Despite many cities and states loosening up restrictions, moving into next “phases,” and generally giving the sense that America is “reopening,” the U.S. is still in the middle of a pandemic.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, certain institutions are using the coronavirus crisis as cover to attack marginalized communities and attempt to avoid exposure and consequences for doing so.
Author Phil Bildner recently became a victim of this disturbing practice. Bildner’s scheduled virtual visit with a fourth grade class ran afoul of the school’s parents’ association, due to their fears that some parents would object to his latest middle-grade novel, A High Five for Glenn Burke. It is a story about a closeted baseball-obsessed fourth grader and his journey to coming out and self-acceptance.
According to lesbian and LGBTQ parenting blogger Mombian, before Bildner’s virtual visit could take place with the school in question, the parents’ association asked for an advance copy of his planned presentation.
Once they got ahold of his itinerary, the association told Bildner he wouldn’t be allowed to even mention A High Five for Glenn Burke, which would have made his presentation centered around the book more than a little challenging. After requesting an explanation for this quickly escalating turn of events, Bildner was informed his entire virtual visit was cancelled.
As Bildner related to Outsports, he knew something was awry from the start: “When they asked for [the advance copy], I had a feeling this was about to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a school ask to screen or approve my presentations in advance.”
He went on to note his standard appearance agreement includes specific language that “the sponsor is familiar with the author” as “protection against the loud anti-LGBTQ parents and the administrators who won’t stand up to them.”
Sadly, this is far from the first time Bildner has experienced this kind of bigotry and administrative cowardice. In 2016, he was disinvited from book talks in the Round Rock, Texas school district and just this past March, he had another visit cancelled from a Catholic school in Long Island.
“On more than one occasion, I’ve been expressly told not to mention I was married or had a husband,” he said.
Bildner says he’s also received death threats, including “a bomb threat while I was doing a reading at a book festival.”
Read that sentence again: a bomb threat. For a middle-grade children’s book author who writes books about inclusion and acceptance.
After everything he’s endured, in response to the latest incident of a school administration caving to intolerance, Bildner considered publishing an open letter to the school’s community about what had just happened. He admits he wanted to name names.
But unlike the school that had used the coronavirus as cover from what would have otherwise been a headline-grabbing controversial decision, Bildner considered the current plight of some LGBTQ students’ in the district and realized his priority should be making sure they were as safe as they could be:
“So many kids live in homes where they’re actually hated for who he/she/they are right now, they’re quarantining in that environment. I couldn’t risk making things worse [for them].”
There is a small positive development at the end of this story—and we could all use any light that we can grab onto right now. After news of this cancellation hit, Bildner noted other schools have reached out to him to let him know he’s welcome to speak to their students. He emphasized, “Every time it happens—every time—it’s an indescribable feeling of hope and relief and joy.”
Ultimately, Bildner recognized the school cowering behind the pandemic to avoid scrutiny for their decision to cancel his appearance was “cowardly” and “beyond cruel.” He summed up his feelings by declaring, “Our existence isn’t rated T for Teen, R for Restricted, or M for Mature. We are E for Everyone. To use a pandemic as a tool to erase someone’s existence, to deny someone the right to live his/her/their authentic self—that’s just evil.”