SPHS needs positive LGBTQ+ representation in its literature

Story by Lexie Doig
Staff Writer

Illustration by Allison Lee
Associate Design Editor

SPHS should pick a summer reading book that highlights the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. As the summer reading book has traditionally been used to showcase diverse authors and stories, it is time to represent all students with literature highlighting identities other than cisgender and heterosexual. The past summer reading books, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free have a total of one member of the LGBTQ+ community between the three of them. While this is not to say that those books are inherently flawed for that reason, it shows the need to take the next step towards increased queer representation in school-mandated literature.

Seeing honest and accurate portrayals of queer characters in literature and media can help students feel seen and represented by highlighting and uplifting LGBTQ+ experiences. Assigning books that feature these stories to the entire student body could raise awareness and acceptance of queer identities on campus. 

According to a study by the Trevor Project, approximately 75 percent of LGBTQ+ youth will face discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lifetime. Increasing positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community would help reduce discrimination by battling the misconceptions and ignorance that are the foundation of homophobia and transphobia. At the very least, the school should consider assigning a book with prominent and nuanced queer characters.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an organization focused on creating better and more affirming educational environments for LGBTQ+ youth. In 2021, GLSEN released a booklist featuring diverse stories with prominent LGBTQ+ characters, many of which are written by authors in the community. These books are specifically geared towards high school students, and would provide SPHS with a starting point to begin introducing queer stories into summer reading.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, later adapted into the 2018 film Love, Simon, could be an introductory book to more LGBTQ-inclusive summer reading at SPHS. The coming-of-age story follows protagonist Simon Spier, a closeted gay high schooler who is forced to come out after being blackmailed by a classmate who discovered his flirtatious emails to another closeted student.

Albertalli’s book balances some cutesy romance with the reality of homophobia in the South, but overall it is an uplifting story about friendship, family, and identity. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fun and easy read, and though it may not be the most impressive or ground-breaking example of queer literature, it is a solid start.

Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston also offers a way to introduce LGBTQ+ stories on SPHS campus. McQuiston’s book follows the romance of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of a fictional first female U.S. president, and fictional British Prince Harry. Like Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, McQuiston’s book is not by any means a perfect or life-changing piece of queer literature, and though the book is riddled with cliches and romantic tropes, it is another example of a simple and comedic read.

GLSEN’s booklist is not limited to fictional stories. The Stonewall Reader (compiled from the archives of the New York Public Library) is a collection of first-hand accounts, diaries, and articles both preceding and following the Stonewall uprising, which is considered a turning point for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Highlighting the activists integral to the movement, such as Sylvia Rivera and Ernestine Eckstein, the book provides a detailed account of one of the most significant events in American queer history.

If the aforementioned examples do not meet the criteria for the next summer reading book, genuine consideration should be given to GLSEN’s many suggestions. Out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of positive LGBTQ+ stories out there, surely one of them is a good candidate for SPHS’s summer reading program.

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