In the News
Over the past couple of days, news has surfaced that the Singapore National Library Board (NLB) has banned children’s books that feature LGBT themes. The books in question were Who’s In My Family? by Robie H. Harris, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption by Jean Davis Okimoto and Elaine M. Aoki, and And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. The former two books feature families with same-sex couples, while the latter features a pair of male penguins who raise a baby penguin.
Library Books Banned due to Pro-Family Sentiments
The Straits Time reports that NLB pulled these books from the shelves in support of their pro-family stance after they received complaints about these books. Today also notes that those books will not be returned to the library catalogue and will be pulped.
Considering the books that have been removed from the libraries, what offends the sensitivities of a pro-family stance is homosexual parents. That’s what connects these books after all. It isn’t because of the mixed race parentage that can be found in Who’s In My Family?, or is it? That would be racially discriminatory.
What baffles me is that And Tango Makes Three is about penguins mad it is based on a true story of penguins from the Central Park Zoo. How do animal relations affect human relations? I fail to see the connection.
To be fair, And Tango Makes Three also caused a controversy in the USA, belonging to ALA’s top most challenged books between 2006 and 2010.
Personally, I take issue with two things on the matter. Firstly, the fact that these books were banned. Secondly, the reason these books were banned.
Against Banning Books
Books Represent Culture
Books are representative of culture. The encompass views, thoughts, stories, values, ideals and so much more. Removing a book means silencing a voice. In the case of removing LGBT books, it means silencing the voice of the LGBT community. What legitimizes the silencing of one voice over another?
Even if you’re not an LGBT supporter, the principles behind banning books still affects you. What if your voice is silenced? Freedom to express one’s race, one’s language, and one’s religion are tenets embedded in the Singapore Pledge. What if these came to naught? What if the Bible and the Qur’an were banned because these religious texts don’t preach Confucian values down to a T?
Some values are deeply personal and cannot be imposed onto others. Belief in God (or gods) cannot be forced upon a deeply resolute atheist. As much as we wish for the world to believe the same things as we personally do, the reality is far from it. There are as many different views on earth as people who are alive. Many of these overlap but diversity is inevitable and diversity should be acknowledged.
The Responsibility of Parents
It’s the responsibility of parents to monitor what their children read. Some parents don’t want their children reading religious texts until they’re older, so they can make an informed choice with regards to faiths then. Other parents don’t want their children reading LGBT books. Yet petitioning to remove a book encroaches on the right of other library patrons to access these books. Neither does this alter the reality that we live in today.
Banning a book about two male penguin parents who raised a baby penguin is not going to change that reality. Banning a book about same-sex parents doesn’t change that reality either. They exist. Why prevent children from seeing the world the way it is?
The Role of the Library
If there is such a great concern about children reading particular books because they aren’t “age-appropriate”, then re-shelve these books! Make them accessible only to children of a particular age or shelve them in a restricted section that is only accessible to children accompanied by a parent, guardian or elder sibling. Point is, there is no gain in depriving others of access to particular books because a few vocal people raised complaints.
The Meaning of Pro-Family
Citing “pro-family” as a reason for banning these books is an ambiguous one. What does this even mean? I’m not entirely sure but it could mean:
- in support of families to the exclusion of homosexuality
- in support of families with heteronormative parents
- in support of families with at least one parent and one child
The first meaning is so precise, that “pro-family” would’ve been such an unnecessary term. It would’ve been clearer to just state these books were banned on the grounds of homosexuality. That would’ve caused an uproar, particularly among the LGBT community. Oh wait. The LGBT community is already in uproar. So there’s that.
The second meaning also makes sense in light of the books that were banned. However, it also expands the number of books that would need to be banned. For instance, books about single-parents don’t adhere to this model. I hardly think anyone would consider such a move, so “pro-family” comes off as a sorry excuse for banning books.
The third meaning is pretty much the state of many families today. Undermining that serves no purpose, particularly in literature. Think about little children who see a mother and father in books, asking their mothers why they don’t have a father. Libraries don’t ban these books to preserve the feelings of these children. Instead, they ensure books featuring single-parent families are part of the library collection.
Extend this to children from same-sex parents. They too see pictures of a father and a mother parenting their children. Banning books with same-sex parents is a signal to these children that they don’t belong. It’s already difficult enough for the parents to deal with backlash about their relationships but don’t take it out on their children.