Controversial Children’s Book Author Talks About Social Change

BY SARAH SIMMONS // March 8, 2018 //

Michael Willhoite, author and illustrator of numerous children’s books about LGBT families, spoke to the Curry College Community about how art has the ability to advocate for social change.

Willhoite, who spoke on Monday during an Honors Program sponsored event, has composed 16 books, many of which have been challenged due to content relating to LGBT families.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), his most popular children’s book, Daddy’s Roommate, was the second most challenged books between the years of 1990 and 1999, resulting in its banishment from various libraries and schools.

Jayson Baker, a communications professor and Director of the Honors Program, said he asked Willhoite to speak on campus because he breaks the traditional stereotypes associated with both military veterans and the gay community.

“Michael is a pioneer in the mission to promote tolerance,” stated Baker.

Willhoite told the audience that much of Daddy’s Roommate grew out of his own sexuality. The protagonist in the book is unnamed and he explained that his idea was for the character to be “the everyone” for the children of LGBTQ parents.

While one of the intentions of his book was to promote tolerance, he explained that there were plenty of people who were uncomfortable with the book because they felt as though it promoted homosexuality.

“Yeah because Moby Dick is promoting the love of whales too,” replied Willhoite.

Willhoite’s works have subjected him to more adversity than just being barred from schools. He mentioned that he has received copious amounts of death threats both via voicemail and postal service.

In addition, every year for ten years, he got a postcard saying he should, “forget all that homosexual stuff and come back to Jesus.”

However, his career has endured because of a lack of willingness to give into these threats and went on to a question and answer session with everyone in attendance.

One student asked what advice Willhoite would give to someone facing adversity.

Stressing the importance of calling attention to injustice, he said simply, “Hang in there and tell everyone.”

After the event, Willhoite explained the importance of media representation.

“I think the media has been a major influence in making LGBTQ issues comfortable for mainstream society,” he stated. “And of course, children in more traditional families can benefit by reading my book and others like it. Finding that different cultures and groups are worthy of respect is the true beginning of education.”

Although not everyone was so quick to hop on the bandwagon and acknowledge the work of an outlier in the community. April McAllister, sophomore and president of the Gender Sexuality Alliance, stated she was disappointed with the choice of the speaker.

“They picked the whitest, most privileged person from the LGBTQ community and it is not an accurate portrayal of the experiences of all members of the community.”

She emphasized the importance of discussing intersectionality and privilege in relation to these topics.

However, at the end of the day, Professor Baker took away more positives than negatives and stated he would love to have Willhoite back on campus in the future.

“Honors students need to recognize that our identities intersect rigid classifications,” said Baker. “Life is more complex than many dominant forces in the culture would like us to think.”

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