“It’s been a hard year to be queer—a hard year to be trans,” said Kyle Lukoff, elementary school librarian and member of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table, as he prepared to present the Stonewall Book Awards on Monday, June 27.
It was a cruelly ironic statement given that just one year ago, the Stonewall Awards were presented just a few days after the Supreme Court affirmed same-sex marriage as the law of the land and the Pride Parade in San Francisco (where the award was presented) had shut down traffic for several exuberant hours. But since then, North Carolina has passed the explicitly discriminatory House Bill 2 (the notorious “bathroom law”), and 10 states have joined a lawsuit against a federal directive that public schools allow the students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that conform with their gender identities. And just two weeks before the librarians descended on Orlando for their 2016 annual conference, 49 souls were murdered during “Latin Night” at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub.
Sorrow and anger over the events at Pulse formed the leitmotif for this year’s gathering. At a June 24 panel on queer literature for children and teens, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo (winner of a Stonewall Award in 2014 for Fat Angie) said, “We’re in Orlando. We know what happened here,” and went on to emphasize that in addition to providing a mirror for LGBTQIA kids, part of her mission is to normalize the experience so that “the straight kids...know it’s OK to be an ally.” Congressman John Lewis, fresh from his sit-in on gun control at the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke on June 25 about the “crime against humanity” committed in Orlando, exhorting his audience to speak out and to keep the memory of injustice fresh. And on June 26, Ruth Tobar, opening the Pura Belpré Awards’ 20th-anniversary celebración, first called for 49 seconds of silence for “our brothers and sisters who lost their lives.”
So it was no surprise that the Stonewall Awards was an emotional event, authors' elation at the recognition bestowed vying with their distress at how much further we need to go to achieve full equality for LGBTQIA individuals. Carolina De Robertis, Uruguayan-American author of The Gods of Tango,winner of the Barbara Gittings Literature Award for adult fiction, closed her remarks with an impassioned bilingual poem, "Para Orlando/For Orlando," written in both languages because, she said, "I have to howl in Spanish."
Bill Konigsberg, winner of the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Award (one of the various Stonewall Awards handed out at the event) for his teen novel The Porcupine of Truth, which claims space in "the religious/spiritual realm" for LGBTQIA young people, demanded "a religious revolution" against "those who would use God as a weapon....It is time to say, 'No more,' to those who would have us believe that God hates anything."
And Alex Gino, winner of the Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Award for their debut novel (Gino prefers the personal pronoun they), George, reminded the audience that for trans people, "our first priority is staying alive, and our second priority is being ourselves. Progress brings backlash, and that backlash falls on the most marginalized," and that for every school, library, or bookstore that invites Gino to speak, there are others silently censoring George. "Here I am, at this pinnacle of my life, accepting a queer award—in Orlando, where we just lost 49 people, most of them queer, most of them Latinx, most of them in their 20s." Understanding that although "we don't control the past, and we barely have a handle on the present, we can guide the future," Gino imagined one in which there's "a very cis, dude bro...drunk off his butt" who sees a trans woman on the street and "is able to think of [George protagonist] Melissa's story...and he sees that person, and that person makes it through the night. Nothing happens. That's my goal."
It's a good one.—V.S.
Vicky Smith is the children's & teen editor.