By Elizabeth Gartley
Last week, I had the opportunity to work with two public librarians to lead a session on serving LGBTQ youth at a state conference for children’s and youth librarians. The collaboration was especially rewarding because while the three of us are librarians with a shared interest in serving LGBTQ youth, we also had different perspectives coming from school and public libraries. While they had worked mostly with teens, I had worked with younger children as well, and while I spend a lot of time focusing on inclusive teaching and curriculum, they’re doing programming like a LGBTQ teen book group and a LGBTQ film series. These perspectives really enriched our conversations in planning the workshop, and as a result, I think the session was much stronger.
After the session, we got a question from a librarian on the planning committee for an upcoming national conference scheduled to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. She and the other planning committee members had been having a lot of discussion around whether or not they should go ahead with the conference in light of HB2, a sweeping anti-LGBTQ law. In response to this law companies, entertainers, and others have begun refusing to do business in the state. The boycott is intended to put economic pressure on the state government to change the law, but others have argued that such boycotts only serve to hurt local businesses and communities, many of which are opposed to the law themselves. This is where the conference planners were stuck: the planning process was too far along to change locations, so they could go ahead with the conference as planned or cancel it all together. We suggested rather than cancel, the conference could go ahead as planned, but conference planners could work closely with local LGBTQ organizations.
And I’ve been thinking more about the role of LGBTQ organizations in relation to library services, particularly school library services. Schools are part of the community they serve, and yet schools can be rather insular. But part of my job as a school librarian is to make connections with the local community and organizations, and making connections to local or regional LGBTQ organizations can be a great bridge for better serving students.
In 2004, Darla Linville found that one of the resources most desired by LGBTQ teens from their libraries was lists of local LGBTQ organizations. Such organizations can be tremendously valuable for both individual students and the school community as a whole. When I worked in Massachusetts, I invited Greater Boston PFLAG to come speak at an event. The event was well-received, and I was so glad to have this organization come start the conversation about language and homophobia in a school community that badly needed to have this conversation. In Maine, we have several organizations which work with LGBTQ youth and often with homeless LGBTQ youth, which is significant since 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.
Being aware of such local LGBTQ organizations is an important way to serve all our students. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) has 40 local and regional chapters throughout the United States, and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has more than 350 chapters in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The Equality Federation, which is comprised of state-based member organizations, can be a good place to learn more about local or regional LGBTQ organizations in your area.
Not all LGBTQ-friendly community organizations are necessarily LGBTQ-specific: last year, when a school was forced to cancel a reading of I Am Jazz, an autobiographical picture book by Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl, the local public library, held a reading which was attended by nearly 600 people. And after working with some of my local public librarians, I now know of another great community resource I can share with my students.