I strongly oppose Senate bill 656. I am a parent of two public school graduates, a former educator, and now work in family literacy - specifically with children's literature. From this experience, I know how critically important it is for children to find books that - as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop so eloquently said - serve as "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors." https://scenicregional.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Mirrors-Windows-and-Sliding-Glass-Doors.pdf
This need for books that reflect experiences and expand perspectives is true for books about the LBGTQ experience. There are children in our public schools who come from homes with LGBTQ parents or siblings. There are children in our public schools who are discovering their own sexuality and gender identity. There are children in our public schools who have friends going through that discovery. The worst thing we can do as adults is to make that lived experience more difficult, and to condemn it as wrong. Doing so is unmistakably cruel.
I understand that some members of our community have taken the view that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is in some way abnormal or evil. That minority view - and all polling shows that it is a minority view - cannot be allowed to drive our public policy. A minority of our community ascribes to white supremacy, and is often quite vocal about it. That does not mean that we should go back to the days of Massive Resistance. Our society is evolving - through fits and starts - toward one with greater understanding and acceptance of diversity, driven largely by our open-minded and open-hearted young people, and that change makes some adults uncomfortable. That discomfort with change should not and must not drive public policy. If it did, we would still have separate water fountains.
Instead, adults should walk more humbly and listen more closely to the voices of young people. They will show you that you can, in fact, live in a world that allows each person to be their most authentic self, that the expansion of rights to be more inclusive does not in any way diminish your rights, that the world is more interesting when we embrace our differences.
On a more practical note, these books can be lifelines for young people. As Dr. Dunnavant should know, our LGBTQ youth face much higher rates of depression and suicide, and those rates skyrocket when they do not have support from caring adults and peers. What does it say to a young person when the books that tell of their lived experience are deemed evil and pulled from the library shelves? And, any physician that advocates for that level of cruelty to children is violating her Hippocratic Oath. Pulling these books will not keep a young person from being who they are. Pulling these books will tell them that who they are is wrong, and that is the most dangerous possible message to send a young person.
This debate, and the similar debates across the country, have already done immeasurable harm to our young people. In Virginia, we have the opportunity to show our young people that we love them and respect them and want they to grow to be the fully realized people they are supposed to be. We can hope that this strong message will help remediate the damage that has been done. We can hope that our young people will forgive us.
In Virginia, we have trained, credentialed educators in our classrooms and libraries. We should trust those educators to have books that support all of their students and books that build empathy for others. That decision making power should rest with our professionals, not with a poorly-informed minority.