As the nation observes LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Santa Cruz County continues to be at the forefront of representation and inclusivity while celebrating diversity. On Tuesday, June 14, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE) held a press conference to announce the new Top 40 LGBTQ+ Books List: A Complete Guide to Age-Appropriate Queer and LGBTQ+ Reading for students from pre-kindergarten through high school.
“I’m really proud to live in Santa Cruz,” said Rob Darrow, project consultant and task force member. GT. “We help encourage and empower students to read a diverse set of books in our county.”
The Top 40 Books list is the culmination of four months of collaboration between 16 different task force members – from educational consultants like Darrow to public and school librarians, book lovers, a Santa Cruz Bookstore employee and a high school student who inspired the project. The Queer Youth Task Force and the Safe Schools Project also contributed to the list.
Ten books each have been chosen for school groups K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, and the list features fiction and non-fiction picture books, as well as anthologies and novels. graphics. Each title had to meet a particular set of criteria, including a protagonist who was part of the LGBTQ community and portrayed positively. Stories also had to represent different genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities, and had to be published within the last 10 years.
“We want to make sure that every student in our county has access to these resources,” Santa Cruz County Office of Education Superintendent Dr. Faris Sabbah said at the press conference. “Not only so that our LGBTQ students see themselves reflected in the books, but also so that our allies can learn from each other so that we can grow together as a community of strength.”
Other speakers at Tuesday’s announcement included Lisa Bishop, former president of the California School Library Association. She agreed that students at all stages of learning development should have access to the widest and most diverse books.
“I want to let you know that the California School Library Association fully supports and applauds the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the LGBTQ+ Book Selection Task Force,” she told the audience. .
Ivy Quirk, who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community and is the primary children’s book buyer at the Santa Cruz Bookstore, said her task force — which involved students in grades 3 through 5 — reviewed about 50 titles to choose their top 10.
“We also researched the author’s own stories – is it someone who talks about the community or to the community?” she explains to GT. “Several authors write to different age groups, so we wanted to make sure we were spotlighting everyone we could. [without much crossover].”
The origins of the project date back to 2020, when a Scotts Valley High School student named Q Licht started the Purple Sticker Project. The Santa Cruz County of Education credits Licht with designing the project after visiting Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma and seeing how they highlighted books with positive LGBTQ+ representation.
“I wanted to make a difference in my community by putting in place a system that could make school libraries more like Copperfield books,” writes Licht, who did not respond to an interview request, on his website.
He began working with librarians at Soquel High School to place square purple stickers on queer books and created an ever-growing list of titles online.
At the same time, Darrow — who worked as a history teacher and librarian before becoming an LGBTQ+ support consultant — says educators consistently demand queer-affirming reading for their students.
“As I’ve been running workshops across the state for five years, one of the big needs educators tell me is, ‘Can you just give me a list of the best books to read?’ he says.
In 2021, Darrow met Licht at a SCCOE-sponsored LGBTQ+ Town Hall webinar, and the two discussed continuing the Purple Sticker project. The momentum continued when a guest speaker at the webinar donated his stipend to SCCOE for other LGBTQ+ businesses as well as the Purple Sticker Project. Last October, Santa Cruz Bookstore ran a promotion to raise funds for the purchase of LGBTQ+ books for use in school and public libraries.
Quirk says she’s proud to be part of a project that helps LGBTQ+ students feel seen.
“It’s important for many reasons, but on two very specific fronts,” she explains. “First of all, it helps kids in the LGBTQIA community who may still be figuring things out about themselves to see themselves represented in some way. When you can put a name on something, it often helps anyone out.
She says representation is also important for students who don’t identify with the queer community, as it allows them to develop empathy and understand what their peers might be going through.
“Having them in the library highlighted and visible says a lot about the kind of support the queer community can get in schools, and that it’s something their peers should be thinking about in terms of how to support each other. others.”
According to research, LGBTQ+ students are among the most at risk. A 2021 California study by WestEd, a nonprofit agency that works with educational communities to promote student well-being and learning, found that young people who identified as gay were twice as likely to report being bullied, and less than half said they felt safe at school. Transgender and bisexual students were the most likely to experience depression and report suicidal thoughts.
The study authors claimed that if LGBTQ+ students received the same support and safety as other students, disparities would be cut in half.
A 2019 study by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that the statistics are similar across the country and affect students’ studies equally. This report found that LGBTQ+ youth who experienced discrimination were three times more likely to have missed school, had lower GPAs, and were more likely to drop out than those who were not discriminated against.
Banned in the USA
Nationally, the list of the top 40 LGBTQ+ books comes at a time when school districts across the country continue to ban books at an alarming rate.
In January, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted unanimously to ban Mausthe Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel by cartoonist and former UCSC guest lecturer Art Spiegelman, due to its objectionable language and depiction of nudity, violence, and suicide. Maus details the author’s first-hand experience of coming to terms with his parents as Holocaust survivors, only to lose his mother to suicide years later.
Last December, a bill was introduced in the Oklahoma State Senate that would prohibit public school libraries in the state from keeping books about sexual activity or sexual and gender identity. According to the American Library Association, last fall they received 330 book challenges, an “unprecedented” number.
“This underscores the importance of why we need government agencies, schools and libraries like ours,” says Nick Ibarra, communications and public relations manager for the County Office of Education. Santa Cruz. “To come together and say, ‘He is appropriate for students to read these stories. When other states and schools ban these books, it underscores the importance of what we do.
“There’s no research showing that teachers requiring children to read a certain book cause them to think a certain way,” says Darrow. “It’s a political tactic to get publicity, and it doesn’t serve our students well to deny them a long list of books to read.”
Among those chosen for the Top 40 list are a number of books with Bay Area authors or a focus on Bay Area history and the queer community. For students in grades 9-12, notable Bay Area authors like James Brandon (Ziggy, Stardust and me) and Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer: A Memoir) are Darrow’s favorite picks.
For Quirk, some notable books are winners of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature king and the dragonflies by Kacen Callender (grades 3-5), Julian is a mermaid by UC Santa Cruz alum Jessica Love (pre-k-2) and grandpa camper by Harry Woodgate (pre-k-2).
“I like grandpa camper because it shows a biracial family and a queer elder, which we don’t see a lot of representation for,” she explains. “As millennials, a lot of the older generation fags haven’t reached old age, so it’s really nice to see.”
Books chosen for the Top 40 LGBTQ+ Books list are available in public and school libraries and are also on sale at the Santa Cruz Bookstore. For Darrow, the hope is to keep the list alive and growing, adding books as they come out for future generations of students.
“What’s most exciting is that there are now hundreds of titles with great LGBTQ representation that have come out over the past 10-20 years.”
Going forward, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is working on how to provide schools with the newly chosen materials.
“Our goal is to provide a set of these books to every school library in Santa Cruz County,” Sabbah said at Tuesday’s meeting. According to Darrow, it will cost around $30,000 to achieve this goal.
Bishop told the conference there should also be money soon from the state legislature.
“We’re trying to make sure it goes straight to school libraries instead of being scattered all over the place,” she said. “Please ask your managers and superintendents to allocate this money for this project.”
The list of the top 40 LGBTQ+ books is available at sccoe.link/lgbtqbooks.