Portland publisher caught up in controversy as State Farm drops LGBTQ children’s book program in Florida

A Portland publisher is part of the controversy over a now-discontinued partnership between State Farm and a youth-focused organization that allegedly provided children’s books about gender identity to Florida communities.

State Farm officers were asked to distribute three books published as part of a collaboration between Portland-based A Kids Company About and Chicago-based GenderCool, whose mission is to feature positive stories about transgender youth and not binary.

The nonprofit Consumers’ Research, which shines a spotlight on companies it says are ‘engaging in political issues and waking up’, released a video on Monday accusing the insurance company of ‘targeting’ young children for conversations about gender identity.

Hours after the video was posted, State Farm terminated 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 email encouraging Florida State Farm agents to help increase LGBTQ book representation. +. In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

The books – “A Children’s Book About Being Transgender”, “A Children’s Book About Being Non-Binary” and “A Children’s Book About Inclusion” – were written by four of the few 20 Young Leaders from GenderCool and published in 2021. Like other books published by A Kids Company About, the books are written in the first person and explain the authors’ personal experiences on the topics.

In the Consumers’ Research video, a voiceover says, “These books don’t belong in elementary schools, and State Farm shouldn’t put them there.”

Gearah Goldstein, co-founder and director of DEI at GenderCool, said Wednesday that the video misrepresents the State Farm program. She said State Farm has made the three-book bundle available to any agents who want them and suggested it be shared with agent communities.

“Not specifically schools, but libraries, LGBTQ resource centers, after-school programs — any place where that conversation might be happening and 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 said in part, “We support organizations that provide resources for parents to have conversations about gender and gender. identity with their children at home. We do not support the mandatory curriculum in schools on this subject. … 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 walk away from the books “really unfortunate.”

Memory said that when the books first came out, they were “received with great praise, met with great gratitude” because “this great avenue for parents, for educators, for teachers, for therapists to use these tools, not just for children, but also for adults and help them understand the stories of these children.

Memory said State Farm was among a number of companies that purchased the books in bulk to give to their employees or share with their communities.

The ensuing backlash against the books was disappointing but not surprising, Memory said.

“Because of the subject matter of our books, they end up being quite controversial,” he said, noting that his own book, “A Children’s Book About Racism,” is banned in some states. Other books cover topics such as bullying, incarceration, sexual abuse, white privilege, and school shootings.

Memory said her response to the critics was that the books aimed to “start some of the most encouraging conversations kids can have with the adults in their lives (about) ideas that are in some ways universal.” And the idea that kids don’t encounter these things, don’t think about these things, don’t talk about these things, I think that’s insane.

Goldstein said the brouhaha this week wasn’t really about the books or State Farm — it was about transgender and non-binary 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 dispel misconceptions or misunderstandings about who they are. are the people.”

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