Theresa Novak and Anne Spatola moved to Utah from California five years ago, after raising three children together in a community 20 miles north of San Francisco.
The Ogden couple, together since 1975, had a support system of lesbian and gay families in their former hometown. Their oldest son ran into occasional bullying for having two mothers, Spatola said, but their younger twins reached adulthood during a time when diverse families weren't out of the norm. They read the picture book Heather Has Two Mommies to their children at home, helping them understand that families sometimes have two moms or two dads.
So the couple was taken aback by a recent decision in the Davis School District to limit students' access to a book about children being raised by lesbian mothers.
"I feel that any kind of censorship is a problem," said Spatola, who moved with her partner to Utah after Novak got a job as a minister at Ogden's Unitarian Universalist Church. "It doesn't surprise me that some families might not want any exposure to families that are different than your very-limited nuclear family.... but children need to be exposed to all kinds of different families."
Spatola and Novak plan to participate in a Monday panel discussion about the district's recent action.
The event will also include Eric Ansel, a psychology professor at Weber State University; Rev. Jamila Tharp and her partner Michelle Hasting; and the Rev. Rob Trujillo, his partner and their son Dillon. The forum started as a series on bullying and suicide, but book banning made its way into the mix as the Davis controversy continues to reverberate, said Peggy Bon, a volunteer with Ogden-based OUTreach Resource Center.
In Our Mothers' House, by Patricia Polacco, was recently removed from shelves of elementary school libraries in Davis County after a group of parents objected to the story's content. The book remains accessible but only if a student presents a permission slip from a parent.
The decision to keep the book behind the counter followed an April 30 meeting during which a seven-member committee determined it didn't align with district curriculum standards. The committee, comprised of teachers, administrators and parents, voted 6-1 to keep the book off shelves, with Bountiful High librarian Trudena Fager casting the dissenting vote.
"State law says schools can't have anything in the curriculum that advocates homosexuality," said district spokesman Chris Williams earlier this month. "That is why it is now behind the counter." Williams said the district has received only three to five phone calls in recent weeks complaining about the decision.
Concerns about the book surfaced in January, when the mother of a kindergarten student at Windridge Elementary in Kaysville became upset when her child checked out the book and brought it home. The mother and her husband brought their concerns to elementary school officials, according to Williams.
Williams said the book was purchased in part because a student who attended Windridge Elementary has two mothers and librarians wanted to foster inclusion.
Bon characterized parental lobbying efforts to have the book removed as a form of bullying.
"They are bullies," she said. "People need to understand each other."
She argues that limiting access to the book is sending a message to children of same-sex families that their families are not OK.
"Kids who live with straight parents, they can go to any old shelf and can pull out a book about families that look like theirs," she said. With LGBT-themed books behind the counter, it makes kids wonder "what is wrong with my family that books about us have to be back against the shelf? Are we a bad family?"
Meanwhile, the Utah Library Association met Friday to discuss the Davis School District's action.
And the New York-based Kids' Right to Read Project, sponsored by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, is also looking into restriction of books in the school district and assessing the First Amendment implications, said Acacia O'Connor, a spokeswoman for the organization.
DaNae Leu, a media specialist at Snow Horse Elementary School in Kaysville, said earlier this month that the district is taking a proactive stance on pulling other books in the wake of the controversy. Also marked for removal is And Tango Makes Three, the story of a pair of male penguins who sit on an egg at a zoo until it hatches; and Totally Joe, a book for ages 10 and up about a teenager who is gay.
Bon said she's hopeful that Monday's meeting will draw people on both sides of the issue.
"I don't want to legislate anything. I don't want to force anything down people's throats. I just want people to understand why the books should be there," she said.
Spatola agreed. She said some parents may not realize they are relaying a message of intolerance to children by preventing their exposure to LGBT families.
"I think they have to realize that they are not just saying something to the adults in the situation, they are saying something to the children and that is wrong. People need to give some thought to that," she said.
If you go
P What • Northern Utah Stands Up Forum: Banned books, Bullying and Suicide
When • Monday, 7 p.m.
Where • Weber County Library, Pleasant Valley Branch, 5568 S. Adams Ave., Ogden
More information • http://on.fb.me/LknF6I