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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And Tango Makes Three

Another ALA note. I spoke at a session sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Roundtable called "What Makes Tango So Scary?" "And Tango Makes Three," a children's picture book based on an actual story from the New York City's Central Park Zoo, has been for several years now the most-challenged book in the United States. The book's authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, were also speakers, and they were articulate, insightful, and altogether delightful. (They also showed up with their equally delightful and lovely young daughter.)

The story describes two male penguins who tried to hatch a rock together. A sympathetic zookeeper gave them a duplicate egg from another penguin couple, and the two male penguins did hatch and raise "Tango" (because it takes two to tango, don't you know).

After the book was published (and after Tango was grown), the two male penguins split up; one of them went to mate with a female. A conservative Christian group touts this as "the rest of the story." Apparently, gay penguins can change. No doubt there's an ex-gay penguin movement. I wonder if the missionaries get to wear tuxedos?

Richardson in particular talked about his first encounter with librarians after the book was published -- one in Missouri who in fact moved the book from the picture book section to juvenile non-fiction, where it was less likely to be found. There ya go: do librarians censor? Answer: yes.

But he also pointed out (Richardson is a child psychologist) that parents' real fear is that we just don't know what causes sexual orientation. Is it so tenuous that the single exposure to a different orientation will tilt a child one way or the other? And if so, shouldn't parents act to keep their children away from lives where they are quite likely to suffer discrimination? Well, the available evidence says, "Probably not." If sexual orientation can be determined by casual exposure to media, and with the endless promulgation of heterosexual imagery and viewpoints in all media, how could there be any homosexuals at all? While parents can indeed influence whether their children are accepting of or tortured by their sexual identity, Richardson said that it's doubtful that parents can do much to change it.

Richardson also made the point that young people don't think of the story as about sex at all. It's just a couple of penguins who wanted to raise a baby, and finally got to. As I've said many times, kids can handle children's literature. It's adults who can't deal.

2 comments:

GraceAnne LadyHawk said...

I tried to get in to hear you, and your cohorts, talk about this, but the room was overflowing and I can no longer sit on the floor (actually, I never could).
Bravo to you. It's such a lovely book. I want everyone to read it.

Jamie said...

I'm sorry to have missed you, GraceAnn! But remember this for the future: there are ALWAYS seats in the front row.