By Lester Laminack
As a child in the 1960’s I knew I was attracted to other boys
long before I heard words like queer, homo, pansy, fag, fairy, or
gay. When finally, I did hear those words, they were used to
inflict humiliation or harm to boys like me.
The most common word I heard spoken about me was, “sissy.”
Early on it was more a whisper between adults. As I grew and
became more conscious of the venomous potential of those
words, it became louder. Those words were spoken about me as
I stood just on the edge of earshot. They were spoken to me by
those intending to demean and humiliate me as they attempted
to buoy themselves, to make themselves feel bigger and more
Those words attacked my soul, leaving sores that festered into
self-doubt and self-loathing. As a youth I was deeply involved
in my church and avoided, at all costs, disappointing my
community, my teachers, or my family. Everything I heard,
directly and indirectly, made it clear that what was truest and
most natural to me was considered abhorrent, weak, and sinful.
So, did I search for LBGTQ+ characters in the library or in the
literature we were assigned in school? No, I did not lament the
absence of characters who shared my feelings and longings
because I was consumed by denying those longings and trying
desperately to be what the world expects a boy to be. To be
honest I never expected anyone to write about a person like me,
after all people like me were not considered worth writing
In my youth I didn’t know a single LGBTQ+ person. Not one.
Not in my family, my circle of friends, or in my community.
Not on TV. Not in the movies I saw. Not in the news. So why
would I expect to see them in books at the school library?
Imagine your existence neither valued nor acknowledged.
Instead, everything you see and hear makes it clear that people
like you are not only devalued, but also abhorred. Imagine that
the person you know yourself to be, your truest, most natural
self, is something the world proclaims immoral and/or illegal.
Imagine you see reports on television and in newspapers
declaring that your identity is punishable by imprisonment,
even death in some parts of the world. And in your own country
you see religious groups gathering to protest your right to work
in certain professions, and your right to marry or raise children.
You see those groups organize rallies promoting legal
protection of anyone who would deny you services because
your existence offends their beliefs.
If this is what you witness as a young person, how willingly
would you reveal your most inner truth? How likely would you
be to deny and fear your own natural self instead? How likely
would you be to seek out someone like you in a book, a poem,
an article, a movie, or a song? Why would you? Especially
when the whole world proclaims that you, and those like you,
have no right to be who you truly are. So why would you
Even if I had bothered to search, I would not have found myself
in any book in the school library or the public library. Instead, I
hid and studied men who fit the stereotype of masculinity. I
watched them walk. I watched how they sat down and stood up.
I watched what they did with their hands while they talked. I
listened to how they spoke. Why? I lived in fear that I would be
found out, and I wanted so badly to “pass”. I firmly believed
that if my fear became a reality, it would destroy everything and
everyone that I held dear. So, I did everything to squelch that
part of me, to deny that I had a right to feel what I felt, the right
to be my truest self.
Teachers, literature could have been a validation reflecting my
humanity back to me; it could have been my mentor to help me
understand what I knew about myself. Stories, poems, memoirs
could have held my hand and given me guidance at a time when
the most natural part of me felt dirty, immoral, frightened, and
The larger culture perpetuated my feelings. There were jokes
and insults about people like me. I heard them among adults I
trusted and honored. I heard them among my schoolmates.
I heard them on TV. If anyone was even suspected of being LGBTQ+, there was nothing complimentary or honorable ever spoken about them.
By the time I was twelve I had a crush on a boy, and I felt all the feelings I had heard other boys feel about girls and and all the feelings I heard girls feel about boys. But I could share my feelings with neither my male friends, nor my female friends. None of them would have been a safe option. I had no guidance on how to share my truth, to claim my being. I had no mentors who could assure me that what I felt, what I feared, what I longed for were all normal human feelings. No one was there to pull me aside and say, “Everyone, yes EVERYone, feels what you are feeling and isn’t it glorious?” So, I hid it. I felt sinful and weak. I felt shame that I had somehow failed to be enough, failed to embrace my faith fully, failed to resist those thoughts and feelings.
Teachers, librarians, administrators, parents, school board
members, what if I had found even one book where a boy like
me was the main character? What if that character had a crush
on another boy in his school? What if that character told a
friend what he was feeling? What if that friend had celebrated
those feelings and acknowledged them as normal human
emotions? What if that character’s world didn’t fall apart, even
if the results were less than stellar, but that character endured,
and his friends and his family didn’t abandon him? And what if
those books were read and discussed by cisgender heterosexual
students? How would that experience humanize the LGBTQ+
classmates they know? How would those books lead to
conversations and insight that could help students focus on
what they have in common? What if literature became the salve
to heal the hurt and guide the heart and mind?
Friends is there any wonder why the suicide rate is three times
higher among LGBTQ+ youth than it is among cisgender
heterosexual youth? Read the statistics for yourself.
Some young people see no way to cope, no way to exist. I
believe that we owe those young people. We owe them
portrayals that move beyond stereotypes and simplifications
and gross exaggerations of their identities. We owe them
mirrors that reflect their full humanity, as well as windows
(Bishop, 1990 https://scenicregional.org/wp-
Doors.pdf) that open the world for cisgender heterosexual
youth to see LGBTQ+ students as equally human and worthy
with amazing potential for contributing to this world.
Why do we need LGBTQ+ literature?
Literature is a tremendous equalizing force that has the
potential to validate our existence and broaden our
understanding of what it means to be human. It allows us to
safely step outside the boundaries of our confined experience. It
allows personal, intimate interactions with characters with
whom we can identify and with others who are different from
us. In fact, stepping into a book and walking with a character
may be the one experience in which a student’s personal
feelings, fears, wishes, and dreams are shared and acceptable.
Literature provides our children and youth an opportunity to
broaden their visions of what it is like to share their deepest
truth, to face their greatest fear, and to live through the
aftermath of that experience. It is equally important to read
nonfiction that reveals the truths about Stonewall, state and
federal laws, the role of the Supreme Court in Obergfell v
Hodges, and the contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans to
culture and economy, invention and creation, art and sports and
When I was a young person there would have been nothing in
the library to give me guidance, but that is not true today. In
fact, there is a wealth of developmentally appropriate fiction
and nonfiction written specifically for children and youth
including story, essay, memoir, biography, historical fiction,
and poetry. For a list of titles to get you started, check the link
in the resources for a list gathered by CCIRA. Have a look and
read a few. Get to know what is available so you can be an
advocate for the young people who look to you for guidance
and support. Know what is available so you can participate in
an informed conversation with adults who seek to ban or censor
or limit access to all young people.
We must embrace and advocate for all our young people. We
must embrace our common humanity, all that goes deeper than
the language of our tongues, deeper than the cultural traditions
that guide us, deeper than the spiritual practice we engage in,
deeper than the color of our skin, deeper than who we are wired
to love. Perhaps one of our greatest gifts as human beings is our
ability to see beyond our differences and into our common
humanity. It is our responsibility as human beings to lift one
another, to celebrate all that makes us one diverse and
As I write this in the sixth month of the year 2022, I am an
adult who has come through six decades of this, yet I am
hesitant to save and hit send. Even at this age I pause with a
tinge of fear, the same sort of fear that many LGBTQ+ people
live with each day because of the policies and laws being
passed to limit what can be read and what can be said. But I
want to be the adult I wish I had known as a young person, so I
take a deep breath and press send hoping that this will give you
the insight, strength, and resolve to be the adult all children
And now, my friends, I ask you to do the same. Take a deep
breath and step up. Make a commitment to read at least 10
books from the CCIRA list this summer. Inform yourself
enough to be an advocate for your students this fall and create a
concrete plan for how you will do that. Decide how you will create
a classroom community where every student is physically and
emotionally safe to be who they are. Pledge to stand up and
speak out, you may well save the life of a child.
Resources to help you support LGBTQ youth:
Lester L. Laminack is Professor Emeritus at Western Carolina University where he received two awards for excellence in teaching. Lester is now a full-time writer and consultant working with schools throughout the United States. Lester has coauthored a number of professional books including Writers ARE Readers: Flipping Reading Instruction into Writing Opportunities; Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature; Reading Aloud Across the Curriculum; The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource, Cracking Open the Author’s Craft and Bullying Hurts. In addition he has several articles published in journals such as The Reading Teacher; Science and Children; Language Arts; Primary Voices; and Young Children. Lester is also the author of seven children’s books. Three Hens, A Peacock, and the Enormous Egg (a sequel to Three Hens and a Peacock) will be released in February 2023, and A Cat Like That is under contract. Connect with him on @lester_laminack.