Religious Conservatives Target Gay-Friendly Children's Books


CONVINGTON, La., June 14, 2005 — -- What seems an acceptable -- even laudable -- children's book subject to those in the literary world of Manhattan does not necessarily go over well in this suburban nook just outside of Baton Rouge.

At this year's BookExpo America in New York City, publishers reveled in new books about gays and lesbians -- written for children.

"I think the important part is for a kid to see himself in a book, and equally important for a kids to see people who are not like themselves in books, so they can learn to be tolerant of people who are not like them," said David Gale, vice president and editorial director of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

One book for preschoolers called "King & King" is about a prince who falls in love with another prince.

"It's inclusive," said Phil Wood, publisher of San Francisco's Ten Speed Press, which published "King & King." "This is a book that librarians can recommend to parents because there isn't another book like it. It's a very positive book about gay people. Anyway, it's widely purchased by libraries. It's in most libraries."

But what's popular in New York City is not always as well-received in more conservative parts of the country. In Louisiana, for instance, "King & King" is causing a royal controversy.

One parent was alarmed when her child brought home a copy of "King & King" from the local library. Her husband complained to her state legislator, State Rep. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, who wrote a resolution to urge librarians to keep books with gay content away from kids.

"When a book of a very bizarre nature, a very offensive nature, is found in a library in an area that would be considered very conservative, this tends to raise some eyebrows," Crowe told ABC News. "It certainly goes against our family values that we so treasure here in Louisiana."

The issue has set off an intense local debate.

"You could keep it in the library for other people to read, but I'm not going to let my family read it," said Clancey Lemoine, a Convington resident and mother. "There are people, though, that want to read it."

"I wouldn't feel comfortable with that in the library and have someone pick that up," said resident Cheryl Hebert, also a mother. "It's something that I would not show my children or teach them."

It is becoming a national issue. Recently, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma have debated laws against access in libraries and public venues to books like "King & King."

"It is a book written for children, but it deals with what I consider to be an adult theme," said Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican from Oklahoma City.

Kern's bill -- House Resolution 1039 -- called on Oklahoma libraries to "confine homosexually themed books and other age-inappropriate material to areas exclusively for adult access and distribution." It passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives in May.

These kinds of bills and resolutions have upset not only gay rights advocates and publishers, but activists for free speech.

"If you let all of the people who have a problem of one kind or another with books restrict the material that offends them, there won't be anything left in the library for their kids or other people's kids either," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "And that's what we're worried about."

Louisiana library officials say their mission is to provide all sorts of books for all sorts of people.

"A public library is a very inviting place," said Donald Westmoreland, assistant director of the St. Tammany Parish Library in Convington. "We want all the people in our community to use that. If they perceive in any way that they're not welcome, well, that goes against the purpose of a public library."

Westmoreland noted that his library has a system for parents and others to take issue and object to library books -- a system that was not used before Crowe introduced his bill.

Last month, the U.S. Congress got involved. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., proposed legislation that would require states to form local parental advisory boards to weigh in on all new library books and non-textbook school books or risk losing federal funding.

Mary Hood and Avery Miller contributed to this report.

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