Don’t Luv Ya Bunches, Moms

The story broke last fall, but it’s worth repeating now that Spring book fairs are nearly upon us.  Scholastic Books, publisher of the oft-banned Harry Potter series among other popular books for kids and young adults, was caught in a queer dilemma last October. School Library Journal and others reported that the company sent a letter to author Lauren Myracle’s agent, asking that she make some changes to her newest book, Luv Ya Bunches.  Seems that the folks at Scholastic were concerned about words like “crap,” “sucks” and “geez.”  But that’s not all. The fact that one of the main characters, Milla, has two moms was also worrisome.  Myracle agreed to change the language, but she drew the line at recasting Milla’s family, noted the School Library Journal.

“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.'” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents. “I find that appalling. I understand why they would want to avoid complaint letters—no one likes getting hated on—but shouldn’t they be willing to evaluate the quality of the complaint? What, exactly, are children being protected against here?”

The compromise?  Scholastic says it will include the book in its middle school book fairs this spring but not ones held at elementary schools.  But that’s a problem for the book’s target market.  Its characters are ten years old and in the fifth grade–at an elementary school.  Do middle school kids really want to read books meant for the elementary school crowd?  Plus, how are elementary school librarians made aware of this book, which is more appropriate for their libraries than those at middle schools?

In the end, it seems that Scholastic got its panties in a wad for just about nothing.  The book focuses on the children themselves; Milla’s moms are barely mentioned and her family structure doesn’t figure into the story at all.  Still, as far as I can tell, the company’s decisions stands.

And why should this matter?  A representative of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sums it up:

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, points out that Scholastic is free to market books as it likes because booksellers aren’t government agencies and therefore aren’t held to the same standards as public libraries and school libraries, which serve entire communities. At the same time, Caldwell-Stone says, asking Myracle to alter her book, does have a chilling effect.

“It discourages other authors from writing similar books that include same-sex parents or diverse characters, so it’s problematic,” says Caldwell-Stone.

Especially in a time when the publishing industry–newspapers, magazines and books–is under great duress.

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The H word

caster-semenya3_featureIt’s a story that, compared to Serena Williams and Roger Federer, hasn’t been getting much U.S. press: South African middle distance runner, Caster Semenya’s physique raised suspicions after her performance in the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin. Doping wasn’t the question. International Association of Atheletes Federations (IAAF) officials wanted to know if Semenya is really a woman.

After a battery of invasive and embarrassing tests — that were revealed to the world via news reports — it was discovered that Semenya is intersex, that is she possesses both male and female reproductive organs. Only “intersex” was not the word used in many media reports. Instead, she was referred to as a “hermaphrodite,” an outdated medical term that is no longer considered appropriate by U.S. journalistic standards.

(Curiously, the NLGJA style guide does not include the word “hermaphrodite,” instead counting on users to look up “intersex.” I suggest that the guide be updated.)

The Associated Press even picked up on the Australian and African press’s use of “hermaphrodite” in its news story about Semenya. Yet, AP science reporter, Seth Borenstein dug in a little deeper — and ended up confusing the terms even more — in his piece “When someone is raised female and the genes say XY” He writes:

It’s the birth defect people don’t talk about. A baby is born not completely male or female. The old term was hermaphrodite, then intersex. Now it’s called “disorders of sexual development.”

Okay, so maybe the medical and science community says “disorders of sexual development,” but among regular folk, it’s still “intersex.” Borenstein’s story does shed light on the once dark topic, but language is again a problem. Referring to intersex as a birth defect, he, perhaps inadvertently, labels intersex people as freaks.

In an interview with the South African magazine YOU, Semenya said, “I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself.” However, she is now reportedly in hiding and undergoing counseling. South African government officials are decrying the media’s coverage and the IAAF’s handling of this revelation, saying that the experience has left Semenya traumatized.

Meanwhile, on the Bleacher Report, a U.S. blog devoted to all things sports, Daniel Muth confuses sex with sexuality, saying:

We can estimate that roughly 115 million individuals on the planet could be classified under the same category as Caster Semenya, the embattled South African runner whose sexuality has been questioned in the wake of her impressive 800-meter win at the World Championships in Berlin in August.

Thankfully, Semenya’s sexuality has not been media fodder. That said, Muth’s post, “Blurring the Lines: The Strange Case of Caster Semenya” is largely positive, as are the comments that follow.

Ironically, as I began writing this post, NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast a story on intersex fish, getting the terminology right.

Youth Radio breaks gay abuse story

53Whoever said that young people don’t have a sense of true journalism hasn’t met Rachel Krantz.  A member of Youth Radio, the young reporter has published Investigation: Sailor’s Abuse Kept Silent in Navy Canine Unit.

A Youth Radio investigation has found that between 2004 and 2006, sailors in the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, or “The Kennel,” were subjected to an atmosphere of sexual harassment, psychological humiliation, and physical assaults.

The story details the results of an independent investigation carried out by Marine Corps Captain Brooks Braden, including redacted documentation of the findings.  Four members of the Bahrain Working Dogs Division were also interviewed.

This story is particularly well timed, as Congress prepares to go back in session.  Yesterday, Politico reported that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is likely on the back burner until next year.  The story quoted Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill) saying, “We have a very heavy, busy agenda and a few months left to [repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell]. So it may not be now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be soon.”

Krantz’s story demonstrates why action should be taken sooner, rather than later.

Asking the right questions

marriage equality_0In a blog post published yesterday, Chicago Tribune religion reporter, Manya Brachear asks, “Should clergy cross the border to marry gay congregants?”  Apparently nine lesbian couples traveled with their Unitarian Universalist ministers from Minnesota to Iowa, so that the couples could be legally married.  This situation is becoming more and more common as states allow same-sex marriage.  However, Brachear asks the wrong question, conflating the religious and secular issues surrounding marriage in general and same-sex marriage specifically.

But first, Brachear seems confused about the Unitarian-Universalist denomination.  She says:

The mass shotgun wedding wasn’t just a political stunt. It was part of a church mission trip organized by the Unitarian Universalist Church.

There is no such thing as the Unitarian Universalist Church, with a capital C.  Unlike other denominations, Unitarian-Universalism is based in church polity, the concept that each congregation is allowed the freedom to make its own decisions and follow its own spiritual path.  This makes perfect sense for a creedless faith, but it is certainly confusing to those of more traditional faith systems.  Churches may or may not belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), an umbrella organization that provides resources and helps coordinate UU efforts.  But even if they do, they are not required to follow UUA rules or guidelines, and in fact, many UU churches pick and choose.

Frankly, a religion reporter should be more careful with these details.

But the bigger question is the question itself:  “Should clergy who perform same-sex wedding ceremonies take congregants across state lines to make it legal?”  I honestly don’t understand what she is asking.  Many UU churches–the ones in this story included–sanction same-sex marriage.  Ministers of these congregations have the right to preform these marriages, even if they are not legal in that state.  And as long as they follow the laws of another state, they are legally permitted to perform these marriages in another state.  What they are not legally permitted to do–in states that don’t allow same-sex marriage–is sign marriage licenses granting civil rights to same-sex couples.

In Minnesota, same-sex marriage is not legal.  So even though the marriages are legal in Iowa, they are not legally recognized in the couples’ home states.  It is possible that two things were happening:  the couples were preparing for the possibility that Minnesota will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and they wanted their own ministers to perform the services.

So the question must be ethical.  Is it ethical for clergy who perform same-sex wedding ceremonies take congregants across state lines to make it legal?  That again doesn’t make sense.  These UU churches apparently do sanction same-sex marriage, and the ministers there are obviously happy to perform such marriages.  What does it matter which state they are in?

Unfortunately, Brachear ignores the opportunity to distinguish the civil and religious aspects of marriage and instead reaches for a confusing angle to a rather straight-forward story.  At this point, there are no responses to her blog post.  It will be interesting to see what her readers think.

Legal marriage required for newspaper announcement

two-grooms-cake-topperCalifornia residents, Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones were married in San Francisco last summer, but that’s not good enough for The Spectrum, a Gannett Co. newspaper in southern Utah, where the couple’s family members live.  After their wedding announcement was accepted–without a photo, out of concern that it would upset readers–the newspaper changed its mind.  The AP published an e-mail exchange between publisher Donnie Welch and Jones:

“After all, our marriage is just as real and legal and entitled to celebration as any of the others that are announced each week in the pages of The Spectrum,” Jones wrote in an e-mail to Welch.

“This simply is not true,” Welch replied in an Aug. 10 e-mail, a copy of which the couple provided to The Associated Press. “While that may be the case in some states it is not the case in the state of Utah. As our policy is to run marriage announcements recognized by Utah law, I have made the decision not to run the announcement.

GLAAD also chimed in on the AP article.  (Neither Welch nor Gannett responded to the reporter’s request for comment.)  The advocacy organization compiles a yearly list of newspapers that do allow same-sex wedding or union announcements, which included The Spectrum in 2008.  Robinson said:

“At the end of the day, this is not about their editorial pages or the opinions of their columnists… This is about the celebration pages reflecting the community, and a community is going to have people from many very different walks of life. We are diminished if our stories are put aside.”

GLAAD promises to contact Spectrum advertisers to let them know about the change in policy.  And The Salt Lake Tribune, owned by MediaNews Group, Inc., printed their announcement.