Having a library LGBTQIA+ Policy is an important step in building a more inclusive school community. Here is the policy that I have applied to my own elementary school learning commons.
The librarian may not be able to speak for all orientations, cultures, genders, and socio-economic classes, but (ideally) their diverse collection of media does. This makes them an important ally to students who are underserved or underrepresented. Libraries can provide recognition to students who are marginalized, and librarians can be conduits for this recognition.
This is especially true for LGBTQIA+ students. In 2011, one study found that 64% of our LGBTQIA+ students feel unsafe at school (SOGI123). Creating a safe and welcoming environment for these students should be a main priority for librarians, as the learning commons is one of the cornerstones of the school community. In his article, Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship, Building Resilience, professor Alvin M. Schraeder states: “Librarians can play a critical role in fostering diversity and resiliency. They can create safe places. They can turn pain into opportunity, tolerance into celebration, despair into hope” (P. 109). It is important to keep this quote in mind as we move forward with implementing these policies.
In creating this document, I have turned to BC’s SOGI 123 initiative for guidelines on overarching policies. This initiative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was announced by the BC Ministry of Education in September 2016 and is being implemented across British Columbia.
From the SOGI 123 website: “Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is not its own curriculum; it is one aspect of diversity that is included across a range of grades and subject areas. SOGI-inclusive education is fundamentally about learning to treat each other with dignity and respect regardless of our differences. It allows teachers to include all students and families in their lessons, language and practices. Like other forms of inclusion in schools, this ensures that everyone can understand the diverse society that we live in and that students and families can see themselves reflected and welcomed” (SOGI123).
For more information visit: https://bc.sogieducation.org/
Our Interactions With Students
It is our policy that we show kindness and respect to our students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the language that we use in our interactions with students can help us position ourselves as trusted allies. Our policy recommends that teachers and staff use “gender-free phrasing” and “language for all families” (SOGI123). Replace terms such as “boys and girls” or “you guys” with “folks” or “division __” when addressing the class. When referring to parents, avoid saying “mom and dad,” and instead say “parent.” It is also important that we use the proper vocabulary and terms when talking about the LGBTQIA+ community. These changes in language may seem small, but they can make all the difference to a marginalized student and encourage more acceptance amongst peers in the classroom.
To normalize the diversity we find in our schools, it is important that we celebrate LGBTQIA+ lives. We should take any opportunity we can to integrate their voices into our lessons, our read-alouds, and our discussions. Too often, teachers and librarians assume that they do not have LGBTQIA+ students and do not brooch the topic for this reason. What is more likely in this situation is that these students have not yet identified an ally in their school. Make yourself this ally through your words and actions. Your whole class will benefit from being more knowledgeable, open, and inclusive.
Occasionally a librarian is approached by a student who may need advice or resources. In these cases, confidentiality is of the utmost importance. As Schraeder states, “Time and time again, sexual minority adults say that as young people they turned to libraries to try to find out something about LGBTQ realities and identities” (P. 107). Our library policy is that the door is open to these students during school hours and by appointment after school as the need arises. Since these students may not feel comfortable looking for resources around their classmates, an open-door policy will allow for students to visit the library at other times during the school day and beyond. Helping LGBTQIA+ students and their allies find reliable resources and stories can transform and even save their lives.
Finally, it is important that we speak up when we hear inappropriate, hateful, or hurtful language and address it. Sometimes our students are unaware of the damage their words can cause. Educating them can help them understand and better serve as allies in the future. The emotional and physical safety of our students is our top priority.
The physical space of the library is another key element in our inclusion policy. An LGBTQIA+ friendly space is manifested through visual cues and access to resources. An LGBTQIA+ safe space sticker on the door is an important first step to take, but it is not enough. The library should frequently celebrate LGBTQIA+ authors and events with posters and themed book displays, just as they would with other theme months. One popular themed event to consider is Banned Books Week, as many of the titles are LGBTQIA+ friendly, and the students enjoy reading challenged titles and discussing the content.
General displays, such as holiday reads, teachers’ favourites, and award-winning books should include LGBTQIA+ titles. These books should also be integrated into the collection to be checked out by all students. This will reduce the phenomenon of “othering” which can occur when books related to minority groups are kept separate. When lessons are taught regarding digital resources, LGBTQIA+ resources should be included in slides, videos, lessons, and handouts.
The library space can also be used as a commons for clubs, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance or even a reading club that includes LGBTQIA+ titles. Make sure our students know that we are open to hosting meetings and clubs if students wish to be engaged in such a way.
Quite possibly the best thing we can do for our LGBTQIA+ students is to provide them with resources and stories that they can see themselves in. Creating a sense of belonging and community, and building knowledge around gender and sexuality can make all the difference for sexual minority children and youth. Having these stories in the library will serve the whole community, normalize diversity, break down stereotypes, and build compassion. Read these titles, talk about their content openly, and be proud to be an ally.
In addition to carrying LGBTQIA+ friendly books in the collection, the titles will be organized in Destiny in such a way that when keywords, such as LGBTQ or Gay/Lesbian/Transgender are searched, the titles come up. This way students can find the books by title and/or author, or via a more generalized search for content.
The following list of recommended books is by no means exhaustive. The first ten titles are “must haves” for the library and include annotated bibliographies. Following these titles are other recommended books, both fiction and non-fiction, that reflect the experiences and worldviews of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Top Recommended Titles (With Annotated Bibliography)
#1: I am Jazz - Written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (2017) I am Jazz is a picture book that tells the story of transgender reality star Jazz Jennings’ childhood. It talks about how she felt like she was a girl, despite having a boy’s body, and how her family struggled to accept the challenges of having a transgender child. This book will resonate with the students, who may be familiar with Jazz Jennings through her popular YouTube channel. This book has many resources and videos made by Jazz Jennings that can be paired with it.
#2: 10,000 dresses – Written by Marcus Ewart, Illustrated by Rex Ray This book is a modern fairy tale about a boy named Bailey who loves to wear dresses. He encounters gender stereotypes and negative reactions from his family, but eventually finds an ally who supports his dream of making and wearing gowns. This book was a 2009 Rainbow List Book, and the Honor Book for the 2010 Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award.
#3 - A Tale of Two Daddies – Written by Vanita Oelschlager, Illustrated by Kristen Blackwood and Mike Blanc This picture book illustrates a schoolyard conversation between two kids. A boy asks a girl with two dads very matter-of-fact questions about the roles her Fathers play in her daily life. A great book for normalizing life in a same-sex parent household and satisfying any kid curiosity about the subject.
#4: A Tale of Two Mommies - Written by Vanita Oelschlager, Illustrated by Mike Blanc A companion read to A Tale of Two Daddies. This book has the same scenario, in which a fellow student asks him questions about his life, except the boy in the story has two Mothers.
#5: George – Written by Alex Gino George is an elementary level chapter book which tells the story of a transgender 4th grader. Everyone identifies George as a boy, but she knows she is a girl. She desperately wants the lead in her school production of Charlotte’s Web, but her classmates need some time to accept her for who she is. A good read for students in grade 3 and up.
#6: The Prince and the Dressmaker – Written and illustrated by Jen Wang A gender-bending fairy-tale in the form of a graphic novel. This story tells the tale of Prince Sebastian, whose family wants him to find a princess. However, all he wants to do is wear beautiful gowns and go out in secret as Lady Crystallia. The only person who truly understands his is his dressmaker, with whom he forms an undeniably special bond. This book will help your students understand the gender and sexuality spectrum. A good read for students in Grade 4 and up.
#7: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Written by Becky Albertalli This is a young adult book (Grade 7 +), which has been adapted into a movie (Love, Simon). It is the story of a gay teen who is threatened to be outed at school when an email chain he has been sending to another student is shared with his peers. This story is relatable for any teen, but especially those who are struggling with coming out to their friends and family.
#8 - The Marrow Thieves – Written by Cherie Dimaline Written by a Canadian Indigenous author, this science fiction story tells of a post global-warming world in which people can no longer dream. In the story, First Nations people are being hunted for their bone marrow, which can restore dreams. The main character is two-spirited and the book normalizes the fluidity of gender and sexuality. This book has won multiple awards and is a great young adult read for grades 7+.
#9: What is Gender? How Does it Define Us? And Other Big Questions – Written by Juno Dawson A non-fiction book that takes a straight forward, no-nonsense, modern look at gender. An important resource for students, and a good companion to the SOGI 123 curriculum. For students grades 4+.
#10: Sex is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and You. – Written by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth A non-fiction title that covers just about everything your students need to know about sex. This book is very modern, up-to-date, honest, and straight forward. Topics range from consent, to gender and sexuality, to diverse families, and much more. A good conversation starter for grades 3+.
Other recommended titles:
Picture books And Tango Makes Three My Princess Boy In Our Mother’s House The Families Book This is My Family – A First Look at Same-sex Parents Julian is a Mermaid Large Fears The Boy & The Bindi When You Look Out the Window Sparkle Boy Daddy, Papa, and Me Heather Has Two Mommies From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea They She He Me Mommy, Mama, and Me
Chapter books Better Nate Than Ever
YA Books History is All You Left Me Let’s Talk About Love They Both Die at the End Being Jazz Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Non-fiction Books The Stonewall Riots – Coming Out in the Streets Queer Heroes What Was Stonewall Sewing the Rainbow Jazz Jenings – Voice of LGBT Youth From Prejudice to Pride: Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. Who Are You? The Kids’ Guide to Gender Identity. Transphobia: Deal With it and Be a Gender Transcender Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community Pride – The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Schrader, A. M. (2009). Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship, Building Resilience: LGBTQ Services and Collections in Public, School and Post-Secondary Libraries. Feliciter, 55(3), 107–109.
The ARC Foundation. SOGI123. (2016-2018). British Columbia Teaching Resources. https://bc.sogieducation.org