In her first work of non-fiction, YA novelist Robin Stevenson uses the gay pride parade as a focus to present middle-grade readers with some background to the huge shift in Canadian social dynamics over the past 10 years, and the history of gay liberation in general.
Stevenson’s tone is upbeat and matter-of-fact. Smiles, sunshine, face-painting, tie-dye, families, and rainbows abound. I can see this book nestled between Canada Day and Thanksgiving in the celebrations section of the library, filling a gap, ready for school projects. The section titled Pride Around the World takes a more somber and sophisticated approach, documenting ongoing civil rights struggles, though it counts on readers to have the background knowledge to understand the contention that, for example, “African anti-gay
legislation is one of the legacies of colonialism.”
Otherwise, this is solid non-fiction, clear in its explanations. Acronyms – from the earnest GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) to the somewhat far-reaching QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans (Transgender/Transsexual), Bisexual, Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer) – are tidily sorted out, with a gentle nod to the slightly absurd politics of inclusiveness. The material is well-researched, with an up-to-date list of further resources, many of which lead the reader to age-appropriate websites such as that of the It Gets Better campaign. Many of the examples are Canadian, but Stevenson includes an international perspective. The text also doesn’t suggest a monoculture, honestly describing schisms, where they exist: “Many in the LGBTQ community dislike the increasing commercialization and consumerism of Pride Day celebrations.”
The Pride parade is, above all things, a piece of theatre, and Stevenson chooses details that convey its good-natured, fun quality, such as self-described “queer farmers” handing out rainbow chard along the parade route.
As useful and appealing as this book will be to a general audience, there will be another group of readers seeking it out with more focus. Not every kid, even in this country, lives in a joyous climate of acceptance, and books are often a place where they find information and community. Much of this is provided in the form of individual vignettes. These stories, sad and happy, are where vulnerable preteen kids may see themselves: Stevenson includes her own story of coming out, with details about her parents (who started a Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays group), her partner, and their son.
Other micro-narratives feature a young, transgender social activist and a description of the archetypically West Coast phenomenon of a Pride parade on a small island where participants – most of whom are straight – ride around on decorated golf carts and then go for a dip in the sea.
But there’s also the little girl in Uganda who is beaten for writing love letters to other girls. And the 11-year-old boy who thought he was so different, he must have come from another planet; he waited nightly for the spaceship to come and take him back to his own world. This lively book is a reminder that while many kids are celebrating – and being celebrated for – who they are, others are still waiting for their spaceships.