Cumberland Council’s Book Ban Hypocrisy

This was first published on The Big Smoke   14/05/24

Last week, Cumberland City councillor and former mayor, Steve Christou, lead a motion to ban all same-sex parenting books from the eight local government area’s libraries. Six councillors voted in favour of the ban and five voted against. One councillor abstained from voting and three councillors were absent; which makes one wonder if all had been present, would we be still facing this controversy?

When we hear of book banning in Australia, it makes us nervous. Book banning conjures images of book burnings in Nazi Germany.

Some of us remember book banning being a part of our restrictive, Victorian Australian society back in the mid-20th century. Many of Australia’s banned books like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, are today considered classics by many. Society changes.

In recent years, we’ve seen conservative, religious Americans aggressively remove books referencing LGBTQ people from local libraries and schools. The American Library Association documented 4,240 unique book titles targeted for censorship in 2023; more than the previous two years combined. The key difference is that American libraries are run by their own boards, who dictate library policy. New South Wales libraries are directed by government legislation.

The New South Wales Public Libraries Association said the regulations and guidelines stated  in the NSW Library Act 1939, says that “council libraries diligently work to curate collections that are diverse and comprehensive, reflecting the varied needs and interests of their local communities.”

Same-sex parents – the offending book

At last week’s council meeting, holding up, Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig, Councillor Christou, said that this caused children “confusion”, and was a “form of sexualisation”.

The book is recommended for children aged 5-7. According to its description,

“Every family is different and unique. This title explores what it’s like having two mums or two dads, offers answers to curious questions from peers, and shows how all families love each other regardless of gender.”

Same-Sex Parents is also a part of a collection which includes helping kids with their parents’ divorce or losing a loved one.

Cumberland’s Diversity

The Cumberland area is diverse and multicultural, with  60% of people originally from overseas. 40% of the community identifies as Christian. The majority of voters in Cumberland’s four electorates opposed legalising same-sex marriage during 2017’s national postal survey.

In my recent submission to the NSW Government re banning of conversion “therapy”, this is something I highlighted as a concern and would be helpful to be addressed:

“Australia is a multicultural society and NSW has many migrant communities. Some of these communities come from countries that have not progressed with LGBTQ rights and are conservative in their approach to sexuality and gender issues. I would recommend that a campaign to inform and educate be initiated with people who are members of those communities, and of course that everything is always in their own language.”

Councillor Christou said that the reason he wanted the ban was that he “had been contacted by a lot of our residents are finding this just distressing having to answer these questions at a young age.”

“They come from very conservative family religious backgrounds. Regardless of their religion, whether it be Christian, Catholic, Orthodox, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, they are very steadfast in their beliefs, and they feel that their children should be able to walk into a library, and just be don’t have the burden of questioning sexuality, or any of these issues at a very young age that will come later on in life,” he said. And “whatever their background, they all have the same beliefs: family, religious values and conservative. They don’t want such controversial issues going against their beliefs indoctrinated into their libraries.”

What’s the real motivation?

Christou’s motivation has been questioned by many. How many actual complaints has he received? In an interview with Sky News, he said, “I’ve said from the outset, I haven’t read the book. And I don’t need to.” It doesn’t sound like his preparation is very thorough.

NSW Premier Chris Minns ridiculed Mr Christou’s proposal, accusing it of being a politically motivated move.

“It seems to me to be engineered by one of these councillors because there’s an election coming up, but what a joke. He should trust his own citizens enough to be able to walk into a library and read whatever the hell they want,” he said.

Alex Greenwich MP said, “This is not about family values; this is about a councillor on a council playing politics with the lives and families of LGBTQ people.”

The obvious

The Cumberland city council’s motto is “welcome, belong, succeed”. The council’s last week’s motion to remove ALL books on same-sex parenting opposes that.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 11% of gay men and 33% of lesbians are having children. All are legal in Australia and protected by law. Some of those come from migrant families. Some are people of faith. Banning these books denies these families’ representation and doesn’t reflect our diverse society.

Taking a book off the shelf to read is your decision. That’s the way a library works. Choosing a young child’s reading material is the parent’s decision. No one is forcing anyone to read specific books.

Tolerance is not one of my favourite words. I don’t think any of us actually want to be tolerated. I know I’d prefer to be accepted and even celebrated. If some people find it challenging to accept same-sex couples, same-sex parenting and adoption and would not celebrate them, the least they can do is tolerate. Banning, discriminating against, attempting to make invisible are not the answers.

And if Cumberland Councils motion is not stopped, where will it end and what division it will cause?

A petition to rescind Cumberland Council’s decision has already received over 40,000 signatures already and will be presented to Council by Caroline Staples on Wednesday 15 May, on behalf of everyone who wants their local libraries to welcome different people of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Caroline Staples is a long-term resident of the Cumberland area and grandmother to what she describes as a “rainbow family”.

Don’t forget to sign the petition HERE