Building Safe Spaces for LGBTQIA+ Children and Teens with Books

a guest post by Liz Deskins

a photo of author Liz DeskinsAll people, regardless of age, color, religious belief, or gender identity, deserve to have quality books where they can see themselves, learn about others, and enjoy reading! Not that long ago, I was a high school librarian, where I worked hard to make a safe and welcoming space for all students. It took several years to accomplish, as most good things do, but one of my proudest accomplishments was the opportunity to advise the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance). These students had a piece of my heart. My grown son is a proud, gay man living his best life, but he did not have any easy time of it in school. There was no safe space for him until he joined the swing choir, where he found friends with similar interests.

My goal was not to “lead” but to be a safe adult with a space for their meetings as well as learn what books and resources they wanted to have available. This led to the writing of the first edition of LGBTQIA+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All. My friend Christina Dorr and I had both been fortunate enough to sit on the Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s Book award committee of the Rainbow Round Table (formerly the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) in separate years and wanted to write a book to support librarians and teachers who were leery or nervous about purchasing these books. It was easier to self-censor and not have conflict. Our book cover for LGBTQIA+ Books for Children and Teens, Second Editionhope was this book would allay those fears. 

Over five years have passed. Now there are more laws, threats, and challenges than ever, and librarians, teachers, and supportive people everywhere are under fire. But not to worry: Kathleen Breitenbach, who uses they/them pronouns, and I have revamped the second edition of LGBTQIA Books for Children and Teens. Kathleen chaired the Mike Morgan and Larry Romans book award committee my year of service. They are passionate, knowledgeable, and so prepared to write this book. It has new titles that better reflect the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. It also has conversations from authors about why they wrote their books, and what events they faced in their lives. Librarians and teachers share ways they share titles with their students and patrons. And the books that are annotated show characters who face issues and resolved them, characters whose gender identity is not the plot of the story. 

I hope that those high school students now living their grown-up lives know that they touched my life in so many ways and now are the reason I write books like this. I also hope that Dr. Christina Dorr and Kathleen Breitenbach know that I hold them in highest esteem and count them as good friends.

Liz Deskins and Kathleen Breitenbach will present programs on the subject of their book at the 2023 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago (June) and at the 2023 NCTE Annual Convention in Columbus (November)