The Washington Post

What does Singapore have against gay penguins?

These penguins are in Japan and are not necessarily gay. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

Banning a book is never a happy feat. But Singapore's government-run National Library Board has done just that. It pulled two titles from its children's books collection: "And Tango Makes Three," a story based on real events in New York's Central Park zoo about a pair of male penguins raising a baby chick, and "The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption," which involves a lesbian couple.

Singapore's censors apparently deemed such narratives of alternative, diverse families too inappropriate for readers in the Southeast Asian city-state. Gay sex is still illegal in the country, though rarely prosecuted. The books were removed after a few library users complained of the books' presence among the government library system's five-million volume collection.

"NLB’s collection development policy takes special care of our children’s collections to ensure they are age-appropriate. We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children," read a characteristically dry statement. "NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education. Our Adult collection does contain titles with homosexual themes and our collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles."

According to reports, the NLB plans not on just simply withdrawing the books, but it intends to pulp them.

The decision drew some very critical responses, including this considered open letter to the library's administrators. It also led to angry reactions from many Singaporean netizens on Twitter and inspired a hashtag meme, #FreeMyLibrary.

LGBT activists in Singapore have slowly gained ground in the conservative former British colony, their cause growing more and more mainstream. The annual "Pink Dot" gay rights rally drew its largest ever crowd last month, despite counter protests from religious organizations.

It's worth noting that "And Tango Makes Three" drew plenty of controversy in the United States as well and appears routinely on the American Library Association's annual list of most "challenged" books.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.



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Ishaan Tharoor · July 10, 2014

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