Portland publisher caught in controversy as State Farm drops LGBTQ kids books program in Florida
A Portland publisher is part of the controversy over a now-abandoned partnership between State Farm and a youth-focused organization that would have provided children’s books about gender identity to Florida communities.
State Farm agents were asked to distribute three books published in a collaboration between Portland-based A Kids Company About and Chicago-based GenderCool, whose mission is to present positive stories about transgender and nonbinary youth.
The nonprofit Consumers’ Research, which is highlighting companies that it says are “getting engaged in political issues and going ‘woke,’” posted a video Monday that accused the insurance firm of “targeting” young children for conversations about gender identity.
Within hours of the video’s posting, State Farm ended its affiliation with GenderCool.
Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, said in the video that the group was launching a campaign against State Farm because of a January company email encouraging Florida State Farm agents to help increase representation of LGBTQ+ books. In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.
The books — “A Kids Book About Being Transgender,” “A Kids Book About Being Non-Binary” and “A Kids Book About Being Inclusive” — were written by four of GenderCool’s approximately 20 youth leaders and published in 2021. Like other books published by A Kids Company About, the books are written in a conversational first-person voice and explain the authors’ personal experiences with the topics.
In the Consumers’ Research video, a voiceover says, “These books don’t belong in elementary schools, and State Farm shouldn’t be putting them there.”
Gearah Goldstein, co-founder and director of DEI at GenderCool, said Wednesday that the video mischaracterized the State Farm program. She said State Farm made the three-book bundle available to any agents who wanted them and suggested that they be shared with the agents’ communities.
“Not specifically schools, but libraries, LGBTQ resource centers, afterschool programs — any place where this conversation might be taking place and that these books might be helpful in that conversation,” she said.
A State Farm spokesperson, Roszell Gadson, emailed a prepared statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive that read in part, “We support organizations that provide resources for parents to have conversations about gender and identity with their children at home. We do not support required curriculum in schools on this topic. … We will continue to explore how we can support our associates, as well as organizations that align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, including the LGBTQ+ community.”
Jelani Memory, founder and publisher of A Kids Company About, on Tuesday called State Farm’s decision to cut ties with GenderCool and back away from the books “really unfortunate.”
Memory said that when the books first came out, they were “met with a lot of praise, met with lots of thankfulness” as “this great avenue for parents, for educators, for teachers, for therapists to use those tools, not just for kids, but also for grownups and helping them understand these kids’ stories.”
Memory said State Farm was among a number of companies that bought the books in bulk to give to their employees or to share with their communities.
The subsequent backlash against the books was disappointing but not surprising, Memory said.
“Because of the subject matter of our books, they end up courting quite a bit of controversy,” he said, noting that his own book, “A Kids Book About Racism,” is banned in some states. Other books address subjects such as bullying, incarceration, sexual abuse, white privilege and school shootings.
Memory said his response to critics is that the books are about “starting some of the most supportive conversations that kids can have with the grownups in their lives (about) ideas that are in some ways universal. And the idea that kids aren’t encountering these things, thinking about these things, talking about these things, I think is foolish.”
Goldstein said this week’s brouhaha is not really about books or State Farm — it’s about transgender and nonbinary teens and kids.
“And I think that’s where companies like A Kids Company About and GenderCool are really on the right side of history, respecting people for who they are and helping alleviate misconceptions or misunderstandings about who people are.”