Update About the WorldFest Incident, Including Recent News Articles

Edit (4/26): The newest, (I think) the most clear and useful, and (I hope) the last article about this incident, from whatculture.com’s contributor Aeryk Pierson, who was a third-party witness to the incident.

Edit (4/25): One last Houston Chronicle article, that was posted online on Wednesday (4/24).

Edit (8pm): Just as I was writing this post, a sort-of apology was posted on the World Fest Facebook page.  Please feel free to read the post on their Facebook page, but I will also quote it at the bottom of this post so it is easier to find.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to give an update on the WorldFest incident and what has been happening in the last two days.  I thought the initial post was becoming too heavy with edits and updates. On the other hand, I’m worried that people will not see this update because the news stories have so far linked to my initial post.

In any case, just to fill everyone in who may (or may not) care:

As of 7:00pm on Tuesday, three separate online news sources have covered the story:

Houston Press, The Houston Chronicle, and Culture Map Houston.

These articles attempt to portray both sides of the story: my brother’s and Hunter Todd’s, and for the most part they have been fair.  The Houston Press article ran mostly based upon my blog and my brother’s facebook post. They attempted to contact Hunter Todd without success, but later added his response when he contact them.  The Houston Chronicle article interviewed Hunter Todd, but only ran with the information  from Mike’s facebook post. Mike later contacted the Chronicle because they had a few facts wrong, which they have now changed, but they did not add any additional comments from Mike. The Culture Map article did interview BOTH Hunter Todd and Mike.  I think Hunter Todd’s responses in each article speak for themselves.  I found it terrifying that Hunter Todd does not deny searching the Muslim student’s bag, and even explains that he did so BECAUSE she was wearing a hijab and demands: “What am I supposed to do?  Allow a terrorist to blow up 200 people?” (quoted in the Houston Chronicle article). THAT, my friends, is the DEFINITION of profiling.

I am concerned about a few things, however. Hunter Todd is resorting to character attacks on my brother, calling him a liar – particularly in regards to Mike’s claim that Hunter Todd tried to take his phone.  AND YET, at least one University of Houston student and one other WorldFest attendant (who commented on my initial blog) have CONFIRMED that Hunter Todd did in fact try to take Mike’s phone.  Unfortunately, neither the Houston Chronicle article nor the Culture Map article have included this information (and the Houston Press article only briefly mentions it), despite the fact that both witnesses said they were willing to go on record to corroborate the story. Thus, the news stories make it LOOK as if it is merely a case of he said/he said, with no proof on other side — when in fact TWO witnesses CAN and are WILLING to confirm at least parts of my brother’s version of events.

On TOP of this: from what I understand, The School of Communications at University of Houston have written a formal letter in defense of both the Muslim student and my brother.  Apparently, Hunter Todd has given a response.  I do not know what either letter contained, however, because the School of Communications has so far made neither their letter nor the response public.  This is unfortunate, as the fact that no one is aware that the University has become involved makes it even easier for Hunter Todd to attack Mike’s character with impunity, because the news articles present Mike as if he is a lone unsupported voice.  I fervently hope that the School of Communications, and preferably the whole University, will publicly support both the Muslim student and my brother and help to defend them both from accusations of lying.

And let me add this: Obviously, I was not at the event and I did not witness this incident. I am only involved so far as spreading the word is concerned. But I believe and trust my brother.  Besides which, what POSSIBLE motive could he have for lying about ANY of this?  I hope you all who have showed an interest and concern about this will continue to support us, and particularly my brother, as this situation moves forward, because I fear it is going to get worse before it gets better, and I do not want my brother to run under the bus because he was trying to do the right thing.

Thank You.

PS: on a side note, some of the comments on the Houston Chronicle article are absolutely HORRIFYING, and just go to show how far and how deep these ignorant, racist, Islamaphobic attitudes run. It makes me horribly sad.

The “apology” post from the World Fest Houston Facebook page:

WorldFest sincerely regrets any actions that were misconstrued or deemed offensive due to the recent situation during the organization’s master class at the Westchase Marriott this past weekend. WorldFest organizers acted on instinct for the safety of all based on the recent events in Boston. The emergency alarm and evacuation of the hotel resulted in great concern for the organization which felt its actions were justified to protect the well-being of all participants. WorldFest apologizes for responding in a way that may have seemed insulting but ultimately, everyone’s safety was the primary concern.

WorldFest plans to increase security in 2014 so festival staff can focus solely on enriching Houston’s film culture. WorldFest strives to provide a safe environment for persons of every background to collaborate with and learn from international film and filmmakers through cultural exchange, dialogue and master classes. As always, the festival and all of its events are open to the general public. We hope every culture, religion and nationality will be represented in the 47th annual WorldFest-Houston, April 2014.

Hunter Todd
WorldFest Founder and Chief Executive Officer

I hope you’ll forgive me for giving my own opinion of this post (I suppose I should just let you come to your own conclusions, but it is my blog, so I guess I’m entitled to share my opinion). This is the worst kind of false apology, one I’ve seen many times under a variety of circumstances, in which the person apologizes but insisted it was all a big misunderstanding, and thus not REALLY his/her fault, and implying that it is really the victim’s fault for “misconstruing” and therefore over-reacting. Furthermore, this “apology” such as it is only apologizes for what he claims was a legitimate security concern (which is ludicrous), and does not even admit to the secondary problem: that Hunter Todd did, in fact, have physical contact with my brother and tried to take his phone.  I hope the public will see this frantic face-saving move for the B.S. it is.

SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

UPDATE (4/23): For more updates, please see this post. Thank you.

UPDATE (4/22): Houston Press wrote an online article covering this incident, including speaking with another student (who remained anonymous) who corroborated the story. They also attempted to contact WorldFest for a statement, which was initially ignored. However, after the story broke, Hunter Todd wrote in response to the Houston Press article, which has now been added to that article. Here is a link to the full article: “W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag ‘Because She Is a Muslim’.”

EDIT (4/21): I have been informed (and by that I mean berated) that my use of the words “racism” and “racial profiling” in connection with this is “fraudulent” because Islam is not, in fact, a race. I am actually aware of this, however I wasn’t sure what other terms would work, and assumed that “racial profiling” at least got the main issue across. Furthermore, I do not know the Muslim student personally, but I believe that the harassment was motivated entirely on her physical appearance as Middle Eastern (I don’t know if she wore a hijab or any other visual markers as Muslim or not), which WOULD in fact place it in the realm of racial profiling. However, if anyone has a preferred term, and would like to inform me, I am all ears.

Original Post (4/20): I apologize for my long absence, but I am breaking radio silence in order to spread the word about a serious matter, and ask you all a favor.

I would like to ask you all to spread the word on an incident of racial profiling and harassment here in Houston.  My brother is a film student at the University of Houston, and was attending the WorldFest International Film Festival in Houston today – a Film Festival, I might add, that is supposed to be inclusive, and aimed toward fostering discussion between students and professionals in the film industry – when he witnessed the founder/director of the Festival demand to search the bag of the only Muslim student in attendance (and ONLY her bag).

As he does not have a blog, he has asked me to share the explanation he wrote on his facebook page.  Please read this and spread the word:

From Mike Rudd’s Facebook Page:

“I had a very revealing time at WorldFest Houston today with the founder and director Hunter Todd proving what an ignorant and aggressive person he really is.

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel’s fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a girl, a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I’d like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn’t ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

At this point I called a professor of mine and told him about the incident and asked if it would be appropriate for me to say something in her defense. I then went to Hunter Todd and asked him if he did in fact demand to search her bag and if so why. He told me, “because she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down.” I told him I would not sit down and that this was unacceptable and racial profiling. I offered to take it outside to discuss with him and he then said, “no you’re one of the people I despise the most and you’re an obnoxious little bastard, now sit down or I’ll have you thrown out. In response I said he should feel free to throw me out, at which point I pulled out my cell phone to call someone about the situation. At this point he lunged towards me grabbed me with both hands and tried to take my phone from me. I separated myself from him told him not to touch me and left the room to avoid further escalation.

Later, I called WorldFest to file an official complaint about a racial incident involving there founder and director. I was placed on hold for several minutes when a woman named Kathleen picked up. I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said “you called us now tell me your name”. I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone “TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!” Not willing to give into to this I told her that if that was going to be how it was I would go straight to the press and that I was hanging up. She began to yell something else at me as I hung up the phone.

All of this because at an INTERNATIONAL film festival, an ignorant and aggressive man, Hunter Todd, decided it was okay to target a student for being Muslim.  The saddest part of all is that the girl felt it was wrong, but that it was just the way it goes. Worse still, was that to her point not a single other person in the room of the dozens in attendance said or did anything in her defense.”

My brother has currently contacted several news stations who said they would look into it, though we do not know for certain that they will take any serious interest in the story.  His professor, who is known among local Houston television people, is also contacting people. My brother has TRIED to file a complaint with the police on account of Hunter Todd’s physical contact and attempt to literally take the phone from his hand, but the officer Mike spoke to said there was nothing to be done. My brother is planning to contact a different officer who may be more willing to take this seriously.

We are also considering the option of contacting the ACLU, though that would probably have to come more directly from the Muslim student, rather than from my brother who only witnessed the initial harassment.

In the meantime, we would appreciate it if you could spread the word about this atrocious behavior. Reblog this post. Link to it in other places. EMBARRASS THIS ORGANIZATION AND THIS MAN.  Remind people that there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for racial profiling, racism, or harassment.

Here is WorldFest’s Facebook Page and Twitter Profile. Tell them what you think about this unacceptable behavior.

Thank you.

Please Sign This Petition for the Resignation of Chancellor Katehi and Show People That Student Rights Matter!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I mentioned in my last post the incident at University of California, at Davis, in which non-violent student protestors were maliciously pepper-sprayed by UC Davis police, who were called into by Chancellor Linda Katehi to remove the students.  If you don’t know about the incident, I recommend these two articles as a starting point: First, from Reader Supported News, an overview with several videos: “UC Davis Police Violence Adds Fuel to Fire.”  And next, an “Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi” who is the Chancellor of UC Davis, written by a UC Davis faculty member.  Or just googling it should give you plenty of info to work with.

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters blocking a walkway in the quad on Friday, 11/18/11. (photo: Wayne Tilcock/Davis Enterprise)

On Change.org there is a now a petition calling for the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi.  I have signed it, adding the following comment:

I am deeply disturbed by what has happened at UC Davis, UC Berkeley and other college campuses around the country. I am a PhD student in the English Department of my university. I am also a Teaching Fellow and I teach Freshman writing classes, in which I try to support all voices and opinions while also encouraging civic duty and pride. I and some of my students have shown open support for the Occupy movements. I am horrified to think that this or something similar could happen to me or my students because we are demonstrating our basic rights to free speech and assembly. Perhaps you did not realize the police would be quite so cavalier and violent in their methods of dispersing the protestors at UC Davis (though I doubt that, as the police have demonstrated open willingness to use violent measures on nonviolent protestors), but that does not lessen your responsibility for calling the police to remove the students in the first place, and calling for a “task force” after the fact does nothing to change this. College administrations in this country need to be made aware that you (and they) CANNOT get away with this blatant disregard for student rights and safety, or things like this will continue to happen. You have proven that you do not have the students’ best interests at heart, and are therefore no longer qualified to be chancellor of any university. If you have any sense of what is right, you should issue a formal and heartfelt apology and resign.

I would ask that you sign it as well.  It takes only a moment.  You don’t even need to add a comment unless you want to.  I strongly believe that we need to show this chancellor, and all college administrators, that we will not stand for this.  Colleges are meant to be places for free thought and open discussion.  This kind of thing cannot be allowed to continue.

Once more, here is the link to the petition: “Police Pepper Spray Peaceful UC Davis Students: Ask Chancellor Katehi to Resign.”

Edit 1: I have just been sent another link on Twitter for another petition.  This one is a national call to “Condemn the use of tear gas and pepper spray (and other chemical weapons) on peaceful protesters in the United States” posted on whitehouse.gov.  This one only has a few signatures so far, so PLEASE sign!  I didn’t even know this platform existed, but I’ve checked and it does seem to be a legitimate page run by White House staff to allow the public to send petitions directly to the federal government.  This is a valuable piece of information to have, and I’m glad I’ve now learned of its existence.

Edit 2: Here is a fantastic explanation of the Authoritarian mentality in the U.S. that is at the root of the UC Davis incident by Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com: “The Roots of the UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying.”

Also, an absolutely WONDERFUL video showing the perfectly orchestrated, perfectly SILENT demonstration of protestors after Chancellor Katehi made an press conference.  At least 1000 students (perhaps more) surrounded the building and then cleared a path for Katehi to exit and walk to her car, the entire time surrounded on all sides by silent, shaming student protestors.

Thank you!  And please feel free to share your thoughts below!

Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet

Bookworm Wednesday: Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet

Hello all.  Sorry I’ve been absent from the blog so much lately.  Unfortunately, sometimes school does that.  And while I absolutely LOVE this blog (and it’s WAY more fun than schoolwork), doing my PhD is, in the end, far more important.  Still, I feel really bad for missing the last three post-days. I don’t have a TON of time on my hands currently, but I wanted to give you all a quick post.

Right now I’m reading a book called Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet by Graham Meikle.  It’s research for a paper I’m writing about the use of Twitter and other social media in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  But it’s also a really fascinating book so far (I’m about a third of the way through it right now).  Here are a couple different descriptions of the book from the back cover:

Future Active is an exploration of the widening field of internet activism, of the key players and their ideas, and of the tactics and technologies that inspire them.  The internet has enabled unprecedented global commerce and helped create new oligopolies but it has also mobilized millions of people locally and globally with very different visions of connected world communities.”

Future Active examines the uses of the internet as a tool to effect social, political, and cultural change.  Graham Meikle talks to activists from around the world: from culture jammers to right-wing resistance movements, from political parties to pioneer hacktivists.  He provides case studies of milestone Net campaigns key figures explain how Belgrade radio station B92 used the Net to thwart Milosevic’s censorship, how the McSpotlight website contributed to the campaign of the defendants in the McLibel trial, and how the global Indymedia Phenomenon was born.

Meikle argues that it is the unfinished and open nature of the Internet that is most radical.  It is through creating open media spaces that people can come to make their own futures and those futures will be much more exciting than the media McWorld of corporate ‘interactivity’.”

These descriptions give you a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this book.  It’s detailed, uses some very interesting examples (mainly from the 1990s) of internet activism, and offers some useful critiques of what works and does not work in each situation.

The one thing that does make it perhaps not as useful as it could be is that simple fact of its age.  It was published in 2002, which means it was probably written at least a year or two prior to that.  All of this was before Facebook, before Google had become the monolith it is today, and before Twitter.  This severely limits the continued relevance of the specific technologies, websites, and systems discussed in the book.  But the general ideas of internet activism and continually evolving as the technology evolves still hold true.  I suspect Meikle watches the developments of the last couple years, especially the Arab Spring uprisings and now the Occupy Wall Street movement and often shouts: “I told you so!”

Meikle, Graham. Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002.

The Voices of the 99

Free-For-All Friday: The Voices of the 99

from occupywallst.org

Three weeks ago, on Sept 16th, something big happened.  It didn’t look big.  At first, it didn’t even sound big.  But the few dozen students in New York City who had decided to make their displeasure with corporate America known had started something they probably didn’t even fully appreciate themselves.  So no wonder few people realized at first what was happening.

from occupywallst.org

I am, of course, talking about the Occupy Wall Street Protests.  And now people are beginning to realize how big this has really become.

posted by @alexgoldmark on Twitter

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of New York City to protest corporate corruption, federal bailouts of banks, corporate personhood, and a variety of other problems related to the economy, corporations, taxes, and the job market.  And over the last couple weeks, to show their support and make similar protests, people in cities across the country have begun their own Occupy protests.  Just a few of these cities are Los Angeles, Boston, Minneapolis, and, starting yesterday, right here in Houston (which I’d love to go join, even for awhile, but school has prevented me from doing so).

For those interested in learning more about the movement(s), there are any number of websites you can go to, including:

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Together

Occupy Wall Street Adbusters Page

The NYC General Assembly

Occupy Houston (for Houston residents, obviously)

There are also quite a few news articles and blogs that look at the protests for a variety of angles.  Here are just a few:

“First Official Statement from the Occupy Wall Street Movement” (with some interesting and occasionally inflammatory comments at the bottom)

“There’s Something Happening Here, Mr. Jones”

“Top 5 Reasons Why The Occupy Wall Street Protests Embody Values of the Real Boston Tea Party”

The CNN “Seriously, Protesters” video segment by Erin Burnett (which takes a negative stance on the movement – I’m trying to show all sides here)

To say I’ve become a tad obsessed with this situation would be a tad bit of an understatement.  I am fascinated by the protests, the way the movement has spread across the country, and the variety of positive and negative reactions it has garnered.  I have collected almost every bit of news and social media coverage I can get my hands on.  I am archiving the #occupywallstreet, #generalassembly, #occupytogether, and #occupyhouston Twitter Feeds (and I watch them obsessively late at night when I’m done with my homework and should be going to sleep).  I’m collecting pictures of the various posters and signs people have made and posted on their websites and flickr and such.  And I am currently researching discourse analysis, activist rhetoric, and the history of protest movements in preparation for my plan to write a large Sociolinguistics paper on the discourse and language-usage as it pertains to the movement, and how people represent and index the protesters on Twitter and in the media.

I think a few of the critiques and insults against the protesters might be one of the more fascinating (and frustrating) parts of the whole situation.  Here are the three that seem to be the most common:

posted by @MWJ1231 on Twitter

1)     The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Stance/Demands/Ideology (ie, all that stuff they’re protesting), is so diffuse, so varied, so numerous (because they are trying to include everyone’s pet-complaint), that the whole thing becomes too messy, unfocused, and unorganized to be particularly effective or to be taken seriously.

Now, this critique is true in a lot of ways.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is attempting to work without real leaders, relying instead of group dynamics, the General Assembly, and consensus to make decisions.  This means that everyone involved gets a say in what happens, and many of the people involved, while focused on the economic/corporate corruption issue, also bring to the table many other issues that are sometimes obviously related, occasionally sort-of-tangentially related, and often not really related at all.  Thus, if you read the concerns listed in “First Official Statement,” you’ll notice plenty of things about corporate personhood, bank bailouts, CEOs giving themselves bonuses while laying off thousands of workers, etc; and then you’ll also notice things about animal cruelty, corporate farming, and other such things that I can certainly see as being sort-of-kind-of related (in the sense that everything is connected to some extent or another), but which are not (or should not) be the main focus.  This gives some observers and detractors the perception that the movement lacks coherence and focus and a real point.  I do not believe, in the long run, that these additions detract from the overall power of the movement, but it is a legitimate critique. (In contrast, I think this blogger’s much simpler version is probably more useful: “Submitted to #OccupyWallStreet for Consideration”.)

2)   The second big critique/insult against the protesters is the general claim that they are all “unwashed, lazy, hippies who don’t work, and live off the welfare of others and don’t pay taxes.”

posted by @sherrytalksback on Twitter

A) While there are, no doubt, hippy-types involved in these protests, the general stereotypes about hippies is just plain silly, RIDICULOUS, and insulting.  B) If you look at the pictures of those involved, or listen/read to much of the commentary from or about those involved, you may begin to notice (if you are open-minded and willing to listen to ANYONE), that a very large number of the people involved DO have jobs: they’re teachers, union-workers, small-business owners, service-industry employees, etc. and most (if not all) of them DO pay their taxes.  C) Quite of the few of the people involved are not working because they were laid-off, their companies went under, they are 20 and 30-somethings fresh out of college and unable to find a job ANYWHERE, etc. and most of them STILL pay taxes.

3)   The third major critique/insult is that the protesters are all communist and/or anarchist, who want to completely dismantle every corporation and business that is the foundation of the U.S. economy and essentially destroy capitalism as a whole.

First, of all, that’s just plain silly, and I want to know if anyone who says this has actually listened/read to a WORD the protesters have said.  Yes, whenever you have ANY sort of social movement you are going to have that tiny minority of people on the fringe who go to the absolute extreme and call for the total destruction of capitalism, blah blah blah.  Just as the Tea Party asks that the whole group not be judged based on the extreme racist comments of some of their members, so too should the OWS protesters not be judged based on the opinions of a very VERY small element within the movement.  The vast majority of the OWS protesters have been very clear: they want an end to corporate corruption, they want the CEOs of those companies responsible for the recession to be punished, they want their (legitimate tax-paying) jobs to be protected, they want proper oversight of corporate America, and they want to stop corporate America from running some very large parts of the government from behind the scenes.  This is not about destroying capitalism or becoming a communist country.  It is about real democracy, and it is about strengthening the economy through free capitalism instead of monopoly.

I have ranted enough about this for today.  I’d love to hear what you think about the situation.  You can, no doubt, tell that I have sympathetic to the cause, but I have no problem if you want to tell me why you disagree with the movement as long as you are civilized about it.  What do you think?  Any stories to tell?  Links to share?  Please, chime in!

My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Bookworm Wednesday: My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Update: Please note that the agents discussed in the article by Brown and Smith have offered a rebuttal.  I have included the link to a Publishers Weekly post which contains both the rebuttal and a counter-rebuttal from the authors.  Please keep in mind that while there may be some question as to the validity of the authors specific claims, the overall discrimination issue remains entirely real.

On Monday a blog posted by Publishers Weekly began making the rounds on social media sites, especially Twitter.  The article, written by YA authors Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith and titled “Say Yes to Gay YA,” told a sobering story about how these two well-known authors attempted to find an agent for a post-apocalyptic YA novel they wrote together.  However, none of the agents they contacted were interested, though several said they would be if changes were made, and one agent stated point-blank that he would be interested only if the authors removed a gay pov character, or made him straight.

It is implied that this is a marketing concern rather than a personal problem with homosexuality (though one can never be sure).  The generally consensus seems to be that YA scifi/fantasy novels (or another kind of YA novel, no doubt) with gay characters (or other minorities ethnic, religious, disabled, etc) simply cannot sell books.  The authors refused to make their gay character straight or remove him, and have yet to find an agent for their novel.  But this is not the end of the story.

The authors are asking for everyone to get involved in changing this trend that implies that LGBT and minority characters in YA, and by extension LGBT and minority young adults, are at best not interesting enough to sell books, and at worst a social evil that is (and should be) subject to erasure.  Readers, writers, editors, and agents all need to bring this problem to the public’s attention.  And they need to show other agents, editors, and publishers that having a gay or minority character in a YA novel (scifi/fantasy or otherwise) will not prevent people from buying/reading it.  That, in fact, many readers specifically want more YA fiction featuring LGBT and other minority characters.  We went YA fiction that truthfully and fairly represents the lives of all young adults.  Not just white, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian Americans.

In one small effort to do my part, I am taking a moment here to mention a few of the YA novels I have read personally that featured gay or lesbian main characters.  I tend to read more adult scifi/fantasy featuring LGBT characters, so I don’t have a lot of YA titles to share.  Of course, part of the reason for that is that there simply isn’t much choice in YA fiction.  I’ve also noticed that while gay YA lit remains an overall minority, within that grouping it is far more common to find YA titles with male gay characters than it is to find novels about bi or lesbian young adult girls.  However, the few titles that I own all have female main characters, with one exception, simply because I’m a girl, so that’s what I tend to gravitate toward.  Also, only one of these is a YA scifi/fantasy.  The others are more mainstream coming-of-age.  Again, more because that’s what’s available than out of any particular intention on my part.

My LGBT YA Bookshelf:

Annie On My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden: This was the first lesbian novel I ever read.  I bought it for a friend of mine when she’d told me she was bisexual our Freshman year of high school, and then read it myself as well.  It is a classic about two teenage girls who fall in love and have to learn how to live their lives when no one around them can understand except for two teachers who happen to know exactly how they feel.  Eventually, the  girls’ secret is revealed to their parents and the rest of the school and the fall-out is enormous.  It is a touching and believable story that all questioning girls should read.

Please Don’t Kill the Freshman(2003) by Zoe Trope:  This book actually began as a chapbook memoir written by a girl under the pseudonym Zoe Trope.  All the characters have names based on a characteristic like “Linux Shoe” and “Plum Sweater,” but all of these characters are painfully, shockingly real.  This diary-esque memoir follows tortured, sharp-tongued Zoe through high school as she deals with the growing apathy of the world, her disdain for everything around her, and the her complicated transgendered relationship with her first girlfriend who becomes her first boyfriend.  This book is profanity-laced, stream-of-consciousness in style, gut-wrenchingly raw, and painfully familiar to anyone who want through high school in the late 90s-early 2000s.

Empress of the World (2001) by Sara Ryan:  This is the story of Nicola Lancaster who goes to a Summer Program for Gifted Youth, a camp filled with intelligent, artistic, and intense highschoolers all living like college students for 8 weeks.  Nicola has never really had friends, and she’s never been in a relationship.  Then she meets Battle Davies, a beautiful, passionate girl who claims Nicola’s heart despite the fact that Nicola always thought she liked boys.  This one is short, smart, and intense, with a bittersweet ending that leaves you wanting more.

The Rules for Hearts(2007) by Sara Ryan: Thankfully, where Empress of the World leave you wanting, Rules for Hearts at least begins to answer.  This one follows Battle in her first year of college, when she moves in with her older brother in his Bohemian apartment building filled with strange characters who all work at a local theatre, including Meryl.  But while much of the focus of this book is obviously on the complicated intertwined relationships of the theatre crew, and how Battle gets swept up into it with Meryl, it also deals heavily with Battle’s relationship with her brother, who had run away without a word years before.

Keeping You A Secret (2003) by Julie Anne Peters: This one is another classic.  Julie Anne Peters has written a number of YA novels with LGBT themes, including one called Luna, about a transgendered boy and one called Between Mom and Jo, which is about a teenage boy raised by his lesbian mothers (neither of which I’ve read yet).  Keeping You A Secret is one of my favorites because it deals with a high school girl with the perfect boyfriend, who suddenly finds herself absolutely fascinated with the new girl: who happens to be an out lesbian.  The romance of this one moves quickly but believably, and the real tension and some terrifying moments (for me at least) come when she has to face her mother.

Far From Xanadu (2005) by Julie Anne Peters: Another one by Julie Anne Peters, this one is about a girl who goes by “Mike” and lives in a small Midwest farming town.  She is the classic tomboy: dressed like a boy, prefers sports and working as a farmhand, and lifts weights.  Her life is already complicated by her father’s suicide and the competition she’s put herself in against her older brother.  Things get even more complicated when she falls in love with the new girl, Xanadu: gorgeous, exotic, rebellious, contrary… and straight.  I think I like this one because it doesn’t have an exactly happy ending.  (Julie Anne Peters newest book, Rage: A Love Story, came out in 2009.  I haven’t read it yet, but I just bought it, so you might be hearing about that one eventually.)

Hero (2007) by Perry Moore:  Last, but not least, my only LGBT YA novel about a gay male, and my only one that is also a scifi/fantasy. Hero is about Thom, son of Hal Creed, who was the greatest of all superheroes until a horrible event left him disfigured and disgraced.  This event also led to the disappearance of Thom’s mother.  Hal wants to keep his son out of the superhero game.  But Thom’s father doesn’t know two things about his son: one, he has special healing abilities; and two, he’s starting realize he may be gay.  Thom isn’t sure which fact is going to disappoint his father more, and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure he never has to find out.  I love this one because I love it when authors try to find ways to make superheroes fit into the framework of a more realistic worldview.

So, there’s my LGBT YA bookshelf.

If you’d like to share any you’ve read, I’d love to hear about them.  I’m always in need of my book suggestions!  If you’ve written one, that’s even better!  If you have questions about any of these, I’m more than happy to elaborate as well.  Please feel free to chime in!

Also, again, make sure you read the original article written by Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith.  You can find it: here.

And for another reaction to the “Say Yes to Gay YA” article, please read Kait Nolan’s “Don’t Kill Diversity.”

For a rebuttal from the agents discussed in the Brown and Smith article please go here.  It is important to look at all sides of this issue.

Public Schools Imposing Sexist Gender Stereotypes and Ignoring Students’ Rights

I have heard many stories like this over the years: public schools that mistakenly believe they have a right to dictate every aspect of a child’s life, including things that have absolutely nothing to do with the child’s education and which do nothing to harm or offend other students.  Case in point: A 12 year old boy at Itasca Middle School has been given an in-school suspension for an unspecified amount of time (possibly all year) because he has long hair.  Though the news report on this incident does not specify which Itasca in which state this happened in, I believe it was probably Itasca, TX in Hill County, not too far from Dallas.  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

Texas schools are especially fond of dictating how long a boy’s hair is allowed to be.  When my brother was in high school for a year in southeast Texas, he was told on many occasions that he needed to cut his hair because it was too long for the school’s dress code – and his hair was only a bit on the shaggy side, it was still quite obviously a boy’s haircut.  Apparently, the only haircut Texas public schools deem acceptable for a boy is a military buzz cut.

But to return to the case of the Itasca school suspension: the mother has protested and has even started a petition, but the school says they will not budge.  If I was the mother I would immediately pull my son out of that insane school and do my best to find a school that isn’t so fascist, and sexist.  Of course, if I’m right and this is the Itasca in Texas, she might have a very hard time finding such a school without moving out of state.  But I hope she can do something to protect her son from this.  Because it IS fascist and IS sexist.  It is an extremely out-dated, un-educated, un-evolved, and sexist attitude to insist that only girls are allowed to have long hair.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of guys with long hair.  I generally don’t find it aesthetically-attractive and there a very few men, in my opinion, who can pull it off.  But what a person, even the principal or superintendent of a school considers to be attractive is not the point.  This boy keeps his hair clean and combed and out of his face; it is not offensive, or distracting, and it does not in any way influence his or any fellow students’ academic progress.  Therefore, the only reason the school has any stake in the matter is that it is trying to impose its conservative and sexist stereotypes of appearance and gender roles on its students, without any regard to privacy or rights of those students.  And its WRONG.  Period.

See link for the news video below:

Itasca School Suspends Child For His Long Hair.