Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Plum Creek Literacy Festival canceled due to anti-LGBTQ+ position

On 9/20/21, author Eliot Schrefer shared the anti-LGBTQ+ code of conduct of Concordia University in Nebraska, which hosts the annual Plum Creek Literacy Festival. 

When I spoke there in 2013, I did not know of this, nor had I yet begun to verify inclusivity before agreeing to participate in events.

In the week that followed, the kidlit community sent a loud, proud, clear, and queer message to Concordia and Plum Creek: no matter how you try to defend/deflect/downplay this policy, it is, plainly and simply, then or now, intolerance.

As a species, we have a considerable list of societal issues to improve on, but the way any two (or more!) people love each other is not one of them. 

I am one of legions who support and thank Eliot. He backed out alone, with courage and poise. He ended up leading a movement which, I believe, will make a difference. I stand by all authors who have since withdrawn from this well-paying, well-attended event. 

If Concordia and PCLF are committed to turning a situation that has been hurtful all around into a positive, the only way to start is by striking all anti-gay policy from the code and making a public statement in support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Given that the university is affiliated with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in whose deeply entrenched view homosexuality is a sin, I realize that this likely won’t happen.

To everyone else: 

  • Please support the kids who were looking forward to the festival (and kids anywhere) by telling them the truth about why it was canceled and explaining that the authors did this out of respect for all people. 
  • Please support the LGBTQ+ community by speaking out against discrimination whenever you encounter it…whether or not it directly affects you.  
  • Please support the authors who withdrew from PCLF by buying or promoting their books. (As of 9/1/21, the lineup was Jim Arnosky, Nathan Hale, Molly Idle, Varian Johnson, Laurie Keller, Juana Martinez-Neal, Meg Medina, Tim Miller, Frank Morrison, Leslie Patricelli, LeUyen Pham, Matthew Reinhart, Eliot Schrefer, and Ashley Wolff.)

Oh, you like convenience? Here’s a way to support all three groups at once: 

Buy books with LGBTQ+ characters and/or by LGBTQ+ creators via Chapters, an indie bookstore in the same town as Concordia; it’s currently and bravely running a LGBTQ+ themed Banned Books campaign.

I asked Chapters owner Carla Ketner if the store would be willing to randomly distribute pre-purchased books to kids who come in, and she said yes, so I ordered titles written or illustrated by Phil Bildner, K.A. Holt, Mike Curato, Jo Knowles, Marla Frazee, Alex London, Adib Khorram, and Basia Tran.

To end on a promising note: for years, in crowded school auditoriums nationwide, I have seen how an ugly moment of intolerance can transform into a tear-inducing moment of acceptance, in some cases in the span of an hour.
I remain optimistic.

Update: Two days after this post went live, Carla reported this: “Just made a couple kids very happy. One gasped as they read the flap copy and said, ‘This sounds just like me!’ I get a bit teary thinking we might have brought this struggling teen a little peace.” Carla also said that her store has done well this week and she is paying it forward by encouraging people to also support River Dog Book Co., a queer-owned Wisconsin bookstore.

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