The Importance of Authentic LGBTQIA+ Characters

Thoughts from KATE LARKINDALE...

Being a teenager is hard. It’s a time of life where new feelings can be overwhelming. The changes happening to one person may not be the same as the changes that happen to another. Friendships that have endured throughout childhood may be strained to breaking point when friends develop in different ways and find new tribes that better suit their new interests and ideas.

It’s a time in life where the adult you grow up to be is formed, often through trial and error, experimentation and failure. Hormones run wild and with them come confusing feelings and possibly even attraction to someone.

And what if the person you’re attracted to isn’t the person you’ve always believed you will one day meet and fall in love with?

When I was a teenager, back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I could only find two books in my local library that dealt with homosexuality. Only one, Annie on my Mind, was about lesbians; the other was about gay boys. Nothing I read reflected the confused feelings, attractions and desires I experienced, and that convinced me I was the only person in the world who was so confused and uncertain.

YA books about queer teens are without doubt crucial to young people who might be uncertain or frightened by the feelings they are experiencing. Not everyone comes from a home or a culture where homosexuality is accepted, so many young people grow up denying who and what they are, or hiding their true feelings – even from themselves.

Imagine how isolating that must be.

Providing strong LGBTQIA+ role models in fiction or writing about characters experiencing similar dilemmas can help someone come to terms with themselves. There doesn’t even need to be a solution to whatever problem the character(s) might be facing. Just knowing we’re not alone with these feelings and experiences can sometimes make all the difference.

Straight readers can benefit greatly from reading good stories about LGBTQ characters. While we’d all like to believe that the world has changed for the better and no one is discriminated against for religion, race or sexuality anymore, this is not actually the case. A good book can change people, erase long-held prejudices and give the reader a new empathy for people they may once have looked down on, irrationally hated on or ignored.

And I’m not talking about stereotypes like the funny, gay best friend. We need to see real people portrayed in fiction, strong individuals with their own passions, ideas and values who just happen to also be queer. Sexuality is an important part of life, but it shouldn’t define us, any more than we want to be defined by the color of our skin, where we live or what school or church we go to.

Breaking these stereotypes and showing readers that queer characters across the spectrum can be and feel the same things we all do is something books have the power to do. And this is why YA books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters are so important to have in libraries and schools where the readers who need them the most, will be able to access them.

If only one reader discovers they are not alone in feeling the way they do and realizes they are normal and as valued as any other member of the community, it’s worth it.

About the Author

Having spent a lifetime travelling the globe, Kate Larkindale settled in Wellington, New Zealand fifteen years ago. A film marketing executive and mother to two sons, she’s surprised she finds any time to write, but doesn’t sleep much. As a result, she can usually be found hanging out by the nearest espresso machine.

She is the author of contemporary YA novels The Sidewalk’s Regrets, Chasing the Taillights, An Unstill Life and Stumped along with several others that no one is allowed to see. Yet. She has also written one very bad historical romance, which will likely never see the light of day. She is working on several more YA novels that may or may not ever be finished.