It is 2020 and one of the prospective Democratic candidates for the presidency of the United States is an openly gay man. Not only that, he kinda, maybe, sort-of won the Iowa caucuses (sorry about all of the confusion, by the way). This can be hard to reconcile with the fact that forty-six years and two months ago, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. How far we have come and how far we have to go.
In Ziggy, Stardust, & Me, James Brandon tells the story of a one-of-a-kind young man named Jonathan Collins. He is the kind of teenager who I think we all hope to raise or teach. Jonathan is kind, giving, and courageous in ways he has no way of recognizing in tiny Creve Coeur, Missouri, in 1973. He takes responsibility for so many things that are outside of his control, like his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s death, and his “disease” which is being treated with shock therapy. Jonathan finds rapture in music and in the beauty of Web, a Native American young man who is also trying to escape from the effects of hatred aimed at those who are in the minority.
Jonathan isn’t just feeling the emotional pain of realizing that he is different in a way that is not understood by the world around him. He is also dealing with bullies who physically harass him and a medical community that believes connecting pain to same-sex attraction will offer the only cure he can find for his “unnatural” feelings. Eventually, Jonathan comes to believe this as well and requests shock treatment when he cannot rid himself of feelings for Web.
The juxtaposition of the love that Jonathan and Web feel for each either with the painful stimuli that Jonathan feels every time he is near Web is wrenching. So is the process that Jonathan goes through to embrace himself fully and recognize his worth. Without Web, I can only imagine what might have happened to Jonathan. The problem is, even in 2020 when we have an openly gay man running for president and being embraced by many inside and outside of the LGBTQ community, there are still 31 states in this country that allow conversion therapy.
Let me say that in a different way. In 2020, forty-six years and two months since homosexuality has been considered an illness, there are still 31 states that allow it to be treated, in minors, as a condition that can be cured. Authors like James Brandon are doing everything that they can to end this violence against children, but they cannot do this without educators, librarians, and parents putting books like these into the hands of young readers. Many who do so are risking their jobs and some could be risking jail time (proposed Missouri law). We have come so far and yet we have so far to go.
Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of and comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.
Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.
Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.
Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.
RL.1- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).