Category Archives: Uncategorized

June is PRIDE month! #LGBT

Library Goddess

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT) and chances are/hopefully there are a lot of festivals, programs, and other events going on in your area to celebrate! Here are some books you may want to read to your students, children, or just for yourself to learn more and to celebrate people – everyone is different, we love who we love, and we are who we are, so let’s honor that and treat everyone with respect and kindness. Here are some of my favorite books to share that might help you with that!

George by Alex Gino – Excellent novel for upper elementary/middle grades. The main character, George, looks like a boy. But, inside she knows she is a girl. No one knows how George really feels until it’s time for the class play, Charlotte’s Web, and George decides to try out for the part of Charlotte.

View original post 464 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Happy Book Birthday!

Today is the official release day for my new children’s picture book! It’s called When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, and it’s about . . . well, I bet you can guess what it’s about. The illustrations (which are gorgeous) were created by Christopher Lyles, and his artwork really brings the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin to life for children.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 7.53.31 PM

What made me want to tell this story? Especially to children? Sit back, because it’s going to take me a minute.

I met Phyllis Lyon five years ago, when I was working on a different book project involving a collection of interviews with people in the LGBTQIA community. Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years, I knew about the work Phyllis and Del had done for lesbians and for women in general. They were, essentially, the founders of the modern lesbian civil rights movement, and they were also the first to break through the “lavender ceiling” of the women’s movement. They were legendary to San Franciscans, yet virtually unknown by everyone else. I wanted to change that, because I didn’t want their stories to get lost.

This, by the way, is a common phenomenon in the LGBTQIA community – for stories to get lost, twisted around, told and re-told (but never written down) like a game of Telephone. And I’m sure you know how Telephone usually ends. That’s often how it’s been with LGBTQIA history. Sadly, a lot of our history has been lost forever, simply because no one felt that it was important enough to record. Or because no one bothered to listen to people who wanted to tell these stories.

So that’s partly why I decided to reach out to Phyllis Lyon. Del Martin had died in 2008, shortly after they had married during the short period when same-sex marriage was legal in California. Phyllis had been living alone in the house they’d bought together ever since. When I met with her, she was 88 years old – which brings me to the other reason I wanted to interview her. In many communities, LGBTQIA people over the age of 65 are largely invisible. The bar/club scene isn’t always their thing. Nor are youth-oriented events – for obvious reasons. There often aren’t community spaces designed for older LGBTQIA people, and they’re a population that’s often ignored. The film Gen Silent paints a powerful picture of the experiences of older LGBTQIA people, and I wondered if Phyllis could relate to this in any way.

The interview itself didn’t yield a ton of information. Although Phyllis was very gracious and seemed pleased to talk to me, her memory was in serious decline, and she really couldn’t recall many details about her activism. But when I arrived at her home, what immediately grabbed me (and then stuck with me) was the unbelievable view of San Francisco from Phyllis’ living room window. Her house is tiny – maybe 700 square feet – but it’s perched at the top of Castro Street in Noe Valley, with a huge picture window overlooking the city.  Initially, the image reminded me a bit of the Hitchcock film Rear Window – Phyllis, like Jeff Jefferies, was largely housebound, and her engagement with the outside world only existed through that pane of glass. The image, and the feelings associated with it, stuck with me for a long time. I felt like I needed to do something with the image of the picture window, but I didn’t know what.

Fast-forward a few years. For various reasons, the original book project faltered. In the meantime, I took up children’s writing and wrote a picture book called This Day in June. People liked the story, but so many of them REALLY liked the overview of LGBTQIA history and culture in the back of the book. “I had no idea about any of this!” was the most common thing people told me, which didn’t surprise me. “I’m embarrassed that I DON’T know about most of this,” said lots of people in the LGBTQIA community. That didn’t surprise me either. It’s uncommon for LGBTQIA history to be taught in schools. Even in California, which passed the FAIR Education Act several years ago, the inclusion of LGBTQIA history and culture in public school curricula is, well, pathetic at best, completely absent at worst. (To be fair, some of that isn’t the schools’ fault. Last time I checked, I could only find one picture book about an LGBTQIA-identified public figure. Guess who it’s about? The answer is provided at the end.)

And then, I had an epiphany:  I could tell stories about LGBTQIA history. I could help people connect their present-day experience with past events. If I wrote books about our history for kids, teachers would have resources they could use in their classrooms. And a picture book might just be the perfect way to capture the image of Phyllis and Del’s living room window overlooking the city. Thinking about it from a child’s perspective, I began to experience the image of the window in a different way. Rather than conjuring up memories of Rear Window, I imagined Phyllis gazing out over the city that she and Del had worked so hard to transform.

And the rest, as you might imagine, is history.

A percentage of the proceeds from When You Look Out the Window will be donated to the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. Because our histories need to be recorded, shared, and celebrated.

(The answer to my earlier question? Harvey Milk. At least, that’s all I could find for young children. The title of the book is The Harvey Milk Story.)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

LGBTQ Children’s Picture Books And Its Evolution

Pigeonhole Books

Over the last three decades, LGBTQ children’s books have gained in prominence and importance. We owe our gratitude to children authors who were and are brave enough to broach the subject head on despite knowing the backlash that would ensue. Thirty five years on we have seen greater acceptance of these books into a wide cross section of family units. Be it read for awareness, education or the simple pleasure of enjoying the word, they play an important role towards universal same gender equality.

By the same token, we still face challenges. We still face discrimination and injustice toward such literature, aimed at nothing more than to express one’s belief or simply as a resource for children growing up in modern society. Let’s delve into how these books have risen to the occasion against all odds and how they have made a credible contribution to the literary world.

1980 your family
Your…

View original post 1,520 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This author’s diversity dilemma: Reflections on Authors on the Move

Last Saturday, I attended a charity fundraising gala for the Sacramento Public Library Foundation. The event, called “Authors on the Move,” literally involved “authors on the move” – over 40 authors (including me) rotated from table to table, speed-dating style, and chatted with attendees about our books, our writing process, and all sorts of other things. We were treated to a champagne reception, a four-course gourmet meal, plenty of wine, and a live auction. It was a very lavish and fun event, and it was an incredible honor to be asked to participate.

And I almost didn’t go.

Why? Because the invited keynote speaker was Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. Many children know him for his books, including A Series of Unfortunate Events, All the Wrong QuestionsThe Dark, and We Are Pirates. Many people got to know him because of his remarks at the 2014 National Book Awards Ceremony. When he presented Jacqueline Woodson with the award for Brown Girl Dreaming, Handler quipped that Woodson is allergic to watermelon – likely assuming that our “post-racist” society could find humor and social commentary in such a statement. He also probably assumed that, because he and Woodson were friends, that he could joke with her about watermelon and that she would “get it.”

But she didn’t get it. No one did, actually. And even though Handler later apologized, and even though he tried to make amends by making a large matching donation to We Need Diverse Books, the wound lingered. If you read Jacqueline Woodson’s New York Times op-ed piece, “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke,” you can feel the sting of that wound. It takes seconds to tell a joke, but years for the stab wounds to heal.

And that’s why, when I learned that Daniel Handler was the keynote speaker at this event, I had second thoughts about attending – and I knew I had a dilemma on my hands. If I went, my attendance could be taken as a form of passive acceptance of Handler’s racist behavior, and as a reinforcement of his privilege. If I didn’t go, then diversity in children’s books probably wouldn’t be part of the conversation at the event. You see, in a split-second epiphany, I realized that among the children’s book authors, I was the “diversity” – meaning that my book was the only one featuring a historically marginalized and underrepresented group. Layers upon layers of oppression, you see.

My dilemma, of course, was minor in the grand scheme of things. Those of us who identify with minoritized groups face all sorts of no-win situations like this, and in many cases the stakes are much higher. But the bottom line always boils down to this: How do I choose a course of action that maintains my integrity, and that doesn’t involve participating in systemic oppression?

As you know, I decided to go. But even up until the night of the event, lots of evil voices in my head kept telling me that I was making a bad decision. You just want to get dressed up fancy! the evil voice said. You just want to sell lots of books! Boycott the event, and be a REAL activist!

Somehow, through all that clamor, a quieter voice kept saying, Go.

So I did. I trusted my gut. And I’m so glad I did.

I got dressed up real fancy. So fancy, in fact, that I got more questions about my necklace than I did about anything else. I sold lots of books. All of them, actually. I ate wonderful food, met many interesting people, and watched people bid huge amounts of money on dinners, weekend trips, and other auction items. (Dinner with me brought in $1,400, to give you an idea.) The Sacramento Library Foundation raised over $100,000, much of it to be used for their Summer Reading Program for kids.

And at every single table I was seated at, we talked about diversity (and oppression) in meaningful ways. We talked about the limited narratives in LGBT children’s literature; the absence of LGBT writers of color in the children’s book world; the dangers of raising children to be “color-blind,” rather than educating them about racism and other forms of oppression; the importance of being able to see oneself reflected in books and other forms of popular culture. We talked about Daniel Handler and the National Book Awards, reflected on whether he would address it in his keynote, and debriefed afterwards about what he did say. (He did address it, and it was the one time during his whole talk where he was dead serious.) Among the highly privileged, we even had discussions about privilege – White privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege. And we had time to talk about lighter topics, too – like where I bought my stunning necklace.

Would those conversations have happened if I hadn’t attended? It’s hard to know. But I do know that if you live in the bubble of privilege, it’s very easy NOT to have those conversations. I think this is what my gut knew all along, and why it kept quietly telling me to go. Inserting ourselves into privileged spaces and speaking our truth is a powerful act, I’m realizing.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What counts as “history”?

A few days ago, I read an article on the Internet titled, “Learning That I Do Exist: Why LGBT History Matters.” It’s an excellent read, and it briefly covers a few LGBT historical events that many people don’t know about. However, that’s not what most struck me about the article: Reading it triggered a memory of an event I hadn’t thought about in years, an event that was shockingly similar to the college incident shared in the article.

In my 11th grade AP History class, one of our assignments was to write a paper about a 20th century historical figure. Mr. Reinhardt, my history teacher, rattled off a list of examples, most of which involved the usual suspects: John F. Kennedy. Theodore Roosevelt. Woodrow Wilson. Boring, I thought to myself. The last thing I want to do is write another paper about a dead White president. I wanted to learn about someone who isn’t usually studied in a typical history class, but I couldn’t think of anyone. One night, I was watching a baseball game on TV with my father, and I asked his advice. “Who would you write about?”

My dad didn’t miss a beat. “Jackie Robinson,” he said. (Obviously he had baseball on his mind.)

“Who’s that?” I asked.

My dad snorted. “Write your paper about him,” he said, “and you’ll find out.”

The next day, I did some research at my high school library. (This was 1987. Google didn’t exist then.) Once I learned who Jackie Robinson was, I got so excited about writing that paper. History seemed like such a boring subject, probably because all we talked about were wars, dead White presidents, and military heroes. No wonder I had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. This paper opened a door for me, and made me realize that history could be about baseball players and the Brooklyn Dodgers – and that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t the only Black man and civil rights activist of importance.

The day after our paper topics were due, Mr. Reinhardt asked me to stay after class. “You can’t write your paper on this topic,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it. “Why not?”

“Because Jackie Robinson isn’t a real historical figure.” (Yes, my teacher really did say that.)

I was a pretty good rule-follower in school, and I rarely challenged authority. But this time, my automatic knee-jerk reaction was to pick a fight with Mr. Reinhardt. “What do you mean, he isn’t a real historical figure?” I asked. Many years later, I still remember Mr. Reinhardt’s eyes narrowing when I said this.

“He was just a baseball player,” Mr. Reinhardt said. “There isn’t much else to say about him.”

I remember standing there in total disbelief as he said this. “If you let me write my paper about him,” I said, “I’ll prove you wrong.”

Mr. Reinhardt laughed. “Okay,” he said. “If you’re willing to risk your grade.”

I was willing to risk my grade.

In high school, “history” was about White men, for the most part. And that’s true in most academic disciplines, including psychology. (Read Even the Rat Was White for an expose of the history of racism in psychology). It wasn’t until I got to college that I took courses in women’s history and African-American history – neither of which were graduation requirements. In graduate school (which, by the way, is a program that’s lauded for its approach to multicultural education), we were required to take just one class that focused on a historically marginalized group. I took several – one on Mexican-American history, one on Asians in America, and one on the history of those indigenous to the Americas. I have never taken a class on LGBT history.

The point is this: It’s easy to spend years in higher education without ever really learning about women, people of color, or LGBT people. And invisibility is one of the most powerful forms of oppression. If you don’t see people like yourself represented, then people like yourself must not exist. Or people like yourself who are important must not exist. If, on the other hand, you only see people like yourself represented – well, nothing breeds privilege and ethnocentrism more strongly than that.

This isn’t just a theoretical issue – we’re seeing the real-world consequences of this. Many studies have documented a significant achievement gap between White students and students of color, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Several of those studies show a link between poor academic performance and the lack of representation of these groups in their curricula. Several studies, including one recently conducted by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, show that Black individuals who lack knowledge about their history are more likely to endorse negative Black stereotypes. Other studies, including classic work by psychologist Claude Steele, demonstrate that internalized stereotypes can have a negative impact on test performance – a phenomenon known as “stereotype threat.” And LGBT history is rarely taught in schools; most of my students have no knowledge of the Compton Cafeteria Riots or the Stonewall Riots, just to give two examples. In fact, very few of my millennial students have meaningful knowledge about the AIDS crisis.

Recently, our pastor at church gave a sermon about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. After she told the story, she asked, “And where was Sarah in all of this? How come her voice isn’t heard in this story?” I’d heard the story of the sacrificial lamb many times, but it had never occurred to me that Sarah’s voice had been silenced. But this happens all the time – the voices of those who lack power don’t make it into the history books. In elementary school, I learned that Christopher Columbus was a brave explorer who discovered the Americas. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that “bravery” from one point of view is “genocide” from another. Who gives voice to a particular historical event determines who gets seen and heard, who is deemed to be “important,” who appears on your AP History list of possible paper topics.

So I wrote my history paper about Jackie Robinson. And I worked my ass off. I visited multiple libraries (including a university library), searching for every shred of information I could find. I wrote and rewrote the paper with fierce determination until it was as good as it could be. Mr. Reinhardt decided that my efforts were worth a B+. And I got a tiny taste of what it’s like to have to convince an authority figure that something is worth learning about.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, culture, human rights, psychological research, racism, sexism, stereotypes, Uncategorized