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The NLB saga (affectionately called Penguingate) was the sequence of events in July 2014 starting from a complaint about gay-friendly children's books in the National Library, including one about a pair of penguins who raise a chick together, which led to their removal and "pulping", and the public reaction and heated debate which ensued.

Teo Kai Loon, the initiatorEdit

On Monday, 7 July 2014, Teo Kai Loon, a member of the group “We are against Pink Dot in Singapore” posted an update on its Facebook page informing readers that he had sent an email to the National Library Board (NLB) demanding the removal of the following LGBT-friendly children’s books from its children's collection:

1) And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins who pair up and raise a chick from an egg together.

2) White Swan Express, about North American couples trying to adopt baby girls from China.

The NLB complied and the books were removed from circulation. The NLB further affirmed its "pro-family" stand with regard to the books it added to and removed from the collection.

TeoKaiLoon001b


Public reactionEdit

Upon learning that the National Library Board had removed the two children's titles from its shelves following Teo's email complaints that they were not "pro-family", netizens immediately pushed back on Monday, 7 July 2014 itself. At least two petitions calling on the NLB to reinstate the titles made their rounds online[1].

Petitions against National Library's ban on gay-friendly children's books02:52

Petitions against National Library's ban on gay-friendly children's books


The NLB's actions led some to question the kind of message being sent out. Assoc. Prof. Paulin Straughan, sociologist at the National University of Singapore, said, "I think we have to be very cautious how we address this issue because the important message we have to uphold always is regardless of your sexual orientation, you are an important member of our community. And you don't want to demonise or cast a deviant label on somebody who has an alternative sexual orientation. Of course from a parent's perspective, it's a very difficult stance to take. When we are socialising our children, we would want them to stay within the norms and values the family prescribes to... So that's where we have to be mindful, that primarily, that is the responsibility of the family."

FreeMyLibrary

The Internet meme circulating on social media, based on Penguin Books' logo and designed by Alan Seah.

She added that while some parents may prefer that the state's norms are in line with the message they want to send to their children, it's a no-win situation. "You demonise homosexuality, you end up demonising real people who are in your community. And I think given that scenario, it's important for us to remain inclusive, especially when it comes to sending messages to young children," she said.

Those that opposed the NLB's decision said the books were a good way to broach sensitive subjects with children, as well as provide them with different perspectives. Sociologists said it was a good opportunity for parents to step in to set the context so their children did not grow up with prejudices. Some parents said the onus was on them to help their kids understand issues better. One of the parents quipped, "Just pulling it off the shelves is not the answer. If the parents can explain the books, it would help, but not every parent is equipped to explain such a difficult matter."

Assoc. Prof. Straughan opined, "I don't think any parent would really want their child to end up discriminating against another human being. But the seeds are sown when they are young, and when we teach them very straightforward kind of messaging that this is right and this is wrong, there's no in-between. And they grow up believing that's the case, I think in terms of growing an inclusive society, something goes wrong there."

When contacted, the NLB referred to its original statement issued on Tuesday, 8 July 2014 where it said that it took a pro-family and cautious approach in selecting books for children, and exercised its best judgment when it came to assessing the content of books. It added that it continually reviewed its children's collection. The NLB's statement also said, "We also refer to synopses, reviews and other books written by the authors. Parents can be assured that NLB is sensitive to their concerns and views, and their feedback."

Audio-visual version of book on YouTubeEdit

It was ironic, as is the case with most banned publications in Singapore, that the NLB's actions gave rise to intense public interest in the book which was freely available in video form on YouTube[2]:

And Tango Makes 3 (same-sex penguin parents raise chick)07:44

And Tango Makes 3 (same-sex penguin parents raise chick)


NLB reaffirms standEdit

Library to pulp gay-friendly children's books02:29

Library to pulp gay-friendly children's books


National Library will not reinstate banned gay-friendly children's books02:11

National Library will not reinstate banned gay-friendly children's books


Yaacob National Library banned gay-friendly children's books based on "community norms"04:51

Yaacob National Library banned gay-friendly children's books based on "community norms"


Ch 8 Yaacob National Library banned gay-friendly children's books based on "community norms"00:33

Ch 8 Yaacob National Library banned gay-friendly children's books based on "community norms"


"Let's Read Together!" event organisedEdit

Jolene Tan's speech at "Let's Read Together!"01:08

Jolene Tan's speech at "Let's Read Together!"


Reading event in reaction to National Library's ban of gay-friendly children's books draws hundreds01:42

Reading event in reaction to National Library's ban of gay-friendly children's books draws hundreds


ST Jolene Tan's reasons for organising "Let's Read Together!"00:33

ST Jolene Tan's reasons for organising "Let's Read Together!"


TODAY Let's Read Together! held at National Library atrium TODAYonline01:00

TODAY Let's Read Together! held at National Library atrium TODAYonline


Singapore Literature Prize judges resignEdit

3 S'pore Literature Prize judges resign to protest pulping of gay-friendly children's books00:36

3 S'pore Literature Prize judges resign to protest pulping of gay-friendly children's books


Talking Point episodeEdit

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 1 of 4)09:06

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 1 of 4)

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 2 of 4)15:50

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 2 of 4)

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 3 of 4)13:44

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 3 of 4)

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 4 of 4)07:50

Talking Point National Library pulping of gay-friendly children's books (Part 4 of 4)


"Tango", play by Joel TanEdit

Main article: Tango (play)

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Pearl Lee, "National Library Board forms 19-member advisory panel to review library titles", The Straits Times, 15 April 2015[3].
  • Melissa Tsang, "Gay penguins, children’s books, family values", "eightMILESwide" blog, 8 July 2014[4].

AcknowlegdementsEdit

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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