what is happening here in Fairfax!

    LOL…the Fairfax branch of the Dobsonites just tried to claim that these things are equivalent: A librarian’s determination that some donated books are not of high enough quality to be included in a collection; and the criminal behavior of stealing and defacing books that are part of the collection in a public library because the perpetrator(s) don’t agree with the ideas they contain.

    Next?

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