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Young adult novels share LGBTQ+ stories

ISTA member Craig Frawley is an English/language arts teacher at Fall Creek Junior High School. Frawley contributed this blog as part of ISTA’s Pride Month blog series.

Every junior high school student, regardless of residence, socioeconomic status, interests or test scores, has one shared experience in common – the discovery of his, her or their personal identity. While each generation faces its own unique challenges, due to societal norms and expectations or otherwise, this journey toward self-discovery has always been a part of growing up.

Today, students spend their formative years in junior high school writing their personal coming-of-age story, morphing into a new, more fully developed self and embracing the unique challenges they face in their everyday lives. One part of writing this story that has evolved over the past two decades is society’s growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. We can’t ignore one integral reason this increased acceptance is a reality – the way LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed in pop culture, particularly in the young adult novels students have access to in classroom and school libraries. These novels provide today’s adolescents with role models that look, act, behave and feel the way they do.

The portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in books, movies and TV shows has seen a major shift over the last 50 years. In the past, these characters often served as foils for the main characters, not having their own story lines or their own identities. Since 2000, there has been a dramatic increase in novels that not only share the stories of LGBTQ+ characters but also put the spotlight on these characters who are now the stars of their own story.

The inclusion of these stories in our classrooms and libraries is crucial for students. Having access to novels with diverse LGBTQ+ perspectives can be life altering. The stories help young minds recognize that they are seen, and their voices and identities are valued and crucial in creating community in our classrooms and buildings. As such, it should be our students’ right to have access to such relatable and diversity-rich stories.

While some districts and communities across the state are moving to eliminate access to literature containing diverse perspectives, having access to these stories and relatable characters is a vital part of a junior high school student’s development, either as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or as an ally. Not only is it important for these students to read such stories, it’s also important for students and teachers who may have little or no interaction with the LGBTQ+ community, or who are unsupportive of the community, to have access to these books. Understanding and acceptance starts with learning others’ experiences.

Allies are also a crucial part of an LGBTQ+ student’s journey, both in the classroom and in novels. Young adult authors have also done a praiseworthy job of creating straight, cisgender characters who help others come into their own identity and further their journey, and that is something to be celebrated.

Whether it’s reading about:

  • Simon’s first kiss with his secret admirer Blue in Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
  • Leah’s discovery of her love for her best friend Abby in Leah on the Offbeat
  • Simon and Baz’s epic vampire love story in Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On
  • Claude’s gender identity journey and transition to Poppy in Laurie Frankel’s This is How it Always Is
  • The allyship of Will Grayson to Tiny’s discovery of his newest love in John Green’s and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  • Aristotle and Dante’s friendship turned romance in Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

We must work to further improve access to these positive depictions of the LGBTQ+ community for those who desperately need and deserve it.