Council votes to overturn controversial same-sex parenting book ban

Council votes to overturn controversial same-sex parenting book ban

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A Sydney council has voted to reverse a controversial same-sex parenting book ban that prompted national outrage and an online petition with tens of thousands of signatures

In a fiery and at-times unruly meeting that stretched late into Wednesday night, Cumberland City Council voted 12-2 to rescind the May 1 earlier decision to ban such titles.

More than a dozen members of the public, including several from the LGBTQI community and some from other parts of Sydney, addressed the meeting before the vote, amid constant heckling from the public gallery. 

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Several people were ejected as Mayor Lisa Lake repeatedly warned observers and councillors alike to stop interjecting or shouting at speakers.

Councillors on both sides of the debate said they’d been threatened over their positions.

Cumberland grandmother Caroline Staples, who works part-time for her local MP, presented the council with two petitions totalling almost 50,000 signatures, saying more than 2200 were from the council area.

“Rainbow families are part of all our communities,” she said, referring to same-sex or LGBTQ-parented families.

“Perhaps the positive out of this debate is that those families will now feel seen and they will have their own voices heard. 

“We need to rescind this ban.”

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The decision allows the book that sparked the controversy in the first place – Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig – to return to the junior non-fiction section.

Councillor and former mayor Steve Christou, a key force behind the original ban, failed with an amendment to confine the title, which features two men and a young boy smiling on the cover, to the adult section.

“Cumberland City Council is a very multicultural community and we deserve a voice and those residents that have come to me have come from all over,” he told the meeting. 

“And it’s not just about religion, and it’s not about marginalising people, because I welcome everybody and I want to make it clear that I represent everybody in this community whether you are Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, whatever your background.”

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In the end, Christou and Councillor Eddy Sarkis were the only councillors to oppose the resolution in a vote held about 10:45pm, more than four hours after the meeting started.

Councillor Mohamad Hussein, who earlier said he would vote against the push on religious grounds, ended up supporting the change.

Councillor Glen Elmore said the initial complaint about the book could have been resolved simply with an email to the council’s general manager but instead the “council’s reputation has been trashed”.

“Now it’s caused a national embarrassment for our council,” he told the meeting.

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“We got the riot police here tonight trying to protect the public safety.”

The majority of public speakers were in opposition to the ban, criticising it as “weaponising children” in an attempt to import culture wars from the United States – where book banning campaigns are common in some states – and warning of the harm it could do to the LGBTQ community.

They accused the council of censorship, taking choice out of parents’ hands and micromanaging librarians.

Life-long Cumberland resident Alexa Kapust, who said she was there representing the LGBTQI+ community, said she didn’t worry about her four-year-old daughter seeing sexual content in the kids’ section because the books there were age appropriate.

“At the end of the day, you can ban a book with same-sex parents, but this won’t stop me, my family being seen by your kids at the local park, at the shops, at school pick-up or even next door,” she said.

“We are nurses and doctors, shopkeepers. We are teachers and coaches. We are your neighbours. 

“If you want to shelter children from the mere image of same-sex parents, you will have to ban us from your community too.”

Federal One Nation MP Craig Kelly was one of the few public speakers to voice opposition to the resolution, saying the book should be in the general section of the library. 

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The book, which publisher BookLife Publishing made available for free on its website following the initial ban, is about two dozen pages long and part of the A Focus On: series that also includes titles about bullying, puberty, immigration, online safety and disability.

“When someone has same-sex parents it’s because two people fell in love and decided to start a family,” one page reads.

“Sometimes men fall in love with other men and women fall in love with other women.”

The council meeting heard it had been rented out once since it was introduced to the library in 2019 and should have been in the children’s non-fiction section, rather than the picture book section.

The motion included a note that the “council ensure that all books in the library are catalogued and placed within the library according to the records” of the National Library of Australia and for the general manager to implement guidelines for the “rare occasion” a subjective decision is needed.

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