Controversial 'King & King' storybook draws protests on both sides

09/09/2020 10:19 PM
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Groups backing the inclusion of the book outside the Ministry of Education. CNA photo Sept. 9, 2020
Groups backing the inclusion of the book outside the Ministry of Education. CNA photo Sept. 9, 2020

Taipei, Sept. 9 (CNA) Several civic groups gathered outside the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Wednesday in competing protests on the issue of a gay-themed children's book that the government has provided to schools as part of an extracurricular reading program.

The book, "King & King" by Dutch authors Stern Nijland and Linda De Haan, tells the story of a young prince who faces pressure from his mother to marry a princess but eventually falls in love with a prince and weds him.

Under a government program to encourage extracurricular reading, the book was distributed this semester to first grade students in elementary schools, drawing praise and criticism from civic groups, parents and teachers on both sides of an ongoing debate on LGBT education in Taiwan schools.

At the demonstrations in Taipei on Wednesday, LGBT advocacy groups noted that one of the arguments against "King & King" was that it was not appropriate reading for first grade students. That argument, however, is "fake packaging for real homophobia," said the LGBT advocacy groups, which included Equal Love Taiwan.

The book's translator Lin Wei-yun (林蔚昀), who was at the demonstrations, said it had helped to open conversations with her children about the discrimination against LGBT people and how to create a more equal society in Taiwan.

Another supporter of the book's inclusion on the reading list, a New Taipei City elementary school teacher surnamed Chi (紀), said the presentation of a non-traditional family in the story was in line with Taiwan's national curriculum guidelines, which emphasize the importance of teaching real-life experiences.

As an elementary school teacher, Chi said, she knew students at that level who identified as gay.

"To withdraw the book now would amount to negating the existence of those children," she said.

Parent groups opposing the selection of the book. CNA photo Sept. 9, 2020
Parent groups opposing the selection of the book. CNA photo Sept. 9, 2020

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the issue, groups such as the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation and the National Alliance of Presidents of Parents Associations also rallied outside the MOE, calling on the government to withdraw the book.

Tseng Hsien-ying (曾獻瑩), president of the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, said "King & King" projects a false narrative that heterosexual marriages are coercive and unhappy.

He said the story was an attempt to "brainwash" children into abandoning their dreams of a traditional marriage and family.

"What children need is a family-based education, not one centered on sexual identity," Tseng said. "Taiwan is indoctrinating children into this sexual diversity ideology, and parents have had enough."

The opposing groups called for the book to be withdrawn from the reading program, under which the MOE distributes 400,000 books per year to first-year students at elementary and junior high schools to foster a love of reading.

According to the dissenting groups, the ministry should make its selection process more transparent, and the books should be approved by the parents' associations.

Commenting on the issue, a Ministry of Education official said the book selection committee is broadly representative of Taiwan society, as it comprises a scholar, a school principal, two elementary or junior high school teachers, a children's book author, and a critic or representative of a civic organization.

In consideration of the public's concerns, however, the MOE will decide whether it is appropriate to include a representative of a parents' association on the committee, the official told CNA.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said "King & King" would help to teach children about respecting each other's differences and resolving conflicts in relationships.

Photo courtesy of New Taipei City Library
Photo courtesy of New Taipei City Library

In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a 2018 referendum, a majority of voters upheld the Civil Code's definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and rejected a proposal to teach LGBT topics in Taiwan schools, though they voted in favor of protecting the rights of same-sex couples in ways other than those stated in the Civil Code.

(By Wu Hsin-yun, Chen Chih-chung and Matthew Mazzetta)

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