The end of LGBTQ2IA+ History Month doesn’t mean a break in the movement for increasing diverse, queer visibility in literature. If anything, it’s only growing stronger, and rightfully so.
October provided an important platform for these conversations, but we can’t let them stop here. LGBTQ2IA+ history is native to every month, and there are countless stories that still need to be told. So, you may be wondering what you can do to be a continued ally and further the cause for uplifting queer voices. Here are my suggestions: read queer books, support queer authors, talk about queer stories, and invest (whether it’s time, donations, or whatever else you can give) in the following campaigns that are fighting for diverse representation in book publishing. That should be a something that all of us, regardless of our own background or identity, can stand for.
Diverse Books Illustration via WNDB
The first campaign is We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit organization aiming “to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” Their mission, and vision, center around creating a world where every child has access to books with characters who look like them and represent their experience. We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) began out of a hashtag created in 2014 in response to an all white, all male Blockbuster Reads panel scheduled at BookExpo. Since then, the campaign has brought together an incredibly passionate team of people who have devoted their lives to seeking literary justice for marginalized communities. They do so through numerous programs based in their definition of diversity:
“We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
The WNDB Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives was launched in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; it offers financial assistance to those who lost their livelihoods in the wake of numerous shutdowns, layoffs, and event cancellations. The Walter Awards and Walter Grants are both named after Walter Dean Myers, a profound writer and lifelong diversity advocate in children’s literature. Each program serves to recognize and support diverse titles and authors. It should be noted that Angie Thomas was one of five awardees during WNDB’s inaugural Walter Grants cycle in 2015. She used that grant to complete The Hate U Give. WNDB’s initiatives—and the people and stories they support—matter.
Own voices refinery29
Own Voices is another social-media-born initiative and came shortly after #WeNeedDiverseBooks gained traction. In September 2015, author Corinne Duyvis responded to the WNDB movement on Twitter:
#ownvoices, to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.
— Corinne Duyvis | buy THE ART OF SAVING THE WORLD! (@corinneduyvis) September 6, 2015
The hashtag has since evolved into a wealth of recommendations and discussions among folks connecting over their shared identities and the works that represent them. It has also spurred many publishers to openly seek out #OwnVoices stories. Though it started in children’s literature, the hashtag has grown to encompass adult novels, graphic novels, movies, and just about any medium of expression you could think of. Duyvis made the important clarification that an author, and their protagonist, doesn’t have to share every aspect of their identities for a story to be #OwnVoices. However, there does need to be at least one shared aspect that’s marginalized. Beyond that, it’s up to us to decide what parts of our identities to write about and how we want to present those stories. Duvyis refuses to police the hashtag or impose stringent definitions because she recognizes marginalized experiences are often intersectional and can’t be fit into neat categories.
She also doesn’t want to place restrictions on authors or imply that they’re compelled to out themselves. As such, Duyvis encourages a broad but careful use of #OwnVoices, with clear indicators as to where an author and their protagonist’s identities overlap. The hashtag also touches upon another important conversation: whether or not privileged authors should be writing from the perspective of marginalized individuals. Our society tends to lift up those stories, regardless of whether they’re actually true to the group(s) they’re being written about, and the potential harm caused by misrepresentation. #OwnVoices is an effort to rectify this practice by making authentic narratives prominent and accessible in our conversations around diversity and inclusion.
Poster via MCBD
Multicultural Children’s Book Day is a non-profit organization that encapsulates a bit of both previously mentioned movements. Like WNDB, Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) aims to get more diverse titles into kids’ hands through their classrooms and libraries. MCBD also embodies #OwnVoices through providing a visible platform for marginalized authors and their stories. Celebrated every year on the last Friday of January, MCBD’s programming takes place both in-person and online. The organization offers booklists, teaching tools, free resources, and more to anyone looking to further the cause for diversity in children’s literature. As a result, educators, parents, librarians, and children everywhere can come together as part of a dynamic and inclusive community of book lovers. The initiative was launched by Audrey Press Books’ Valarie Budayr and Pragmatic Mom’s Mia Wenjen in 2012. Both women were incredibly frustrated that they couldn’t find books that spoke to their families, so they decided to do something about it. Over the past eight years, MCBD has donated more than 8,000 books to classrooms, organizations, and underserved kids. Their numbers continue to climb. January 29, 2021 will be the next celebration, and you can follow along with the hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
Feature image via CBT Counseling Centers