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Louder and prouder

pride heartAt the beginning of this month, I drafted a blog post for use “at some point during Pride Month.” In that post I compared the experience of finding queer characters a few years ago with that of finding them today, and marveled at the speed of positive change. I said that we had further to go, that we needed more intersectionality, more representation of different kinds of queerness, more queer characters who break stereotypes, more who are the main character rather than the sidekick, more whose queerness is just one part of their lives and identities. But overall, it was a cheery post about how far we’d come.

Then came the attack in Orlando. I’ll let Christopher Myers speak to that, since he speaks so eloquently. I will say that the events of June 12th made me look at Pride Month a little differently.

I do still think positive change, in general and in the world of books for young readers, has happened quickly after too many years when it happened far too slowly. As I said in my original post, as recently as four or five years ago, the appearance — or even implication — of queer secondary characters was enough to make me shout a book’s praises from the rooftops. (Or the ladder. I was a bookseller.) And this past year, someone asked me an academic question about whether a middle-grade novel I’d read a few months earlier had any gay characters, and I couldn’t absolutely swear that it didn’t. If the town in the book had a same-sex couple among its townspeople, I would’ve nodded in approval, but then I would’ve moved on without finding it as remarkable as I once would have. Queer fictional townspeople aren’t as rare as they used to be.

The number of YA novels with queer characters continues to grow. Gay, lesbian, and transgender characters aren’t taboo in middle-grade anymore. Picture books show all kinds of families, including those with same-sex penguin parents but thankfully not limited to them. All of this is good, and I’m happy about all of it.

But now my early-June words sound far too light. It’s not really my thoughts that have changed; it’s their intensity. I already knew that increased queer representation is important. But the shooting in Orlando served as a reminder of how important.

So I’ll say it louder:

We need so many queer characters that their queerness is no big deal.

We need intersectionality, characters who are outside the “default” in more than one way. Because that’s how the world looks, and because as Tristina Wright says, some people still think there’s such a thing as “too much diversity.”

We need to see people with a whole range of queer and intersectional identities. We need stories that don’t hinge entirely on who people love.

We need to see queer secondary characters who are “just there,” and we also need queer main characters with stories both about and beyond their sexualities.

We need queer characters for the same reason we need all sorts of representation. We need a chance to see one another — all of us — as people to root for. Because when you’re rooting for people, it’s harder to hurt them.

Happy Pride.

For more in The Horn Book’s Pride Month series, click on the tag LGBT Pride 2016.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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