Friday, June 1, 2012

Wrap Up: Gay Parents in YA Lit

So I wanted to write a wrap up post for this week, explaining why the presence of gay parents (or gay characters) in books for kids is so important to me. And I’ve been thinking about it, and thinking about it. It’s more than just an underrepresented group not getting their due attention. I love a good book, and I love when a good book highlights “real” characters in believable situations.

I think, partly, my interest in gay rights dates back to a time in my career about 15 years ago. I was a fledgling student affairs professional at a prestigious university in the greater Boston area, enjoying my daily bantering with students. 

At the beginning of the year, a young man named Robert spent a few afternoons with me planning the annual GLBT Halloween Party. It was going to be a huge bash, and it required tons of paperwork, police detail, DJ, decorations, costumes, food requisitions. The whole nine yards. But Robert worked through all the bureaucracy with an earnest dedication. He walked across campus and got all the signatures he needed. He loved a good party and was excited about the event—and I loved working with students with his kind of energy and follow-through. The GLBT dance always attracted hundreds of kids; gay and straight and transgendered and undecided. I was looking forward to it myself.

In hindsight, Robert had an edge. There was always a hint of self-deprecation about him. But I was young and didn’t see anything more than an attractive, confident young man with loads of friends. The university where I worked was very liberal—tolerant of different lifestyles, fashions, & religions. Maybe there was bigotry under the surface, but I didn’t see it. 

About a week before the big dance, Robert’s roommate found him hanging in his dorm room. I could not, nor could anyone who knew him, rationalize the smart, good-looking, kind-hearted boy with one who would take his own life. But obviously there were troubles in his life no one knew. And one day, it must have just gotten too hard to hide it.

I knew many other gay students in my time as a student activities professional. And for some reason, I always felt much more protective of them than I did with their straight counterparts. Maybe, in part, because of what happened to Robert. It’s not easy, but I’ve actually asked people if they were thinking about suicide—I’d rather embarrass myself than know I could have done something but didn’t. Sometimes they're grateful you care. Sometimes they never speak to you again.

It makes me so angry that our society can’t guarantee basic rights for the gay community that straight members of our community take for granted. I’m so happy to see that books for young people are finally starting to reflect real lifestyles, real cultures, real families, and real kids.

I think about Robert occasionally. I hope he found a place where he doesn’t have to pretend to be something he’s not. And I hope that the books that we profile in this series find their way into the hands of kids like him, and help make a difference in their lives.

If you've missed our week--please click here to link back to Tuesday for the list of bloggers participating in the week.


Laura Pauling said...

What a sad story! Things like that change you. Thanks for sharing.

Laura S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura S. said...

What a sad story. It's even sadder that this kind of thing happens at all. Good for you for bringing more awareness to the issue; hopefully we'll see the day when no one will have to suffer and hide who they are.

Jonathon Arntson said...


I felt a rush of emotion when I read this.

This may be shocking to hear, but when I first started my blog three years ago, I was confident I would kill myself before the end of 2010. I thought about it so matter of factly. It was Heather Kelly who picked up on this and built a way for my to dig out of the nest of sadness that I had spent 25 years constructing.

Today, I am making speaking out about suicide a major focus of my career (both in writing and speeches).

My older brother committed suicide 13 years ago, and while I will never figure out why he did, I will always maintain an empathetic attitude toward what he did.

I am also empathetic toward your friend Robert. I know what it's like to be someone other than what our government considers normal.

A few weeks ago, when the president came out in support of gay marriage, and gay rights overall, I cried. And not because I was so happy, but because the power of such an influential individual blew me away. I mean, I was watching the most powerful man in the world tell me I might soon be included in the society in which I live.

I am still reeling from his announcement, and I truly hope other realize how big this is.

As a writer for children and teens, I have an intrinsic goal to banish the 'other' feeling that I grew up with. Doing so will help prevent more suicides.

Kristine Asselin said...

Jon--thanks so much for sharing your story. You are an amazing person with so much to give to the kids with whom you work. I'm truly feeling blessed to know you. <3

Heather Kelly said...

Kris--I am horrified that your friend took his life.

And I am honored that Jon believes that I had such an impact on his life. I have to plead the fifth on that one--I'm sure it was the all-powerful universe and not little old me. :)

I am so grateful that we are all supported by this amazing kidlit community.

I feel that we still see inequalities in society reflected in the omissions in books. Which is why looking into those omissions, like you've done this week, is so important.

We have to keep looking at all the angles until nobody every takes their own life again.

Kelly Polark said...

That is tragic. Thanks for sharing the story, Kris. And I'm glad to be part of this week!
And Jon, thanks for sharing too. I'm so glad I met you through the blogs, and I am thankful for Heather for helping you through a horrific time. XO

Jonathon Arntson said...


Anna Staniszewski said...

Oh Kris, that's devastating. Big hugs to you and to Jon and to anyone else who needs them!