GLBT Book Month: Information Without Judgment

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by Steve Zalusky

Libraries are welcoming spaces that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

This is especially evident as, for the third year, the American Library Association marks June as GLBT Book Month™, a nationwide celebration of the authors and writings that reflect the lives and experiences of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

Originally established in the early 1990s by The Publishing Triangle as National Lesbian and Gay Book Month, this occasion is an opportunity for book lovers and libraries with the very best in GLBT literature.  GLBT Book Month™ is coordinated through the ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table.

The ALA supports GLBT literature through the Stonewall Book Awards, as well as two bibliographies including Rainbow Books and Over the Rainbow Books. These awards not only recognize the very best in contemporary literature, but also provide a foundation for quality GLBT collections in our nation’s libraries.

But ALA has also stepped up to support equity, diversity, and inclusion in the face of threats from the new administration in the White House. In February, ALA President Julie Todaro released a statement strongly protesting the rollback of protections for transgender students in our nation’s public schools that said, “We stand with our transgender members, colleagues, families, and friends, and we fully support the work of our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT), whose members continue to lead the fight to abolish intolerance for all of society. ALA will work closely with all of its partners for reinstatement of these protections as soon as possible.”

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has also tracked attempts to censor books with LGBT content, including “I Am Jazz,” by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, a children’s picture book memoir that was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education and offensive viewpoints.

Also challenged, because of its cover, was “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan, which was Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book.

In addition, a division of ALA, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), received the GLBTRT Award for Political Activism. The ALSC Board of Directors was recognized for its efforts to stand for nondiscrimination by cancelling its 2016 National Institute that had been scheduled to be held in North Carolina due the repealing of all GLBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances throughout North Carolina.  

And the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table established the Newlen-Symons Award honors a librarian, library staff member, library, library board, and/or library friends group who have designed programs and/or initiatives responsive to the needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community.

Recipients have included  the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

The GLBTRT Executive Board selected the Tretter Collection in part for its role in organizing the international GLBT Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections (ALMS) conference, collecting materials from a wide variety of GLBT community groups and organizations (including the Log Cabin Republicans and international GLBT organizations, many in countries where homosexuality remains illegal), and the visionary development of the trans* community oral history project.

GLBT Book Month was originally established in the early 1990s by The Publishing Triangle as National Lesbian and Gay Book Month. June was selected in honor of the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York City, which ignited the Gay Pride movement.

In recent years, however, the month, although copyrighted, wasn’t being used. In 2015, ALA revived it, as the result of efforts by Round Table members Ann Symons and Peter Coyl, with the support of the association.

“People have been wanting to celebrate. And with ALA saying this is a very distinct month in which to celebrate, it gave people an opportunity to kind of peel back the curtain and say, ‘GLBT people are in our community and we can also celebrate materials that support them,’” said Deb Sica, chair of ALA’s GLBTRT and administrator in the Solano County (California) Public Library system.

Sica said libraries, by providing welcoming spaces, are “the first door. We are the first stop in people’s explorations of their own identity and gender and sexual orientation. Because we are a place that gives information without judgment.” 

Librarians are ”ambassadors to access,” letting people know that materials are available that are free and can be accessed anonymously,  Libraries, she said, have also evolved politically, to the point where, “We are becoming community connection centers to a community that's been out and proud for a long time.”

As for the books themselves, she recommends anything on the Stonewall list. She said the character of Magnus Chase, the homeless teenager in “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard,” has become an interesting cultural phenomenon. “And I think that’s kind of a nice way for people to understand gender identity.’

She favors some of the older literature published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was founded around 1980 by author Barbara Smith at the suggestion of her friend poet Audre Lorde. These, she said, influenced her as she was coming out.

The volume of LGBT material is growing, she said, and can be seen in the evolution of the Stonewall books.  “We had over 400 entries this last Stonewall for the adults alone. So the magnitude and the volume of material coming in for evaluation has just grown tremendously.”

Libraries are becoming more sensitive to the needs of the LGBT community. Sica said her staff was recently trained on transgender awareness. Other issues that are emerging include what it means to have a preferred name on a library record.  Among the libraries celebrating will be the Coker College Library in Hartsville, S.C., which has a display of GLBT books prominently displayed in the library as well as on Twitter.

The Nevins Library has a GLBT book group in Methuen, Massachusetts has a GLBT book group that has been reading Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco-based novel “Tales of the City.”   

Sica said her library in Vallejo will celebrating with displays and cultural programming.  She added, “We recently trained the staff on transgender awareness” and promoted California’s new restroom law that calls for all singer-user toilet facilities to be identified as “single gender.”

The ALA GLBTRT has a number of online resources for those interested in the celebration.  To learn more, find reading lists, and download posters, bookmarks and other resources at www.ala.org/glbtrt/glbt-book-month.