February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Broadening Cultural Literacy with LGBTQ Content for YA | AASL 2013

Of the numerous concurrent sessions at the American Association of School Librarians‘s (AASL) National Conference this past weekend focusing on strategies for creating culturally diverse collections and serving the needs of all kids, “Queer Library Alliance Goes to School,” was a memorable one. The session was hosted by Thaddeus Andracki, outreach and communications coordinator and student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) program at the University of Illinois, and Rae-Anne Montague, the assistant dean of student affairs at GSLIS.

Organized in three parts, the session offered attendees advice on evaluation criteria and selection resources for building strong LGBTQ collections, discussed some of the challenges in providing access to these materials, and brainstormed ways to create programming to reach teens’ needs in this area.

Andracki began by discussing the importance of intersectionality in young adult literature. He emphasized that librarians and selectors of materials need to be aware of stereotyping within LGBTQ literature, and how the intersection of various disenfranchised groups are portrayed in books for children and teens. Andracki cited Weetzie Bat, the groundbreaking work of gay fiction by Francesca Lia Block, as an example of a failure of intersectionality.

“There are major problems with Weetzie Bat’s stereotyping of Native culture,” Andracki noted.

Despite criticism of this title, Andracki and Montague include Block as one of several “Authors To Know,” on their list that also includes Malindo Lo, David Levithan, Hannah Moskowitz, Scott Tracey, Leslea Newman, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Julie Ann Peters, Alex Sanchez, Todd Parr, Cris Beam, Brent Hartinger, Bill Konigsberg, Michael Willhoite, Tomie dePaola, Nancy Garde, and Ellen Wittlinger. These are some of the best writers addressing LGBTQ issues according to the presenters.

Chiming in via Twitter, librarian Barbara Moon (@moonb2) also suggested that Madeleine George should make the list, while Stacy Dillon (@mytweendom) recommended author Alexander London. Several awards were also highlighted throughout the presentation as go-to lists for great YA titles: the Rainbow Book List from the American Library Association (ALA);the ALA’s Stonewall Book Award; and the Lambda Literacy Association Award.

Additional resources and suggestions can be found on the Queer Library Alliance’s own wiki page. Comics and graphic novels were also suggested for these teens.

The presenters discussed some of the challenges in providing access to LGBTQ content; for example, web filtering, which they recommend turning to the ACLU and its “Don’t Filter Me” campaign for more information. One illuminating graphic shown during the session was a map showing how few states currently have in effect anti-bullying laws that protect LGBTQ students.

One hot programming idea from the audience: inviting former Gay-Straight Alliance alumns to come back and talk to current students. And for more inspiration, the presenters suggested the “You Belong @ your library” campaign, the It Gets Better Project, and the Trevor Project for inspiration, while nohomophobes.com tracks homophobic language on Twitter in real time.

Noted Andracki, “Having literature with strong LGBTQ characters and themes not only supports the broader cultural literacy of all students, but it is particularly important for LGBTQ kids and teens to see themselves reflected in the books they read.”

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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  1. Peter Coyl says:

    I wasn’t present at the conference, but this article mentions “the GLBTQ Round Table Award” and then “ALA’s Stonewall Book Award.” I can only assume that the first reference may be to the Rainbow Book list, as the only award the GLBTRT awards is the Stonewall Book Award.

  2. Kiera Parrott says:

    Hi Peter. Thank you for clarifying that! We just updated the post.