Sydney council’s ban on same-sex parenting books in local libraries causes uproar

Cumberland city council says ban prompted by parents’ complaints

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 08 May 2024 08:24 BST
Related: Iowa town’s library closes after staff quit amid complaints over LGBTQ books

A Sydney council has voted to ban same-sex parenting books from local libraries, sparking discrimination and censorship concerns.

The decision has drawn criticism from the New South Wales government as well as several advocacy groups which argue that libraries should be inclusive spaces.

The Cumberland city council in western Sydney convened last week to discuss a new plan for its eight libraries. Councillor Steve Christou, a former mayor of the town, introduced an amendment urging the council to swiftly remove same-sex parenting books and materials from its library services.

He reportedly cited public complaints about the books to push for their removal. Mr Christou also displayed a book titled Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig and claimed that it had distressed parents due to its placement in the children’s section of the library.

The council’s decision, which reportedly could impact its funding, has prompted discussions about representing diverse families in library collections.

Speaking at the council meeting, Mr Christou said they were “going to make it clear tonight” that “these kind of books, same-sex parents books, don’t find their way to our kids”.

“Our kids shouldn’t be sexualised,” he said.

“This community is a very religious community, a very family-orientated community. They don’t want such controversial issues going against their beliefs indoctrinated to their libraries. This is not Marrickville or Newtown, this is Cumberland city council.”

Mr Christou claimed that he had proposed the amendment to protect the children. “Hands off our kids,” he said.

Same-Sex Parents, published in 2018, explores the experiences of children with same-sex parents and is part of a series designed to help children navigate the “difficult realities in today’s world”, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The book is recommended for children aged five to seven.

One chapter states that “people may be unkind” to children from a same-sex family.

“Most people are very supportive of same-sex families,” it reads. “A small number of people might treat people from same-sex families unfairly. This is not OK. All loving families are good.”

“Remember, as long as you are happy, it doesn’t matter what other people think.”

Cumberland mayor Lisa Lake said she was “appalled” and “saddened” by the move. She noted that the content of the book, as with others in the series, was “age appropriate” and did not include any sexual content.

“I think it’s a serious issue about censorship,” she was quoted as saying by ABC News. “It’s important that information is available to anyone who wants to look at that information.”

“We work really hard at council to foster a spirit of inclusion and talk about everybody feeling welcome,” the mayor added, according to Guardian Australia. “As long as parents are loving families that’s what’s important.”

Australian arts minister John Graham emphasised that it should be up to readers to choose which books they pick from the shelves. “When civilisations turn to book burning books or banning books it is a very bad sign,” he said.

“That is equally true for local councils.”

“We are examining the consequences this decision may have for the council continuing to receive library funding from the NSW government,” he added.

The council’s decision, meanwhile, is being challenged by a senior citizen resident of Cumberland. “Here in Western Sydney, we welcome people of different backgrounds, beliefs and cultures,” Caroline Staples said. “We don’t ban people or families. Our diversity is part of what makes living in our area so special. We are better than this motion.”

“The council motion has made me fear for the safety of the rainbow families in our community and the future cohesion of our community. It crosses a dangerous line,” she added.

Equality Australia Legal Director Ghassan Kassisieh said: “Children in rainbow families are cherished and loved. Councillors who say otherwise fuel bigotry that makes their lives harder, not easier.”

He continued: “This book is part of an age-appropriate series about different types of families, some of which may have two mums or two dads. The attempt to erase these families from library shelves is disgraceful, as is any suggestion they are anything other than loving and nurturing environments for kids.

“If you don’t want to borrow the book, you don’t have to, but don’t deny others the chance to access books that reflect modern family life in Australia in 2024.”

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