Stonewall Awards 2017

I was at the Stonewall Awards at ALA Chicago yesterday! It was such an amazing morning… here are my remarks for those who wanted to be there but couldn’t. (I didn’t get through this little speech without getting more than a little teary. So many emotions! Phew. And a room full of the loveliest people you could wish to meet!)

Thank you all so much for being here and for giving me this chance to speak to you. This is such a huge honor. I’d like to start by thanking the American Library Association, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Roundtable, and the Stonewall Awards Committee for supporting my book in this way—I am more grateful than I can say.

I also want to thank my publisher, Orca– especially my talented editor and good friend, Sarah Harvey, who did an amazing job guiding me through the process of writing my first non-fiction book and even marched in the Pride parade with me and my family. Thanks also to Rachel Page, the designer who made my book look so gorgeous. And huge thanks to Dayle, Jen, Leslie, Andrew and everyone else in the Orca pod who has worked hard to produce and promote this book. I can’t imagine a better group of people to work with.

When I came out in 1991, the idea of a kids’ book about Pride would have been unimaginable.  There’s been such incredible progress, both in terms of legal rights and protections, and in the hearts and minds of millions of people.

And yet, over the past year, that progress feels increasingly fragile, and we are reminded that no battle is ever won permanently. When I launched this book, just over a year ago, I said that I wrote it because I wanted LGBTQ youth to know that they have a history that they can be proud of and a future that looks better all the time. But since then, the political climate has shifted, fueling racism, transphobia and homophobia and bigotry in all of its forms.

So I can no longer say to young queer people with any sense of honesty that the future looks better all the time. What I say instead that they have a history they can be proud of and a future that is worth fighting for- and that their generation is picking up that challenge and often leading the way.

As we know all too well, many kids still face bullying at school and rejection by their families, and many others are afraid to come out. I wrote Pride for them. I was thinking about all the queer kids out there – and the kids that have queer families, and the kids who are questioning and think they might be gay or lesbian or bi or pan or trans or two-spirited or asexual or one of the many diverse identities under the big queer rainbow umbrella— I wanted to tell them all that they are awesome just the way they are and that queer people can have wonderful, happy, lives.

I wanted to tell them that even if their current reality is a hard one, they are the newest generation of a courageous, resilient and beautiful community—a community that loves them so much.

I wrote Pride because I thought it was a book that needed to be written, because it seemed like a gap that needed to be filled. And Pride marches have been important to me for a long time: I’ve been going to Pride for 30 years, since I was in my teens. Over the last 13 years- since I became a parent- I take my kid to Pride in part because I think it’s important for him to be reminded that his two-mom family is just another kind of family and that all families and all of our diverse identities should be celebrated.

I wrote Pride because I wanted other kids to see that too. I wrote Pride because I was also thinking about the kids who aren’t part of the queer community and may not know much about it.  Because it isn’t just up to the queer community to dismantle heterosexism and homophobia and transphobia- it’s up to everyone. And allies have always been a part of the fight for equality. Because the LGBTQ community is so diverse, even many of us who identify as part of the community need to be allies for others within the community whose identities we don’t share. I think the role of allies is an important one as we move forward from here, and I wanted to encourage all kids to think about how they can be good allies in working towards social justice and fighting against all forms of oppression.

I wrote Pride because I thought it was important, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much this kind of book was needed until after it was published and I started visiting schools and talking to kids and hearing from teens and parents. I didn’t fully get it until kids as young as ten or eleven started coming up to me after my talks and saying: I’m gay, I’m non-binary, I’m pansexual, my mom is a lesbian, my dad is trans. The kids who ask for advice on how to come out to their parents and their peers. I didn’t fully understand how important books like this were until I got an email from a mom saying her 13 year old daughter just came out as a lesbian because my book made her feel brave. And I’ve had so many emails from older queer readers saying that they wished they’d had this book when they were kids. This past year has held some of the most profoundly moving experiences of my writing career.

One of the things I have found most inspiring is the kids themselves. The young people that I spoke to while I was writing this book, some of whose stories are included—like Harriette Cunningham, the young transgender girl from BC who fought for, and won, the right to have her birth certificate corrected to reflect her gender identity rather than the gender she was assigned at birth. And like Zea Martin-Hansen, another 12 year old who, along with her two moms, started a Pride march on their tiny west coast island. But also all the young people I’ve met at school visits since then, including all the kids who identify as allies and who are joining GSAs in their schools and standing up for their friends and making a huge difference in the world. This generation of kids gives me great hope for the future.

Another group that gives me hope is people like you: librarians and book people who help get books like mine into the hands of young readers. Over the past year I’ve met wonderful librarians in public libraries and in schools— librarians who fight against censorship, who promote queer books, who invite me to their schools and libraries to meet with kids and teens, who proudly display queer books face out where kids will see them, who even spend their own money to donate books like Pride to their collections.

This Stonewall Honor will help more readers find my book, and I am so very grateful for that. And I so appreciate all of you who work to support LGBTQ books, and to make schools and libraries more supportive, more accepting, more inclusive. I wish I could meet you all individually and hear about what you are doing in your communities, but I love that there are so many of us who care about equality and diversity and social justice, and I feel like working together, we can do so much to make things better for this next generation of kids.

With author Anna-Marie McLemore

With author Rick Riordan

Anna-Marie McLemore, Rob Bittner, Rick Riordan and Meredith Russo

With Stonewall Awards Committee member, librarian Angie Manfredi