If you’ve ever sat down to read your son or daughter a fairy tale book at night, you’ve probably noticed that most of the stories have a common theme. Man falls in love with woman (or woman falls in love with man) and everyone lives in happy heterosexual harmony forever and ever.
Adam Reynolds and Chaz Harris are changing that. They are working on a children’s fairy tale called “Promised Land”, where sexuality isn’t an issue. A prince falls in love with another man, and the world doesn’t end. The citizens aren’t in uproar. And no one holds protest rallies. Their crowdfunding campaign for the book was a smashing success, and it’s slated for an October release. For their work, Adam and Chaz are true champions of advocacy. Check out our Q&A with the duo below:
What made you decide to create this book?
CH: When Adam first mentioned the concept, I was reminded of a story on the Ellen DeGeneres show in 2008 about a young student called Larry King who asked another boy in his class to be his Valentine. That classmate came in to school the next day with a gun and shot him. I remembered feeling so helpless and wondering how we even begin to change that message – that to be gay, you could be killed for it. That was how I knew telling a story like this was so important. Sadly, reinforced by much greater magnitude with the tragic attack on our community in Orlando this month.
AR: We wanted to create a book where the sexuality of the characters was not the focus and that their relationship was not an issue because of the fact they are two men. Our hope is that young people growing up and struggling with their sexuality can look at the characters in our book and see themselves. We also hope that we can help contribute to early acceptance from young people ahead of the time when they may encounter LGBTQ classmates or people later on their lives. The book presents a safe environment where a child and their parent(s) could discuss LGBTQ people.
Have you ever been discriminated against? Can you explain?
CH: I was severely bullied in High School for about five years for my sexuality at a time when I didn’t realise I was even gay. I thought it was a phase and was so scared of it being a negative thing that I would deny it to anyone who called me queer or gay as it felt like a negative thing to be. Ellen DeGeneres came out when I was 14 so that gave a bit more visibility of what being gay was and by the time I was 16 and finished High School that’s when I had that “ah crap, so I guess I’m gay” moment. It should perhaps have been a more positive feeling, but I’d be lying if I said that was how it went down. I didn’t have any big coming out, but was very lucky that both my parents and brother accepted it when I told them and they just said they loved me regardless of what my sexuality is.
AR: I have some very vivid memories of breaking down in tears in front of my mum after other children had bullied me and called me gay. At the time I was probably 7-8 and had no idea that I even was gay. It continued all the way through College and even when I started to realise I was indeed gay I suppressed my feelings deep deep down. I was ashamed and made to feel guilty by those bullies. I didn’t embrace my sexuality until I was 21 and it wasn’t really until hearing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album that I felt I could do that. I came out very shortly after that and my family and friends have been hugely supportive. Looking back on it I regret not being able to express myself during some of those very important teenage years of discovery. I wish I had had the courage to stand up then that I have now.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in the way of LGBTQ equality?
CH: People. People choosing fear and hate, to not value all human beings equally instead of choosing love and acceptance. I think that’s what it comes down to in the case of any human inequality.
Why do you think your Kickstarter campaign got so much support?
CH: I think we hit on a gap in the market, a lot of people hadn’t even thought about why there are hardly any fairy tales with LGBTQ lead characters like ours. We knew that LGBTQ people would see the need for that, but we didn’t quite anticipate the level of excitement and support beyond our community from parents in general. I think most parents do want their kids to grow up being accepting and understanding of our differences and one of the best ways to discuss that is through storytelling.
AR: The book is something I wished I had while growing up and I believe a lot of other people feel the same way. If there were more books like ours around then hopefully we can show children from a young age that being LGBTQ isn’t negative. It’s perfectly normal and is nothing that anyone should be made to feel ashamed of.
Do you have any other projects planned?
CH: There was a lot of demand for a transgender and lesbian fairy tale. We aren’t sure if we are the most appropriate voices to tell those stories, but if this book is a success then perhaps it can open the door for us finding those voices to share other stories from the same Kingdom.
AR: We do hope to expand the storybook into an interactive app in the future and as Chaz mentioned we are very interested in expanding the world of the book to showcase other members of the LGBTQ community too. I really hope we get the chance to work with some fabulous people and make that a reality. What a dream come true that would be!
How do you think your book will help promote acceptance?
CH: I saw a couple of posts on social media during our fundraising campaign that said it all in a sentence really: “I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if a book like this had existed when I was a kid”. I used to watch episodes of Oprah when I was home from school and it was only through seeing LGBTQ people featured on her show that I knew people were gay and what that even was. If you can see people like you represented in media, on a talk show, in a film, on TV or in a book then it gives you hope, understanding and in some cases some role models to look up to. When those characters or people have a happy or positive story instead of one that is associated with tragedy, then even better.
AR: Visibility is one of the most important factors in promoting acceptance. Having LGBTQ people and relationships out in the open can help lead to greater acceptance. Allowing children to see LGBTQ people in a loving relationship which is treated and shown in the same way as all of their “straight” fairytale relationships can hopefully help open those doors for future generations.
Is there anything interesting you want to share about the book?
CH: We’ve just completed work on the book text and passed it on to our illustrator Christine Luiten to begin the illustration work, so we’re hopefully on track for getting the book out by October. So I don’t know if that’s interesting, but it’s exciting!
AR: I won’t spoil anything but there are more than a few pages of the book that people will just fall in love with! We’re very excited to start to see the illustrations come to life and our Kickstarter backers will be getting some exclusive sneak previews of the artwork as it comes through. We can’t wait to have the finished book in our hands to share with the world!
What has been the biggest obstacle in getting the book created?
CH: Money is always the biggest obstacle in any creative pursuit I think. There are obviously also some with prejudice or distorted perceptions that could be seen as obstacles too. My favourite one of those is people saying “sex education is not for kids!”. This is about love, not sex. There is also fear. Fear that a kids book about being gay will somehow influence their sexuality. I grew up reading and watching 99.9% heterosexual media and guess what? Still gay.
AR: The homophobic people who vocally spoke against the book actually helped us get the media attention we needed to reach our Kickstarter goal (and then some!). In New Zealand it was a big shock to a lot of people that there was still so much hatred and homophobia. We’ve had marriage equality for nearly three years and I think a lot of people believe that meant the battle was over and everything was okay. The truth is that there is still a lot of work to be done and some of the reactions to our book highlighted the need for more stories like it.
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