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New Voices! Pamela Harris: GLBT Issues in YA

Remember that call for contributions a couple weeks ago? To celebrate the holiday season, we're sharing our
200 (and counting!) followers with some fantastic guest bloggers. First up in our New Voices series is Pamela Harris.

A little about Pamela:

My name is Pamela Harris and, according to my blog See Pam Write, See Pam Run, I…well, write and run (though I am hardly an expert in either area). I’m currently a school counselor who’s returning to graduate school to get a degree in my first love—creative writing. I’ve just delved into the world of YA and, damnit, I’m never turning back.

GLBT Issues in YA

We all remember being teenagers. The homework, the pimples, the parents who just didn’t understand (shout out to Fresh Prince!). And let’s not forget questioning our sexualities.
Never had that issue? Well, according to PFLAG Phoenix, almost 30% of teens will be directly affected by homosexuality, whether it is themselves, their siblings, or their parents. Once a teen is actually identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning (GLBTQ), the statistics become even more shocking:
  • 53% report hearing homophobic remarks by school staff.
  • 81% report never or rarely seeing faculty or school staff intervene when hearing homophobic remarks.
  • 42% report being homeless due to their sexual identity.
  • 11.5% report being physically attacked by a family member.
  • And perhaps the most shocking statistic of them all, over 30% of teen suicides are committed by gay and lesbian youth.
As a middle school counselor, I see firsthand the isolation GLBTQ youth receive from their peers, teachers, and family. While I offer as much support and encouragement that I can, I know that the biggest relief for these teens is being able to identify themselves with a group. In other words, they need to see that they are not alone through this journey of self-discovery. This is where literature comes into play.
My current WIP features four main teenaged characters, all at a crossroads with their sexualities which results in a messy love square. Since I am still a novice to the YA lit world, I had to search far and wide for strong representations of the GLBTQ youth. After reviewing the GLBT Bookshelf and a thread in the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum, here are a few titles that really stuck out to me:
  • Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford: Sarcastic, fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up in a psych ward and begins to come to terms with his suicide attempt, as well as his own sexuality.
  • Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman: A teen with a fascination of funerals and Ouija boards finally meets the boy of his dreams…who just happens to be dead.
  • Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters: Holland has a great boyfriend and plans to attend an Ivy League college, but then has as affair with a proud lesbian named CeCe.
  • Hero by Perry Moore: Not just your typical “coming out” story, this novel follows Thom Creed as he joins a league of superheroes while hiding his homosexuality from his father.
I’ve recently read Freaks and Revelations by Davida Willis Hurwin and I have to say—I’m in love. I’ll have a complete review on my blog shortly, but I really enjoyed how we see a hate crime from two perspectives: the victim and the basher. It may be a bit extreme to say this, but readers are able to feel sympathy for both parties; both teenagers have rocky relationships with their parents and are ostracized by their peers.
GLBTQ themes may not ever become as popular in YA lit as lovelorn vampires or fallen angels, but if you’re writing contemporary fiction, it’s important to just mention this population. Homosexuality exists—regardless of any personal beliefs. And these kids deserve to identify with characters who look, sound, hurt, and heal like they do.
--Pamela Harris
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. OMG! You're a star now!! I am so proud of you. I can personally speak to Pam's hard work on WIP. She is researching, and using different resources to make sure her novel is easy to relate to and and accurate as fiction can be. She is very active with GLBT youth and working hard to change some of the world's views on it. Excellent post and I am so excited to read the WIP! This is my kind of stuff!!!

  2. Excellent post, Pam! Tender and informative and with some great reading suggestions. You have a great style and an important message. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for this great post. One of My WIPs has a major focus on GLBT issues. The MCs older brother is gay and has AIDS.

    Thanks for the great list of books. I'll just add Brent Hartinger's Geography Club and Split Screen.

    Thanks again for an excellent post.

  4. oh...I have Freaks and revelations on it's way to me right now. Can't wait!

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments so far. I just found a really cool blog that reviews YA fiction that features GLBT characters. I'm cursing myself now for finding it AFTER my post. :) But if anyone is interested, here it is:

  6. Excellent post, Pam. I taught MS/HS as well, and I'd have to say I witnessed those stats firsthand...especially with the number of suicidal/self-abusive teens who also have GLBT issues. Very sad, but very true.

    Very interested in your WIP now!

  7. I'm also very interested in your WIP!

    I think this was an excellent and very informative post.

    Great job Pam.

  8. Great post! I also have gay secondary characters in my WIP. I was saddened to hear that this might be cause for some libraries to think twice about stocking my book, if I'm ever lucky enough to get pubbed.

    Another great book exploring gay/lesbian issues is Ash, a Cinderella re-telling. :)

  9. Great post, Pam! I haven't read any of those books, and they all sound so interesting (as does your WIP!)
    It's truly devastating how openly unsupportive our world is of GLBT lifestyles. We're making such strides everywhere else, but not here.

  10. Thank you, Pam, for including my book. I'm honored.

  11. Nice post. I love books with GLBT topics and that's great you're working on one yourself.



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Item Reviewed: New Voices! Pamela Harris: GLBT Issues in YA Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard