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This Children’s Book About Gay Penguins is Fighting a Ban in Florida

At the epicenter of an anti-LGBTQ+ moral panic, you’ll often find gay penguins. Kid’s lit classic And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about gay penguin parents, is one of the most frequently banned books in the US. As a result, its authors are no pushovers. Now they’re taking on the state of Florida in a lawsuit challenging the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

In January, Florida’s Lake County School District banned the award-winning book, citing the “Don’t Say Gay” law in their decision. The book tells the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in the New York Zoo who raised a baby chick (Tango). But Florida’s current laws have transformed wholesome stories like these into illicit contraband.

Now the book’s authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, have joined with family members representing six students to file a lawsuit against the district. The complaint argues that the book ban is discriminatory and an assault on freedom of speech. Ultimately, they are seeking to restore Tango to libraries in time for the 2023-2024 school year.

“[The book] tells a true and heartwarming story, and it teaches students about animal behavior, adoption, diversity among family structures, and responsible family values,” the June 20 lawsuit filing reads. “The book is factually accurate and contains no vulgarity, obscenity, or content that would not befit a school environment.”

Instead, they argue the book was banned “for illegitimate, narrowly partisan and political reasons.” In a conversation with The New York Times, Richardson demonstrates this by comparing Tango to another children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.

“Both show water birds becoming parents and caring for their young,” Richardson said. “There is no sexual implication or language in either — but only one has been banned.” You can guess what the crucial difference between the two books is.

“Whatever one believes about the value of respecting two-mom or two-dad families, there is no substance to any claim that it’s harmful or inappropriate at any age for children to learn that we exist,” Richardson added.

And Tango Makes Three is no stranger to the culture war. As soon as it was published in 2005, it was met with immediate backlash from conservatives. Throughout the decades, it has appeared near the top of the American Library Association’s most frequently banned books list. But given that eighteen years of library challenges have failed to erase the book, Florida is about to learn that these are gay penguins you don’t mess with.

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