This week is Pride Week. We have an amazing Pride Club in our school with all sorts of great projects planned for the week – all geared towards celebrating the individuality of all our students. Students throughout our school are sporting rainbow flag stickers, signing pink triangles, and dressing in bright colours to show that inclusiveness, acceptance, and understanding are key themes in this school building.
When I first became the teacher librarian at Walnut Grove Secondary, I was curious to see what books we had in the collection that supported gay themes. I entered a variety of search terms into our catalogue: gay, homosexuality, queer, lesbian - without getting any results. What? I couldn’t believe that there were no books in our collection to reflect these topics and yet I knew how important it was to ensure that all students have opportunities to read stories that reflect their own lives. Because the subject search didn't work, I decided to approach the problem in a different way using a list of recommended LGBTQ titles shared by one of my University of Alberta Teacher Librarian course professors. I entered the book titles and author names into the catalogue one by one, to see if any were in our WGSS collection. And, interestingly enough, I managed to find a few of these titles on the shelves. However, I discovered that the problem was that they could only be located using the innocuous subject headings of friendship and relationships. These limited terms used in the school library's catalogue were actually a form of self-censorship. It was clear that reading books featuring gay themes was not openly encouraged.
I knew I wanted to create a more inclusive library with books that supported our students’ needs. My next step was to order in the other titles on the recommended list – but found that most of the books were unavailable or out of print. Searches for additional LGBTQ titles yielded few suggestions. There were limited titles that offered current reliable information on LGBTQ topics or allowed teens, questioning or otherwise, to recognize themselves in print. So, I purchased what books I could, both fiction and non-fiction, and ensured that all the subject headings were changed to more explicit terms that allowed greater access and that the book summaries were clear enough that key words could also be used to locate these LGBTQ titles.
These new books were never featured as a separate PRIDE display or identified by rainbow stickers, and yet now they could easily be found by those students who wished to locate them, using the catalogue. I mixed the books into all library displays and slipped them in the READ centre - and they began to circulate. I would find non-fiction reads about gay topics discarded on a shelf far from their original location. Even if they never left the library, I knew the books were being read and that someone out there appreciated their availability. Others were selected by students who had no idea they would be reading a novel featuring a queer protagonist. I especially celebrated these instances because books should open our minds, and encourage the reader to develop empathy and acceptance for others.
Slowly the world is also changing - same-sex marriage was openly acceptable, a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was introduced at WGSS, and students became much more comfortable questionning and accepting individual differences. Book publishers finally got on board. The classic out-of-print LGBTQ titles were once again available to add to library collections, openly queer characters were accepted as normal in many storylines, and new information books about transgender, LGBTQ rights, gender questionning or supporting queer friends began to be available for purchase.
Today there is an abundance of LGBTQ books - fiction, non-fiction and graphic novel titles - available for teacher librarians to select and add to school library collections. The WGSS Library has over 100 titles, easily identified and accessed through a variety of subject terms in our library catalogue. I invite you to sign one out, and, given that it is Pride Week, to celebrate the fact that you have the choice to read freely about LGBTQ topics, uncensored by the constraints of the past.