Editor’s note: Taylor James read the following statement and the two anonymous letters that follow at a recent Delaware Valley school board meeting.
Hello, my name is Taylor James. I am an alumni of Delaware Valley class of 2010 and an active member of Pike County for 17 years.
I am a gay man, and I have always been a gay man. I stand before you today with two statements prepared by parents of trans and other LGBTQ+ children in our district who do not feel safe or welcomed enough in this room in this room to speak for themselves. And neither do I.
These are statements from your neighbors, your friends, and your family. These are the people you are hurting, the people who never asked to be different.
These are children who never had a choice.
An anonymous letter from the parents of transgender children in DVSD Schools:
To the DVSD school board:
Did you know that a study published in 2021 by the Trevor Project, found that 52% of transgender and non-binary youth polled, seriously contemplated suicide in 2020? 52%. More than half of transgender and non-binary youth polled in this survey of 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13-24 considered suicide as a solution to their struggles. I was one of those kids at 20 years old. These findings come as transgender youth are facing targeted legislation all over the country.
Several, or possibly more than several of these books that you are being asked to ban feature characters who are transgender. These books were pulled from a larger list of banned books in Texas. These titles were found by searching the word “transgender” in a database. This is why they are being brought to you. Because these parents do not want their children exposed to the fact that there are transgender kids. These books are not “how-to guides” on becoming transgender. These are novels which simply have characters that identify as a gender opposite from which they were born. The ones who want them banned will say that the books have other inappropriate material, but we know that is not how they made it on the list in the first place, and their arguments are a guise.
These books are important. They give transgender and other LGBTQ youth a chance to see themselves on paper. They give a sense of belonging to a marginalized group of kids who very likely spend a lot of time feeling like they are alone. If you ban these books without legitimate cause you are telling LGBTQ youth at DV that they have something to be ashamed of.
We are here to say that our children are valid, and they exist. Your children attend class with them. They walk with them in the halls and they ride with them on the bus. Your children know our children. They may even be friends.
DVSD, you have transgender students in your schools. You have LGBTQ+ students. Protecting them is not theoretical. The harm you will do by banning these books is real. Banning these books without a legitimate cause is a dangerous step down a dark path. Please don’t perpetuate the reason for these heart stopping statistics. 52%. Our kids deserve better, and they are watching.
The parents of four transgender children in DVSD schools
(The second anonymous letter follows.)
“Lily and Dunkin,” by Donna Gephart, is a novel about two eighth grade students and their struggle to simultaneously fit in while also being true to themselves. Seems like a pretty relatable and important book, but one of the characters, Lily, is transgender. The ones who want this book banned will say that this character’s gender identity has nothing to do with why the book is inappropriate, so I would like to elaborate on the reasons that they will give to cover up the real reason this book is on the list.
They will say that this book has sexual content. If you take the time to read the book you will find that this is false. The word penis is used once. It’s on page 50 if you want to know. Otherwise, if mentioned, penis is called “boy parts.” There is no sex or even insinuation of sex in the entire book.
They may also talk about Dunkin, who suffers from bipolar disorder, refusing to take his meds. This is true. He does not take them and he hides that fact from his mother. He then proceeds to develop mania and is hospitalized. It is not glorified. It is basically telling kids: take your meds, or you will end up very sick.
They may also say that Lily rebels against police. The part of the book goes like this. The town wants to cut down a tree that is very special to Lily. Lily writes to the town to ask them not to cut down the tree and the town says thanks for the letter, but the tree is coming down. Lily puts up a sign asking them not to cut down the tree. As a last resort, she sits in the tree for 24 hours. A police officer asks her to come down and she says no. The police officer goes home. Lily comes down out of the tree of her own free will the next morning. The tree is cut down.
The last thing they might cite as a reason for banning this book is that there are issues of bullying. If this is a reason to ban this book then you’d better just close the library and the school for that matter because bullying is happening there everyday. Bullying is a common theme and struggle for young people and it is an important topic to read about. The bullying is not justified in Lily and Dunkin, and in fact, I would hope that reading this book might give kids pause before they bullied a transgender child or a child who is struggling with mental illness.
In summary, Lily and Dunkin is an important book for many reasons. It might be especially important for children who are transgender or who are struggling with bipolar disorder. When you actually read the book, and I hope that you do, you will find that the reasons that are being cited for why this book should be banned, just don’t hold water.