Same-sex book ban reversal 'a rejection of culture war'

A western Sydney community rejected discrimination when its council overturned a library ban on a kids' book discussing same-sex parenting, advocates say.

Ahead of Friday, which marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Equality Australia praised Cumberland City Council for rejecting “American-style culture wars” and reversing the recently imposed ban.

But the council decision only came after fiery protests outside the chambers, while religious leaders and local families were among those packing the public gallery inside.

Protesters outside the Cumberland City Council
Fiery scenes erupted outside the meeting at Cumberland City Council's chambers.

Equality Australia’s legal director Ghassan Kassisieh said the council had reached a unifying verdict.

“The message sent last night was our communities are united, we don't want to be divided, books are there for everyone to read and they represent all of our families,” he said on Thursday.

“I'm a gay man who grew up in western Sydney and I know what it felt like when many of our community had a very difficult conversation about marriage equality.

"(Wednesday) night to me was that moment where we could open that conversation again.”

The council, which covers a population of about 240,000 people living near Parramatta, narrowly voted earlier in May to "take immediate action to rid same-sex parents books/materials in council’s library service".

Protesters outside the Cumberland City Council
Protesters disputed claims that their community wanted a ban on same-sex parenting books.

Mayor Lisa Lake, who evicted multiple unruly attendees during the meeting, apologised for the hurt caused by the debate following the initial motion, which she did not support.

“Cumberland council is actually quite an inclusive place and very welcoming, one of Sydney's largest multicultural communities where we all manage to live together pretty harmoniously,” she said.

“It was a very divisive and unnecessary debate about a little book that had been in our libraries for five years with no complaints."

Only two councillors - Steve Christou and Eddy Sarkis - voted to keep the ban, despite six councillors having voted to implement it just a fortnight ago.

Five copies of the book A Focus On: Same Sex Parents had been in the council's libraries since 2019.

It forms part of a series that aims to inform children about "difficult realities" and "healthy ways for children to process and understand them".

Cr Christou, the former mayor who first suggested the ban, maintained the community wanted the book gone from its libraries.

“It was important that myself, as an elected representative, represented the views of our local community, and that was proven when thousands of people turned up to actively protest,” he said.

“There's plenty of time for two-, three-, four- and five-year-olds to ask questions and explore their sexuality and same-sex parenting later on in life."

Parents Sandy and Ady Fitter
Parents Sandy and Ady Fitter say diversity is their community's strength.

The book had only been borrowed once since being installed in the council libraries and Cr Christou previously admitted he had not read it before calling for the ban.

Rainbow Families executive officer Ashley Scott said the vote sent a “clear and powerful” message that every family mattered.

“Our job as parents is to help children understand the world around them and reading plays a pivotal role in this, as does seeing their families reflected in the books on their library shelves,” she said.

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