9 January 2020
Hong Kong Public Libraries’ decision to hide children’s books with same-sex parenting content has stirred a furious debate in the city. Photo: CNSA
Hong Kong Public Libraries’ decision to hide children’s books with same-sex parenting content has stirred a furious debate in the city. Photo: CNSA

The debate about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ books for children

Recently, Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau transferred 10 children’s books on same-sex parenting to the closed area of the public library.

These books will no longer be publicly displayed and will only be lent out by request. The decision follows a complaint from a parent group which has sought the removal of those books.

After a review, it was decided that three of the books would be placed on closed shelves while the other seven books were rated as neutral.

However, the Bureau still decided to place all of them on the closed shelves because of the attention drawn from various readers.

It is a controversial topic whether children’s books bearing homosexual or transgender themes should be publicly displayed in the library or on which shelves should they be placed. There have been similar discussions and disputes in Singapore and the United States.

In 2014, the National Library Board of Singapore (NLB) banned and destroyed three children’s books on same-sex couples and adoptions on the grounds of not being ‘pro-family’.

Some people agreed that the banned books promote contrary messages to traditional family ideology. Some people questioned the government’s attitude towards freedom of speech. A few local writers refused to participate in cultural activities as a boycott while a few hundred people protested in front of the NLB office.

Elsewhere, in the US, public library committee members in Oklahoma City wanted to put children’s books on homosexuality and transgender in the closed area or even be banned.

In the end, they classified the books under the catalog ‘Family Dialogue’, placing the books five feet high in the upper shelves. This section also includes books on drug addiction, sexual assault, mental illness, etc. This upset some parents who felt the categorization was misplaced and that children should be able to easily access the reading material. The dispute is still going on.

In Hong Kong, many parents have voiced their opinions on social media on the matter here. Some agree with the Bureau’s decision, as they feel books with gay themes can have adverse impact “on children’s purity.”

Some others, however, said they oppose the move, pointing out that “reading various books with different perspective will help children to have better understanding and empathy.”

It is up to the public to discuss and decide whether this is a good or bad decision. In any case, if children are expected to learn to respect diversity, books on same-sex parenting are also materials that allow children to understand the different values of society.

As for when it is the right age for reading such material, there is no standard, and it is up to the parents to decide.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 27

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Education Officer from the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong