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‘Are you telling me that in 2021 stories about same-sex couples need parental guidance’

Richmond Hill library promises to remove all PG stickers on LGBTQ books
Sept. 27, 2021
Yoyo Yan

When rated PG (Parental Guidance), some content in movies or books may not be suitable for children, such as potentially offensive language, violence or brief nudity.

That's why Paul Galloro found himself puzzled after reading to his audience from a children's book with a PG sticker.

Galloro has been reading to children and adults via his weekly Bedtime Stories live broadcast on social media since 2020. This year, he decided to theme each month.

"June was Pride Month and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I wanted to read a selection of stories that included all members of the community," Galloro told The Liberal.

He borrowed some books from Richmond Hill Public Library (RHPL) and noticed the PG stickers on the spine of two books: one about a same-sex penguin couple in the Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin (And Tango Makes Three) and the other about a young boy who was the ring bearer at his mothers' wedding (Donovan's Big Day).

After reading the story, Galloro and his listeners were very confused as to why there was a PG sticker.

"No violence, no swears, nothing ... Just a beautiful story about two male penguins raising a baby penguin," Galloro said.

The perplexed man took to social media for an answer. He posted the video of the story on Facebook and tagged RHPL demanding those "homophobic" stickers be removed immediately.

The library agreed that the label is "misleading" but explained that "the original intention is to guide parents to read with their children and facilitate healthy conversations in their homes."

That PR response didn't cut it for Galloro.

"It was too vague and didn't actually speak to the injustice of the situation. Are you telling me in the year 2021 that stories about same-sex couples need parental guidance?"

"I was livid at this point and honestly didn't feel heard."

Galloro turned to PFLAG Canada York Region for more action.

He was dumbfounded after hearing from Tristan Coolman, president of PFLAG York, that the group had reached out to the library in 2019 after another resident raised the same concern about the stickers.

This time, Coolman didn't take no for an answer and he phoned RHPL chief executive Darren Solomon.

"He (Solomon) confirmed the stickers were removed and would not be placed on any content moving forward," Coolman wrote in an email to The Liberal.

"He made it clear moving forward the stickers are not reflective of the culture they were trying to create."

Galloro noted the stickers were unique in Richmond Hill as he was told other GTA municipalities like Vaughan and Whitby did not have similar stickers on their library books.

According to RHPL spokesperson Annesha Hutchinson, the PG label was an "outdated policy" launched in the 1990s as a way for the librarians to identify titles that parents should read together with their children to encourage healthy conversations on a wide range of themes.

Hutchinson confirmed that, as of early July, the stickers have been removed from all items on their shelves and they have flagged any checked-out items that have the sticker on them so that the sticker can be removed immediately.

The library launched a Rainbow Collection in 2018 which now has over 1,000 books and DVDs. It also offers various Pride Month programming.

Galloro also noticed some librarians at the Richvale branch wearing a Pride pin.

"I love that there's visibility. But if they have PG stickers on children's books about LGBTQ+ content, then their visitability is performative and their actions perpetuate homophobia," he said.

"I'm a gay man with the hopes of one day raising a child(ren) in this community, although my concern lies in doing this in a town where the public library thinks it's something that requires 'Parental Guidance'."