An Australian Catholic high school has asked an an author who had been invited to the school to refrain from speaking about his latest novel, which contains a gay character, after the writer came out as a gay man.
De La Salle College, a high school located in the Sydney suburb of Revesby, had invited William Kostakis to speak about his new book, The Sidekicks, in March and in June. But Kostakis withdrew from the engagements after being asked in a staff member’s email to him, that he be silent about his new book, The Sidekicks, which has a gay character in it. According to News.Com.Au, the school leader’s email stated that the institution had:
” ‘. . .a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. . .We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.’ ”
The school had successfully hosted Kostakis when a previous book of his, The First Third, was published. Kostakis writes for a teen-age audience.
The school was also concerned about a blog post Kostakis wrote recently in which he acknoledged his sexual orientation and discussed a former boyfriend’s cancer diagnosis.
The author posted the staff member’s email on his blog, as well as part of his response to the school’s request:
“Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as ‘friends’. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.
“Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal. . .The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.
“And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.”
Kostakis mentioned, too, that he is grateful that his high school teachers were courageous enough to have students read diverse literature, even if some people were uncomfortable with those choices, because it made him, a closeted gay student, feel safe. He concluded that he hopes teachers at De La Salle College would have courage to do the same.
The book in question, The Sidekicks, is a novel for young adults that is “mostly a book about the fear of closets, and why teenagers in real life have to stay in the closet,” said Kostakis. The only sexual activity in the book is a kiss, which is far less than his earlier work, The First Third, that the De La Salle official asked him to speak about instead.
This incident occurs as St. Joseph’s College, the nation’s only Catholic high school which chose to participate in Australia’s Safe Schools Program, an anti-bullying effort, faces intensifying criticism from conservatives to withdraw from the program. Additionally, Australians are weighing a potential plebiscite this year on marriage equality.
But politics should never dictate students’ well-being. It seems a visit from William Kostakis to discuss his books and his career would have benefited all students at De La Salle College, as it had previously, and particularly those who might be LGBT in and not yet out. It is sad that Kostakis’ coming out was treated as grounds for trying to silence him, rather than as a teachable moment.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry