Last weekend I was driving near the Brown campus in Providence, RI with my family. When we stopped at a light, two male students crossed the street, holding hands. They were chatting away, smiling, like what they were doing was the most natural thing in the world. My husband and I both commented on how nice that was. And how rare.

Because honestly? In most places in this country, you will not see two boys walking along a busy street holding hands. Carefree. Safe.

In most places in this country, there are still boys and girls just like those two ,wondering what’s wrong with them. Wondering if their parents will kick them out of the house if they tell them they’re gay. Wondering if their best friends will still be their best friends. Wondering if they will get the crap kicked out of them if anyone finds out.

I hate that this is true.

When my book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, was banned from classroom use in a Kentucky school, the objection was that the book contained  “inappropriate themes, including homosexuality.” Calling homosexuality inappropriate is ridiculous. I know this. You know this. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t.

In my latest book, PEARL, a blogger who reviews books wrote that, while she liked the book very much, she couldn’t recommend it because of the homosexual content. A reader thanked her, saying homosexuality in books made her feel “uncomfortable.”

When I read this, I cried. Not because I care about the review,  but because of what it says about where we are in this country. The irony about all of this, is that the objectionable piece in the book is about two women who love each other and hide it all their lives because they’re too afraid to be themselves. And why? Because who they are is “inappropriate.” It makes people feel “uncomfortable.”

What message do reviews like this give to gay teens who stumble across them? Keep hiding.

That’s why I cried.

My older brother was gay. He didn’t come out until he was in his twenties. He waited to come out because he was afraid, too. The whole first half of his life he had to be two people. In public, he was one Scott. In private and among a small group of friends, he was the real Scott.

I was lucky enough to know the real Scott.  The real Scott had a huge heart. He loved adventure.  He loved to travel and eat and read and cook and watch James Bond movies and Dr. Who. He wanted to share all of these things with the people he loved. He used to force me to watch cheesy movies with him, trying to convince me to love them as much as he did. He could put his arm around you and I swear you could feel the unspoken words he meant in that simple gesture. The love he gave in it. But far too few were lucky enough to experience this Scott. This beautiful man who was bursting with love and life and never able to fully share his true self. Because for some crazy reason, for some reason I will never accept, people thought who he was, was “inappropriate.” So he hid that side of himself for years. And that is tragic.

What do we do about this?

That’s my big question. How do we make the world a more accepting place? How do we make our communities, our schools, our classrooms, our homes, more accepting places?

I wish I knew the big answer.

But I think one small one, is books.

The beauty of books is that they show us a new point of view. They show us what it’s like to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a while. They show us the world through a different lens. Sometimes it’s a more frightening world. Sometimes it’s a more beautiful one. Sometimes, it’s a more accepting one. Sometimes, it’s ugly. But even in those frightening, ugly worlds, we see some tiny reflection of ourselves and the world we know. We find connections to what we ourselves believe, and maybe we shift those beliefs just a little. Maybe we step away a little less intolerant, because we’re able to see more clearly the ignorance our intolerance stems from. Maybe we step away able to see the person down the street who we’ve always been a little afraid of, as a little less scary. I don’t know. But I think always, always, we step away changed somehow.  For the better. Books do that.

Maybe that’s what people who ban gay books are afraid of. Maybe they just need to read more. It’s a start.


Jo Knowles is author of Lessons From a Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings. She can be found online at