After respected children’s author, professor, and book reviewer Eliot Schrefer submitted his eight to ten books to be carried in the Plum Creek Literacy Festival (PCLF), as per their request yearly since 2017, he included his recently published queer YA novel The Darkness Outside.
On September 19, when glancing over the pre-order sheet to look at what authors were joining him this year, Schrefer noticed that all of his books were approved except one. In addition to his book, there just so happened to be an award-winning book about a girl questioning her sexuality missing from the list, too, from another invited author.
While waiting on a response from Dr. Dylan Teut, the festival director, clarifying why the books were missing, Schrefer found the likely reason when searching the PCLF’s host site, Concordia University Nebraska (CUNE).
I was appalled. This isn’t just lacking in protections for students. It is an actively discriminatory policy, and highly damaging to all students, especially those who are LGBTQ+.
— Eliot Schrefer 🌈 (@EliotSchrefer) September 20, 2021
In the student code of conduct, he found that many sexual behaviors are forbidden, and any deviations (“sins”) result in disciplinary interventions. The text gives strong transphobic vibes but explicitly banned are lust (how do you even judge that?), divorce, adultery, premarital sex, incest (a.k.a. the only valid thing on this list), and homosexual acts.
The two pages and a half pages that make up the “HUMAN SEXUALITY AND SEXUAL CONDUCT” part of the policy includes banning “active involvement in a homosexual lifestyle,” “exhibitionism,” and a list of sexual acts including oral and anal. In addition to this homophobic policy, CUNE published many articles against those that aren’t cis and straight in their Issues in Christian Education publication.
Schrefer announced he could not participate in the festival because of the active harm towards the LGBTQ+ community the host causes, and said he doesn’t judge any authors who choose to remain at PCLF. Thankfully, the thing is many, many authors and illustrators, upon finding out, decided to also stand up against anti-LGBT policies. Many thanked Schrefer for bringing this to their attention.
Joining them were artists and others who had volunteered and donated products (like art for the festival’s auction) and services who decided to step up against bigotry. So many did so, retracting their involvement, that the Plum Creek Literacy Festival canceled in-person events today and tomorrow.
— Santi Casares (@SantiagoCasares) September 23, 2021
All of this went down in exactly three days. On the 21st (the day after Schrefer and others pulled out and the day before they would cancel in-person activities), PCLF posted an announcement regarding the authors stepping down from the lineup. Here, they try to distance themselves from the host university and elaborate that Concordia student code of conduct never “impacted nor informed” the PCLF mission or programming.
First of all, the CUNE founded PCLF and hosts the festival’s website under the CUNE domain. According to The Sower (the CUNE student newspaper), the Dean of Education founded the festival in the 90s. For at least the last six years, the director of the festival was an employee of CUNE. In an article with the Sioux City Journal, other than the authors and the post on PCLF’s Twitter, all quotes came from CUNE’s senior director of marketing and communication.
Speaking of that article, there and on Twitter, PCLF/CUNE state that they didn’t remove Schrefer and the other author’s book. Instead, they moved the titles to the adult section because it was too mature for kids. There is a lot to unpack there, but this ignores the reason people left. It is the discriminatory policies of the university at this point.
also, Amy King’s YA is well-represented. There’s one missing, though, so it seems clear her LA Times Book Award winning Ask the Passengers did not make the cut. pic.twitter.com/X2DBW1GMyv
— Anne Ursu (@anneursu) September 22, 2021
For fans of Schrefer’s work or those interested in fiction about apes, he uploaded a short video with the presentation so that the families that would have come won’t have to miss him.
While some might say that children’s literacy should take precedence over standing up to bigotry, I call bullshit. They are not learning to read at this festival. It is a convention where you buy stuff, do some activities and meet authors/artists. Also, there are queer kids (and the children of queer families) that deserve to be seen and represented. These actions are for them and a better present and future.
(via Twitter, feature image: CUNE/Plum Creek Literacy Festival, Sony/Marvel, and Alyssa Shotwell.)
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