Marriage equality may be the law of the land as of last month, but a lot of the hard work of sewing full LGBT equality into the fabric our culture has yet to be realized. Whether it’s making employment discrimination illegal in the places where there are insufficient laws on the books or ending bullying and sheltering runaway teens, a large portion of ongoing activist work has to do with helping particularly vulnerable LGBT people get the support and encouragement they need. That group includes plenty of young people, especially those who don’t have supportive families or live in progressive communities.
“Legal rights are one critical piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, an LGBT-focused education network, told The Daily Beast, in a piece about the next steps for the movement. “Education is the glue that holds society together and transmits both opportunity and shared values from one generation to the next.”
If education is the foundation, then books are a huge building block. With this in mind, a pair of YA writers, Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta, have launched a new startup campaign called Rainbow Boxes, which is currently being funded through Indiegogo and promoted on social media. Their plan: to send a box of 15 kid and teen books with diverse LGBTQIA characters and themes to libraries and shelters in all 50 states. They hope to send one box to a community library and another to an “LGBT homeless shelter or GSA in every state.” This would add up to 100 Rainbow Boxes in total. Instead of perks, the giveaways include the chance to have the donor’s name inside a book or box of books.
Once they raise the requisite cash (they’re already about 22 percent funded), they will be using books to make a direct impact on the next generation. “There are still big issues to contend with,” says Capetta. “Legal equality is not always the same thing as people understanding or accepting LGBT folks.”
For six months, the two writers have been poring over books to find a perfect combination of 16 titles that encompass different sexualities, gender identities, and racial and ethnic backgrounds (their inspiration comes from We Need Diverse Books), as well as a variety of genres. Fantasy fiction with a lesbian story, transgender-themed realism, a dystopian novel with gay characters, a contemporary intersex story: check, check, check, check. It’s all in the box. What the writers have found is an uptick in diversity, in keeping with recent momentum — though there are still some holes left to fill. “It looks like we could easily fill a whole new Rainbow Box with great books coming out in the next 12 months,” says Capetta. “But we still need more representation of transgender, intersex, asexual, demisexual, and non-binary characters.”
While culling the book boxes, they’ve also been carefully researching to discover which libraries and LGBT homeless shelters should be candidates to receive Rainbow Boxes, waiting to publicly name the recipients until they’re completely sure the boxes would be able to find their way to shelves. They’re also pushing for libraries to shelve the books in their more general categories, not separately. “We want to push back against the notion that these are niche books,” says Capetta. “Inclusive fiction is for everybody.”
The hope is that the project will do many things at once. Directly, it will impact teens who receive the books and get the chance to experience the “windows and mirrors” effect of diverse fiction — recognizing themselves and understanding others. “Reading is one of the main ways that we forge empathy for others,” says Capetta. “This is change that comes from the bottom up, by showing the full humanity of LGBT characters.” But a secondary benefit is that they will be promoting works of fiction with LGBT themes and other kinds of diversity, helping boost authors’ sales and hopefully encouraging publishers to continue to seek out such stories.
Mostly, though, in a world that can be brutally unfeeling for young people, “we hope that the LGBT young people receiving these books will feel less alone,” says Capetta. “And that they’ll know that there are stories about who they are, not just stereotypes. That they will feel seen and valued, and frankly, awesome.”