July 11, 2014
Singapore library withdraws and pulps LGBT-friendly children’s books
by Julia Fleischaker
Another front in the war on tolerance has been established. Singapore’s National Library Board followed up on a controversial decision to remove three insufficiently “pro-family” books from their shelves, by announcing they will be destroying the books. Cory Doctorow writes at Boing Boing:
The libraries, guided by a national policy that officially discriminates against LGBT people, plan to destroy three titles: “And Tango Makes Three” (the true story of two male penguins at a zoo who adopted a penguin chick), “The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption” (about Chinese orphans being adopted by a mix of straight, gay and single parents), and “Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families” (which portrays many kinds of families, including gay ones).
The library’s official statement says that the books — all acclaimed titles loved by children around the world — were not “age appropriate” and made unhelpful noises about the state’s official position on families: “NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”
(Proving that we’re not so different after all, the NYPL noted during 2013’s Banned Books Week that, “Since its publication by Simon and Shuster in 2005, And Tango Makes Three has topped the ALA‘s 10 Most Challenged Books List between 2006 and 2010.”)
The books were removed from library shelves after Teo Kai Loon complained about their content. According to Kirsten Han at SingaporeScene, Teo was “incensed by the portrayal of ‘family’ as being anything other than ‘1 father + 1 mother + 3 or more children (if you can afford it),’ ” and complained to the NLB. The library took only 2 days to agree to the removal of the books.
Teo is a member of the hateful Facebook group We Are Against Pink Dot Singapore; the page claims they are “a public policy group” that “stands against the normalization of homosexuality within Singaporean society,” and compares homosexuality to a cancer.
Vincent Wijeyshinga, an activist and politician, took to his own Facebook page to note that “all three of our Prime Ministers have articulated a clear non-discrimination position on homosexuality,” and share the letter he wrote to the library board. He included a few questions:
1. You describe the National Library as having a “strong pro-family” stand. Would you point me to the policy document which states this explicitly?
2. Your policy on removing books based on feedback. Does the National Library remove books based on private feedback without wider consultation?
3. You describe the books as containing “conflicting content”. Given that one book is based on a true story and the other on the idea that families are bound together by love, could you advise me as to the specific nature of the conflicting content?
4. Does the National Library operate a system of selective discrimination in respect of its stock?
Yahoo! News Singapore collected some other outraged reactions, and after just 2 days on Facebook, the new group Singapore’s Parents Against Library Censorship has racked up over 750 likes and has planned a protest for the weekend.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.