Author uninvited over LGBTQ content in Wheaton will now speak in Glen Ellyn

  • Robin Stevenson

    Robin Stevenson

  • Terra Costa Howard

    Terra Costa Howard

  • Children's book author Robin Stevenson will read from "Kid Activists" during an appearance Wednesday at Glenbard West High School.

    Children's book author Robin Stevenson will read from "Kid Activists" during an appearance Wednesday at Glenbard West High School. Courtesy of Robin Stevenson

 
 
Updated 11/18/2019 8:00 PM

A children's author whose scheduled appearance at a Wheaton elementary school was abruptly canceled last month has accepted an invitation to speak about her book Wednesday at Glenbard West High School.

State Rep. Terra Costa Howard said she invited Robin Stevenson to return to DuPage County to demonstrate the community's support after Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 rescinded her invitation to speak based on her book's LGBTQ content and a breakdown in procedures over notifying parents.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Stevenson will read from "Kid Activists: True Tales of Childhood from Champions of Change" at 7 p.m. at Glenbard West, 670 Crescent Blvd., Glen Ellyn. She also will talk about her life as a writer and answer questions from the audience, organizers say.

"By bringing Robin Stevenson back to DuPage County, we are showing the world that our communities embrace the values of honesty, respect and inclusiveness," said Costa Howard, a Glen Ellyn Democrat. "It's important for us to talk about the inspiring activists she profiles in her book, and to let all children know that they are valued for who they are and what they can become."

Stevenson originally was invited to talk with about 175 third- through fifth-graders at Longfellow Elementary School about her nonfiction book on Oct. 2, as educators prepare to implement a new state law requiring schools to highlight roles and contributions of LGBTQ people in American history and culture.

The book is a collection of stories about the early lives and role models of 16 historical and contemporary figures.

After the talk was canceled, Stevenson wrote a widely circulated letter citing a parent's complaint over a chapter on pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk as a reason for the cancellation.

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District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler later acknowledged that stories about gender identity in the book triggered concerns. He also pointed to a chapter about Janet Mock, a transgender rights activist.

"That is a topic that will be included in curriculum programs next year, but that work is not complete," Schuler told a former student in an email. "It is important to us that we take a thoughtful approach to this topic and introduce it in a supported environment for our students as we do other topics in our curriculum. I did not feel like we were prepared for this or had provided context or notification to our parents."

Stevenson said she had not planned to discuss Milk or Mock and instead was going to focus on civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A flyer created by Naperville-based Anderson's Bookshops and sent home with Longfellow students provided an "excellent description of the book," Stevenson said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I don't think there was any need for further context or notification, and none of the other schools I visited on my tour felt a need for that," Stevenson said in an email last week. "By canceling the talk because the book included profiles of activists from the LGBTQ+ community, the district sent a message that LGBTQ+ people are somehow inappropriate. A specific warning to parents that this book is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people would send that same message.

"The book reflects the diversity of the world we live in, as books should: gay people exist, trans people exist. This is not something schools should be sending notes home about. If the district doesn't feel prepared for conversations about this, then they aren't prepared to support their LGBTQ+ students and families -- and that is concerning and is something that I hope they will address."

After seeing news reports, Costa Howard said she contacted Stevenson to invite her back to DuPage. She said she also spoke with Schuler Monday about the canceled event.

"I have a great deal of respect for him and his staff," Costa Howard said. "They had a process that they felt they didn't vet all the way through, and I respect the process. I don't necessarily agree with its outcome."

Stevenson, who lives in Canada, received the invitation Friday and quickly worked out the logistics. On Wednesday, she doesn't plan to talk about the specifics of what happened in District 200 but will speak about the broader issue of inclusion, she said.

"I think there's a lot of people who really were perhaps surprised by this and feel that it doesn't represent the community and are very supportive of inclusive schools," Stevenson told the Daily Herald Monday. "And I think a lot of those people are speaking up, and that's a great thing."

Before her talk in the Glenbard West auditorium, The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn will host Stevenson for a book signing from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Main Street store will have about 90 copies of "Kid Activists" after expediting orders from the publisher so the books would arrive in time for the event.

Anderson's Bookshops, which originally arranged the Longfellow visit, also will offer books at the Glenbard West event.

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