Queer children’s author slams Illinois school for cancelling her visit over reference to Harvey Milk
Queer author Robin Stevenson has condemned an Illinois school for cancelling her visit in response to a complaint from a ‘homophobic’ parent.
Robin Stevenson is the award-winning gay Canadian author of Kid Activists: True Tales of Childhood from Champions of Change. She was due to give a talk about the book at Longfellow Elementary School in Wheaton, Illinois.
The school’s vice president asked for a list of the activists mentioned in the book, then abruptly informed her the day before the visit that they would be cancelling without explanation.
Stevenson later learned that the reason was one parent’s objection to their child reading the book, which includes a chapter on the childhood of Harvey Milk, a politician and gay rights pioneer.
“This action sends a very harmful message to students, particularly students who are themselves LGBTQ+ or have family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Stevenson wrote in an open letter to the school.
“It says their lives can’t be talked about, that their very existence is seen as shameful or dangerous. It says that no matter how significant their accomplishments, or how much they contribute to the world, they can be erased and made invisible because of who they are. It reinforces ignorance and bigotry.”
Stevenson added that the decision has had a “real, immediate and distressing” impact, revealing that a closeted LGBT+ student at the school reached out to her two weeks after she was due to give the talk.
“They wrote that they had been thinking about finally coming out, but as a result of homophobic comments made by adults in their community regarding my book and cancelled visit, they are now feeling apprehensive and afraid to do so. I hope this concerns you as much as it does me,” she said.
School officials have reportedly attempted to distance themselves from Stevenson’s allegations, claiming that the parent had complained about “the process we utilise to inform parents about author visits and the contents of the presentation and promotion.”
The local book store that sponsored the visit expressed doubt that there was any reason for the cancellation other than Harvey Milk’s chapter, telling The Daily Herald that this is only the third time in 30 years that the school district has cancelled on an author.
Stevenson also rejected the school’s explanation on Twitter.
To be clear, parents were given the usual notice. They were told an author was visiting, and given an opportunity to order a copy of Kid Activists. Were parents specifically warned that not all the activists in the book were cis and straight? No, and this should not be necessary. https://t.co/alFqjY8D65
— Robin Stevenson (@robin_stevenson) November 9, 2019
“In choosing to cancel the presentation … you legitimised a concern rooted in homophobia, gave this priority over the wishes of the school administration and staff who had requested the visit, and made the climate in the school less safe for LGBTQ+ staff and students,” she wrote.