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June 25, 2015

We Need More LGBT Books!

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In June 1969, the historical Stonewall riots in Manhattan marked the tipping point on the gay rights movement. Now, the United States officially commemorates this fateful event every year, naming June LGBT Pride Month and celebrating with parades and a wide variety of LGBT-themed events. Teenreads intern Kat Szabo celebrates Pride Month literary style by taking a look at the LGBT YA scene, commending the good, but also asking for more…a lot more. Read below, and be sure to check out some of the books she mentions!


Have you ever wondered why there are so many books about magical creatures that (maybe) don't exist like vampires, werewolves, wizards, elves, aliens and everything in between, but there are frighteningly few books featuring LBGTQIA (henceforth shortened to LGBT* for the sake of simplicity) characters? Actual human LGBT* characters are sadly few and far between in YA literature. And why do all those books set in fantasy or science-fiction worlds still conform to the gender binary, gender roles and heteronormative standards?

If you haven't wondered about any of the above...you should! While I’m in favor of representation of all people in young adult literature --- including those of diverse racial, religious and cultural backgrounds --- this post is going to specifically talk about queer representation in honor of National Pride Month.

Authors have endless possibilities to create any kind of world they wish to present to their readers, and yet so many choose to stick to heteronormative society's "rules" that readers are already too familiar with. I hate to admit that even my (and everyone's) favorite book series, Harry Potter, adheres to these standards (don't even get me started on the Dumbledore thing). Young readers in the queer community, myself included, have so few literary characters like them to aspire and relate to --- this is why we need more LGBT* books! And not just for teens and young adults, but for children, too.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any out there --- in recent years, there have luckily been more LGBT* books in popular young adult fiction that feature queer protagonists and main characters, which is wonderful. When I was growing up, I barely remember even seeing queer secondary or background characters that I could relate to. Now, being able to read books like David Levithan's EVERY DAY, Jandy Nelson's I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN and even Melissa Grey's THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT  (doing LGBT* representation in fantasy right) as a still-moderately-young adult gives me hope that all young readers will be better able to find themselves in literature better than I could at their age.

There are also some recently published great books that address LGBT* history and culture directly. Ann Bausum's book STONEWALL: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights describes the June 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn (the reason that Pride Month is in June), and is great for anyone looking to brush up on some important history.  James Dawson's THIS BOOK IS GAY  features loads of information, stories and illustrations meant to give helpful advice to anyone, however they identify (or don't!). This is another example of an enlightening (and pretty to look at) non-fiction book that I wish I had when I was younger. It's exciting to me that books like these have become accessible to young readers, LGBT* or otherwise, but we still need more. The more resources like those above that are available to readers, the better. 

When I attended BookCon last month (check out my blog post about it here , I was lucky enough to attend the panel for We Need Diverse Books (learn about all the great work they do here As part of the discussion, the need for more LGBT* books arose. While I don't remember the exact quote, David Levithan, a publisher and editor at Scholastic in addition to being a celebrated author of LGBT* books, said that the best way to see better representation in teen literature is to write the books yourself! He also said that he receives significantly more submissions for gay male stories as opposed to lesbian stories, which surprised me (though I suppose it shouldn't have). We know that we need more LGBT* books, but now we know how to get them --- we have to make them ourselves. While I'm glad that there have been enormous strides made toward diverse representation in literature, it saddens me that I have to write this post at all. So I'm going to say this one more time: WE NEED MORE LGBT* BOOKS! 


Kat Szabo is an intern at Teenreads.com.