The #OwnVoices movement in literature was started as a hashtag movement on Twitter. In 2016, Corinne Duyvis coined the term to emphasize that “an author from a marginalized or under-represented group [should be] writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.” (Seattle Public Library, 2020)
That seems really logical, right? People with the experience should be writing those books. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Far too often, straight, cisgender authors write LGBTQ+ stories. While many do extensive research and consult sensitivity writers, this is problematic for several reasons. The first is that LGBTQ+ authors are incredibly underrepresented in the publishing industry to begin with. According to a diversity in publishing study by Lee and Low, only 19% of authors are LGBTQ+. This does not mean that there are not a lot of LGBTQ+ authors, but rather, it means that the publishing industry is not prioritizing their voices. The second problem is authenticity. No amount of research can help a straight, cisgender author understand the LGBTQ+ experience.
Since LGBTQ+ authors are so underrepresented to begin with, it’s super important to support books written by LGBTQ+ authors. It’s also important to recognize that not all authors are “out” or feel safe to be out, so identifying true #OwnVoices LGBTQ+ books can be more difficult. Becky Albertalli, the author of Love, Simon, was pressured to come out after facing harsh criticism for writing a book with LGBTQ+ characters. Coming out is an incredibly personal experience, and no one should be forced to before they’re ready.
When choosing LGBTQ+ books for your children, what should you look for? Here are my recommendations:
- Prioritize books written by openly LGBTQ+ authors.
- Read reviews from LGBTQ+ readers about the books to see their feedback about the representation (Goodreads is a great place for this).
- Ask/search for book lists curated with LGBTQ+ books by LGBTQ+ folks.
I run an Instagram account called Teaching Outside the Binary, where I share book recommendations and other educational materials around LGBTQ+ inclusion. For the past two years, I’ve worked with other LGBTQ+ educators to create book lists for elementary, middle, high school, and adults. You can find all of the lists here. We are currently working on this year’s list which will be released during Read Across America Week.