Author Robin Stevenson speaks following Wheaton LGBTQ controversy

Danny Olivares

Alison Pfaff, Managing Editor

As award-winning author Robin Stevenson stood on the stage addressing the audience at Glenbard West High School, she posed a question to the children in the audience. What is an activist?

“Someone who stands up for the world!” a girl shouted. 

Stevenson’s book, “Kid Activists: True Tales of childhood from Champions of Change,” profiles various activist’s lives as children, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Emma Watson. Stevenson is a Canadian author that has written over 20 books for children and teens. Notably, her book “Pride: Celebrating Diversity and community” was named the 2017 Stonewall Honor Book. 

Stevenson was scheduled to speak on Oct. 2 at Longfellow Elementary School in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. Stevenson says the talk was canceled by school officials the day before she was scheduled to speak, following a parent’s concern with Harvey Milk being profiled in the book. Stevenson wrote an open letter to the district, originally in the Daily Herald.

In choosing to cancel the presentation, you denied 175 students the opportunity to hear a presentation from an award-winning children’s author,” Stevenson said.” You legitimized a concern rooted in homophobia, gave this priority over the wishes of the school administration and staff who had requested the visit, and made the climate in the school less safe for LGBTQ+ staff and students.

A statement by District  200 said parents were not given enough information on the content in the book, which is why it was canceled. 

“As a result, parents/guardians were not provided a sufficient opportunity to review the information and determine whether they wanted their child to participate in the program,” the statement reads. “ Parents were only informed of the author’s visit, not the content of the book, presentation and promotion.” 

The district concluded by saying that they strive to provide an inclusive environment for all students. 

Stevenson was surprised the book was deemed “controversial.”

To me, when writing about various social justice movements – abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, environmental, etc. – it would have been a glaring historical omission not to include the LGBTQ rights movement,” Stevenson said. “ I had just finished a week of school visits in California. So I was very surprised that this talk was canceled.”

Following the cancellation, State Rep. Terra Costa Howard invited Stevenson to speak in Glen Ellyn. Equality Illinois paid for the flight from Canada to Illinois, with the DuPage County Tourism Bureau assisting with hotels. 

“Basically, last Friday it all came together, and we were able to scramble and really pull this off,” Costa Howard said. “I’ve had a lot of people in the community and people who live outside of our district email our office, call the office, say thank you, even responses on social media. Yes, we’ve had negative (responses). We’ve had phone calls. I’ve received some, I would say, hateful emails, but that doesn’t deter us from doing what’s best.” 

Stevenson appeared at The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn on Nov. 20 to sign copies of her books. By 5:40 p.m., 79 of the 80 books ordered were sold out with a combination of in-store purchases and phone orders. Anderson’s Bookshop helped to meet the demand by selling books at the event at Glenbard West. 

Co-owner of The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn Shannon Burgess said the bookstore is an inclusive environment. 

“We don’t believe books should be censored,” Burgess said. “And we don’t believe that messages and the accomplishments of people should be discounted because of somebody being gay. That should not factor into the education that children receive about those people, and it shouldn’t factor into whether or not to have an author speak at a school.”

Over 25 people called to reserve a book. The feedback given has been positive.    

Steve Andersson, an Illinois Human Rights commissioner, said this event was a positive message for children hear. 

“I was thrilled to be here,” he said. “I was thrilled to have a chance to hear this, because a lot of what I do is reactive. If somebody’s rights are violated, our job is to decide and then enforce those rights. But this is the opposite; this is proactive. This is where, because of this author Ms. Stevenson, the kids are hearing it now today in the right atmosphere, not as something that was wronged, but instead teaching it as something that’s normal, that’s healthy, that’s part of their daily life.” I just think that’s what this does it brings this into the mainstream it brings this into a normal world which is where it belongs.” 

Stevenson felt overwhelmed by the support from community members and said LGBTQ voices need to be heard. 

“I was very happy to hear the many heartfelt words of support for the LGBTQ community, and in particular, LGBTQ youth,” Stevenson said. “I was very glad that so many kids and teens were there. I think there are many LGBTQ+ youth in the district whose voices need to be heard, and I am glad they are speaking up. I hope the school district will listen and take real steps towards creating more supportive schools and more inclusive curriculum. I would like to see them actually take a stand against bigotry and make a clear statement of support for LGBTQ+ rights and equality. When it comes to issues of human rights, students deserve to have strong, unequivocal support from their school district leaders.