Protests and accusations of censorship have greeted the removal of an acclaimed children’s book about a gay penguin couple from Singapore’s public libraries.
Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) last week decided to ban and destroy three children’s books because they were deemed not “pro-family”.
The best known of the books is the award-winning And Tango Makes Three, based on the true story of two male penguins that hatched and parented a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo.
The other two titles were, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families. The books all reference same-sex families in a bid to help children understand that there are different kinds of families.
In a statement, the NLB explained its actions by stating that it “takes a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors.” The ban was reportedly initiated after a single complaint.
In response, a number of writers have pulled out of literature festivals in Singapore supported by the NLB.
On Sunday, around 400 people, including children, also took part in a public reading of the three books in the atrium of the National Library Building.
The gathering, organised by two mothers, aimed to make a statement against the books’ banning.
One mom, Jaxe Pan, posted this on Facebook, addressed to Singapore’s Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts
“Adoptive children exist. Gay couples exist. Single parents exist. They are not in the majority. But they are members of our society too. Denying them a voice doesn’t make them go away,” wrote one of the moms, Germaine Ong, on Facebook.
“The more we speak up for those in the minority, the less they will be viewed as odd or different or to be pitied,” she said.
Rainbow Parents, a support group for LGBT parents, condemned the NLB, arguing that it had sent “an extremely negative message to all children in uncommon family structures that nothing apart from the prescribed model is acceptable.”
It added: “The best libraries carry many controversial books and it is the parents’ responsibility to provide guidance and encourage children to read with a critical mind. For parents who want to control everything their children read, they will need to accompany their children when browsing books, instead of depriving other families of the diverse reading experience the library has to offer.”
And Tango Makes Three has consistently headed up the American Library Association’s annual “most challenged books” list, reflecting attempts to remove it from school and public library shelves in the US.
Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Singapore, although the ban is rarely enforced.