I remember when the first children’s book that portrayed lesbian relations first came out; “Heather has Two Mommies” wasn’t the first book to describe same-sex relations to youngste’s positively, but it was the first I remember being aware of. I was newly graduated from Bible College, recently married to my wife, and working with a church in Pennsylvania where the homophobic pastor was enraged by the subject of the book. He could not believe that the story was aimed at young children. But it was not the first to teach that gay parents were a reality in the modern world, nor the last. One of my favourites of the genre is: “And Tango makes Three”. It is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins who formed a family unit in New York City’s Central Park Zoo.
When I first read the description of this book, my heart just broke. “They [Roy and Silo] cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples, and when all the others start hatching eggs… they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it.” (School Library Jounal) I thought this was such a perfect description of what it’s like to be queer; how often we try to do what to us is perfectly natural, only to discover things aren’t quite right. But one of the benefits of community and technology and love is that there are ways around those little humps. “[A] watchful zoo-keeper… gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo today.” (Ibid) The fathers would have been happy in life even if that zoo-keeper had not given them a moment of compassion (even if they were disappointed); but when introduced to a needy chick they made an even happier family.
It is sad that some react to such displays of love with anger and hate.
As of 2013, there is a new book that portrays the opposite: a book that many are calling homophobic and offensive (New York Daily News, 2013). “God Made Dad and Mom”, by Amber Dee Parker is cute, and looks innocuous, with its pastel shades and bright colours, and the main character’s parents are a bi-racial couple: but that does not hide the nastiness that is explicit within. “The main character, a child, is told by his father to pray for his friend and his friend’s two dads, because they are going against god’s plan… I’m just appalled that there are people out there who would read it to their children.” (Babycenter.com)
The book fails with any kind of accurate representation of the world. When the main character, Michael, asks his dad about his friend’s two fathers, “his father takes him to the zoo, where he learns that animal families consist of a male, a female, and their offspring.” (BridgeLogos, 2013) Now I don’t know where this zoo exists in our modern world, because only a minority of animals form anything like what we would call family units: but I guess it’s a special Christian zoo for teaching “traditional” morality. Micheal then makes the illogical leap that anything other than this is necessarily wrong and “not pleasing to God”. Thus the book is not only explicitly insulting to gays, but it lowers any kind non-standard parenting role (single parents, divorced parents, as well as gay parents) to a distant second best.
I was fascinated to read an interview with Ms. Parker. Now on the one hand, all she might be doing is presenting “the traditional, Judeo-Christian view of the family in picture-book format” (Amazon.com): and there’s nothing really wrong with that, is there? Perhaps not… but neither is there any need for it, either. And she not only presents that view, she denigrates other families. That’s where it slides into hatred. Her stated goal with this book is to teach children that it’s all right to discriminate against homosexuals. In her home state of Nebraska:
“One bill… would allow any couple to adopt children. LB385 is a bill.. same thing but was with foster care. And then LB485 was a bill which would allow telling businesses they could not discriminate against LGBT… And the other two bills, the bottom line was you could not discriminate, they would be a protected class and you could not discriminate in these areas…” (Gaystar News, quoting interview on BridgeLogos) That such a message would be reaching kids in any form is deeply disturbing.
Personally, one of the most offensive parts of the book is the call to pray for Jimmy’s parents. As a Christian myself, I’ve experienced many times that awful, double-edged comment about “praying for me”. How many times have I been at churches where some homophobic couple walks up and shakes their heads and never meet my eyes, muttering that horrible comment, “We’ll pray for you.” It’s the classical passive-aggressive statement of the modern age: it fuses perfectly the meanness of religion with the arrogance of those who claim moral superiority. Just like Amber Dee Parker.
There are petitions against the book, but I’m not sure that’s how we should proceed. I don’t believe in censorship; and conservatives have been calling for bans of the first two books described above for decades. But I do believe in identifying homophobia and hatred, and this book is steeped in both.
According to the Advocate, “Amber Dee Parker’s picture book God Made Dad & Mom encourages kids to pray for the destruction of families with same-sex parents.” (Advocate, 2013) Sometimes I think that the Advocate can be a wee bit extreme: but in this case they’ve just told it like it is.