#WeNeedDiverseBooks for LGBTQ Kids Too

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By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
The first young gay protagonist I came across was actually in college, I read "Dream Boy" in a fiction writing class, which I enjoyed, but Jesus that kid goes through some awful stuff. That book would have traumatized me as a teen. Maybe it was the time I grew up, or that I grew up in Alaska, but I don’t remember books about LGBTQ kids for kids existing. There were gay adults (and maybe some bisexuals too but probably not many) in books, the news, and occasionally on the TV and in movies, but that media was also geared for adults. Until I met other gay kids in middle school I wasn’t sure kids could be gay. Last week I stumbled across an interview with David Levithan, whose gay YA novel "Boy Meets Boy" celebrated its 10th anniversary. He had a quote that really captured what it was like for me to grow up. "So much of the pain that LGBT kids go through is because they feel distanced from all of the narratives they've been given. They've been told that everyone grows up a certain way, and now their own way is diverging from that." Nailed it. Apparently things have gotten a little better in children’s and YA literature, Levithan talks about the growth of LGBTQ books for youth (check out some of the links if you’re curious). But he thinks that there is still more that can be done. There is constantly a need for diversity within the representations. It's just as limiting to say there's only one kind of gay story, just as it's limiting to say there's only one kind of straight one. As for how much being gay is central to the character's identity or story — as in life that totally depends on who the character is and what he or she is going through. Nailed it again. And really, representation of LGBTQ adults in media still tends to skew heavily towards the affluent cis gay man, so the work doesn’t stop with children’s lit. There is actually a recent push for more diversity in children’s books in response to a study released on the lack of representation in children’s books. From The Guardian: Of 3,200 children's books published in 2013, only 93 were about black people, 34 about Native Americans, 69 about Asians and 57 about Latinos. That’s definitely not representing the demographics of America. There weren’t any statistics on children’s books featuring LGBTQ people from that report, but I can’t imagine it’s that much. It’s not that we need to force authors to write more books about LGBTQ children, there are probably already authors out there doing that because they are writing the stories they want to see in the world. We (and the publishing industry) should be encouraging those authors. It’s important for LGBTQ children (as well as children of color) to find stories about themselves, to understand that their personal stories are just as valid as every other child’s, to understand that they are part of the narrative of this country. BlogTail_TJ (1)