There has been a lot of ‘chatter’ on Facebook recently about The Trevor Project. It has been around for a while but the recent publicity around the death by suicide of a number of young gay people in the US has certainly drawn my attention to it.
The website looks fabulous and as a school librarian I straight away went to check out their educational materials. There is a great list of books available (and I’ll definitely be perusing it to see what I can add to my stock). In the UK, Stonewall has produced two lists, one for primary school and one for secondary.
I have been trying to invest more in LGBTQ-related library stock, and to get together a good list of books to be looking out for (I’m adopted the terminology used by the Trevor Project here, where LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning). I want all our young people to see positive role models and to develop positive self-images. I don’t want them to feel alone and isolated. I am looking for age-appropriate, well-written fiction with gay characters; positive gay role models; interesting gay characters; nice and not-so-nice gay characters; not just ‘issues’ books; stuff where a character being gay is not the main issue of the book; Stuff where a character being gay is the main issue of the book; a smattering of angst-free stuff would even be nice. Hey, I’m ambitious, did I mention?
I have found it really difficult to source the materials. I wonder if it is a chicken and egg situation – are the suppliers afraid to stock this stuff or are the librarians not asking for it? Is stocking LGBTQ-related fiction in a school library still controversial? Legally we are on safe ground, as it is illegal to discriminate based on sexuality in the UK, and we have professional guidance from CILIP that it is our duty as professionals to provide services and materials to meet the needs of LGBT people. It is also is basic, good librarianship. I find myself returning to the basics so often. Here it is Ranganathan’s 2nd and 3rd Laws of Library science – 2) Every reader his/her book; 3) Every book, its reader. Libraries have to cater for everyone who uses them – and provide the things they want to borrow.
Here’s my big confession – the first book I ordered as part of this LGBTQ-related stock development drive has just arrived. It isn’t the first bit of LGBTQ-related stock in the library, just the first thing to be added specifically with this purpose in mind. So I’m going from Mrs Theoretical to the Mrs Practical right now. And I’m a little bit nervous.
This anecdote might give you an idea of why. A boy came in and borrowed a fiction book. The main character is a boy and the cover is dark blue. Never mind that, for whatever reason a few minutes later, the boy came back looking extremely embarrassed and returned the book: “I didn’t realise it’s a lassie’s book” he muttered and proceeded to select something about military helicopters instead!
I can imagine his embarrassment would have increased 10-fold if he had borrowed “a gay book” by mistake instead! In some ways attitudes have moved on. In others this is still very much the west coast of Scotland and a man is a man etc. I don’t want books coming back in tatters. I want to make these books available, I don’t want to force these books on anyone or cause embarrassment, that would be counter-productive. But does that mean avoiding the subject altogether? That isn’t healthy either.
Stonewall quite rightly says homophobic bullying in school is everyone’s problem – because “homophobic bullying is generally directed at anyone who stands out” (Before we Begin leaflet), and to put it plainly, that just isn’t OK and we shouldn’t stand for it. It isn’t OK that gay = bad, and it isn’t ok to stand by and let that go unchallenged. So challenging that kind of language is one thing all school staff can do. Adopting an attitude borrowed from one of Stonewall’s campaigns also helps: “some people are gay, get over it!” I love this quote from an article in the Public Library Journal (Fiction for all, Elizabeth L. Chapman & Briony Birdi, Spring 08 ):
“LGBT displays and promotions are not, and should not, be treated as any more controversial than a gardening display.”
The article has some great advice (says Mrs Theoretical!) like that this stock should be shelved in an integrated way, and tagged on the catalogue in such a way that users can find it if they search for relevant keywords. Young people should be dealt with sensitively and not challenged for borrowing this material. That’s basically my plan, just get some good stock in, shelve it, tag it, and hopefully, lend it. If it does spark a few comments deal with it as normal. Using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term isn’t acceptable, just as racist language isn’t acceptable. Some of the books in the library featuring gay characters should be totally normal, and staff treating it as such will help it become normal and reinforces the anti-bullying, anti-discrimination message.
So, wish me luck!