Posted on June 13, 2023
According to a 2023 report by PEN America, recent book bans in U.S. classrooms and school libraries have particularly targeted queer literature; 26% of banned titles contain LGBTQIA+ characters or themes*. This June is the perfect time to uplift queer voices with relevant, compelling literature that spans the globe and showcases the diversity of LGBTQIA+ lives. You'll find links to that literature, along with tools for teaching and learning, below.
1. In the form of a love letter sent from the moon, "Genesis" is both a tender romance and a powerful science fiction story. When it first came out in South Korea, K-pop fans quoted the story in social media posts about their idols.
2. Also from Korea, "Dori and Jina" is the beginning of a post-apocalyptic love story between two girls.
3. From Turkey, "Muzaffer and Bananas," about two boys who skip school to visit the zoo, and discover that their relationship is changing. As the introduction to the story explains, "Yalçin Tosun's chubby, despairing Turkish teenagers find solace in visits to the zoo. But an unexpected change to their routine abruptly alters their lives and their relationship."
4. Also from Turkey, graphic nonfiction about the LGBTQIA+ community's defiance of the cancellation of a gay pride march.
5. From Japan, "Cavities and Kindness," a sweet, humorous Japanese story about a trans woman dealing with a breakup. See the tabs next to the story for multimedia resources and teaching ideas.6. From Mexico, a more hard-hitting story about trans life, entitled “Miss Eddy.” The story intrigues the reader from its very first sentence and provides an excellent example of immediate, emotionally powerful storytelling: "Yes, I introduced them, but that was all." Editor Susan Harris writes of it:
The title character and her friend Úrsula fall in with the seductive sex trafficker Tommy. As they work their way toward the border, Eddy's initial infatuation turns to suspicion and then fear; when Tommy announces a change of itinerary, she stays behind in Tijuana, but cannot persuade the lovestruck Úrsula to do the same. The result is no less tragic for its inevitability.
For context, you might show students the video below, filmed by the not-for-profit organization RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.) A number of the refugees in the video are originally from Honduras, like "Miss Eddy." (The video has a policy slant, disagreeing with the Trump administration's "Stay in Mexico" policy.)
(Watch on YouTube.)
For a story with a happy ending, about a gay Honduran who just won asylum, watch the seven-minute video "Young, Gay and Free from Detention," from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
For contextual resources on Mexico and immigration, see the Context and Playlist tabs for "The Gringo Champion."
7. From Russia, "On the Moscow Metro and Being Gay," by the poet and pioneering online publisher Dmitry Kuzmin. This far-ranging and complex essay is probably best for college classrooms. Scholar Julia Trubikhina comments on it, "As Kuzmin considers making public statements as an openly gay man his personal responsibility while antigay hysteria in Russia reigns supreme, he nonetheless also envisions a future—and this is a vision of love, a kind of 'I have a dream' moment."
See the tabs next to the essay for a video interview, comedian John Oliver's summary of Russia's anti-gay laws, and more.
8. From Puerto Rico, the story "Bruises," first published as part of the 2019 Pride issue of the magazine Words Without Borders. We love this story, set in a middle school just before the 1968 moon landing, because it doesn't shy away from complexity but is also firmly rooted in the concrete experiences of its characters, as they tackle bullying, changing friendships, gender expectations, and encounters with the adult world. "There's nothing to give up, Elena. We just are the way we are." As they read, students might mark which characters' stories resonate with them, and then discuss their responses in pairs or small groups. (Includes some anatomical slang.)
WWB Editorial Director Susan Harris provides background on the story in her issue introduction:
Afro-Caribbean writer Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro won the National Short Story Prize of the PEN Club of Puerto Rico in 2013 for her collection Las Negras. Known for exploring the limits of female characters who challenge hierarchies of power, here she traces a relationship that morphs from bullying to bond. Muscular young teen Elena fights her way into a tough boys’ gang as they pummel the effeminate Ricardo. As she navigates often-confusing social and sexual currents, and faces her own crush on the alluring Johana, her relationships with both the gang members and their target evolve.
For contextual resources and teaching ideas, take a look at our blog post "'We just are who we are': Teach a Puerto Rican story of identity."
9. From Iraq, author and animator Mortada Gzar's "While He Was Sitting There," set at a gay bar where an Iraqi student enjoys casual encounters with American soldiers. Like #7, this story is probably best suited for college classrooms.
10. From Japan, "Sentimental Education." This chapter from what translator Allison Markin Powell calls "a beautiful lesbian love story set in modern day Japan" describes the early life of one of the women in the story: abandoned by her mother, Nachi spends her early years in an orphanage and foster home, becoming "a lot like a stray cat."
11. From China, the oral history "The Story of a Homosexual: An Interview with Ni Dongxue." The interviewer, dissident author Liao Yiwu, is a self-described "chauvinistic" straight man whose discomfort with his subject becomes part of the history. Ni Dongxue is more than prepared to take on this discomfort, with a conversational style that combines provocative humor, thoughtful analysis, and plain statements of fact: "Homosexuality has been around in China for more than two thousand years." (Because of its graphic description of sexual violence, this piece is best suited to students in eleventh grade and up.)*"Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools," by Kasey Meehan and Jonathan Friedman, PEN America
** Originally published in 2019; updated.