In case you want to send me this email

sidekicks1I’m going to try avoid editorialising this as much as possible. This is an email I was sent today, and this is my response to it. And my heart is raging through my shirt.

The email:

Hi Will,
We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.
I have nothing personally against you and it sounds like a touching story that would love to read, however I feel it isn’t appropriate. If you want to promote The First Third on March 30, you are more than welcome however I have been advised we can’t promote your new book. I understand this isn’t in your best interest so we can cancel the meet and greet.
I spoke to [your agent], we still absolutely want you in June, but if possible can you please do the same talk as last year with focus on becoming an author and The First Third?
Thanks,
Regards,
[Redacted]

My response:

Hi [redacted],
I appreciate you taking the time to email, and I understand it probably wasn’t the easiest email to write.
I was worried about this happening with The Sidekicks. To be honest, I was worried about this happening with The First Third – which in addition to zany Greek hilarity, features a gay character coming to terms with his sexuality in the context of his disability. That gay character engages in casual sex through an app, fearing rejection, but yearns for something more. In the end of The First Third, he gets it.
That plotline wasn’t for Catholic schools, it wasn’t for parents, it was for students, students like me, who felt less than adequate because they loved someone “they weren’t supposed to”.
I am thankful for the leadership my high school showed in selecting texts that championed diversity. Some people were uncomfortable reading about two boys kissing, but it prompted discussion and working through prejudice. And even though I was not out, I felt like less of an outsider. I felt safe.
Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as “friends”. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.
Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, but I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal.
The First Third dealt with queerness only slightly less than The Sidekicks, both are written carefully and with respect to students (and their parents) who may find confronting the idea of two people of the same gender kissing. The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.
And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.
All the very best for the future, and I hope you find the courage my teachers did.
Cheers
William
36 replies
  1. Chris Bongers
    Chris Bongers says:

    Will, this made me sad, particularly as it comes from someone who knows you and the great work you do in schools. I hope it’s an isolated incident and that this school and others will find the courage to practise the inclusiveness they preach.

    Reply
  2. Barry Jonsberg
    Barry Jonsberg says:

    Will,
    we are both almost incandescent with rage at this treatment, so can only imagine how you must feel. Your reply was beautiful and admirably restrained.
    Lots of love,
    Barry and Nita

    Reply
  3. Lizzie Chase
    Lizzie Chase says:

    Good on you for coming out on your blog. It’s brave when some of your income comes from schools. It sounds as if you would be a really excellent author to visit a school. I salute you.

    Reply
  4. Phil Finnimore
    Phil Finnimore says:

    Hi Will,
    I’m surprised there are no other comments, especially since the item has become ‘news’. Brave of you to come out, and outrageous of the school to withdraw their invitation. I haven’t read either of your books, but it is strange, isn’t it, that they have no objection to the first when you say it deals with queerness ‘only slightly less than’ the second? I’d love to know what the school’s students, rather than parents, think about the issue. Cheers.

    Reply
  5. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Will, I was so disappointed, and angry to read the email from the school. Your response was so dignified and erudite. I’m only sorry my kids have left school – I would have loved for them to hear you speak!

    Reply
  6. Rose Eagleton
    Rose Eagleton says:

    Hi Will,

    I’m from Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College where I’ve heard you talk both in 2014 and 2015 (insert obligatory joke about 1D and Louis’ chocolate brown eyes here). I really enjoyed your books and I cannot wait to read the Sidekicks.

    I am 15 and throughout the past 3-4 years I really struggled with my sexuality. I found guys attractive, but I thought girls were better. I’ve always been like this so when a friend of mine explained to me what being bisexual was I was like, “yes, that’s me”. It took me a while, but I finally came to terms with it about half way through last year, and a few months later I came out to my parents, as well as a few of my close friends who took it fairly well. However, a few days ago, a friend and I were talking about sexuality (she knew I identified as bi) and she said, “no offence, but I honestly don’t think being bisexual is possible. It has been proven scientifically that you could be gay or straight, not in between.” This of course has been spiralling in my head all week (yay, here goes yet another sexuality crisis!).

    Anyway, I think it is fantastic that there are more books going to be written about the LGBTQIA+ community and I’m very glad you have written this book. I wanted to say, on behalf of myself and a lot of other girls at Monte, we loved hearing from you and we’d love for you to come back. It is so frustrating that that email was sent to you, and I hope you know that you are really appreciated by us.

    Monte is a Catholic school, and while I am not religious, I do not know how the teachers/ board would react if you came back for to teach us again, but if you were able to, I’d be dancing from the rooftops.

    Hoping you are well,
    Rose Eagleton

    Reply
  7. Lindsay Went
    Lindsay Went says:

    Yes, you can’t let them use you when they want to and reject you when they don’t.

    I am glad this has gone public. Congratulations for standing up to them.

    Reply
  8. Peter
    Peter says:

    Went to DLS Revesby for six years in the 1980’s. Always knew I was gay. Knew exactly. Also knew not to tell anyone as it would be suicidal.

    So sad it hasn’t changed…..so angry.

    Reply
  9. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    This is a far more dignified reply then I would’ve written. It is also far more beautiful than I would’ve written as well.

    Reply
  10. Alice Pung
    Alice Pung says:

    Good on you Will. You are a wonderful writer full of heart and integrity. I’m sorry this happened. But I love how you emphasized that your writing is for young adults – not parents or teachers. You speak directly to their experience and it shows through your resplendently funny and true work.

    Reply
  11. Greg Bell
    Greg Bell says:

    Dear Will,

    I have just read of your rejection by a Catholic school. Dangerously short-sighted. I just wanted to let you know how very proud I am to have taught you, and how very thrilled I am when I see the man you have become. Honesty with oneself is a prerequisite for good writing, but a painful path to travel. Honesty is the cost of being an artist. Anything else is Keats’ false grail, or T. S. Eliot’s small “k” kingdom.

    Kind regards always,

    Greg Bell

    Reply
  12. Ali
    Ali says:

    Hi Will, hope you are well and happy.

    I too was boiling mad whilst reading the email sent to you from the catholic school. I’ve always suspected that catholicism and christianity are two entirely different things; the sentiments expressed in the email confirm my suspicion.
    On the flip side, my heart was cheering as I read your respectful, beautifully written reply, especially the subtle but definite “thanks but no thanks” message contained therein.
    All the very best to you for the future, Sir, I’m certain that, for the one school that closed the door in your face, there’ll be dozens of schools knocking on your door and asking you to speak to their students.
    Cheers,
    Ali.

    Reply
  13. Mary
    Mary says:

    Congratulations on your work and your honesty.
    I say boo to the Catholic Church and their ignorance of your books and what young people (and us all) need: acceptance of who they are and the ability to make their own decisions.
    However, looking on the bright side, just think of all of those _public_ discussions now taking place that might not have otherwise happened – students, parents, teachers and then general public!
    Well done, Will – keep up your great writing and your public honesty and relish the change you will help bring about. I am sorry about the cost of this to you, though.

    Reply
  14. Boh
    Boh says:

    I saw a news article on this via Ninemsn and thought – in today’s society this surely has to wrong, or misunderstood… How sad in this day and age that people are still made to feel they are doing the wrong thing by being true to themselves in all aspects of their lives. The message I read from their email was ‘we like what you do and we’ll use you for that – but just don’t say anything personal’. It’s amazing how this comes from a society supposedly based around ‘being a good person’ and ‘having good values’ etc.

    Well done on a professional and well thought-out response.

    Reply
  15. Rob Newton
    Rob Newton says:

    Hey Will,
    I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you on my travels as yet but i felt compelled to write.
    Standing ovation mate, you’re all class. Just finished The Sidekicks and was blown away.
    Rob Newton.

    Reply
  16. Jackie @ My Little Bookcase
    Jackie @ My Little Bookcase says:

    I’m lost for words….on so many levels- as an educator, as a mother, as an Aussie book-enthusiast and as a human being.

    I know the support you have and will receive will far outweigh this negative experience, but I am truly sorry that you had to experience this kind of ignorant prejudice at all.

    Keep inspiring young people with your beautiful words.

    Reply
    • Dimity Powell
      Dimity Powell says:

      I concur with Jackie et al! A few people’s limited perceptions will (hopefully) soon be forever lost in the great ocean of everything-else-that-really-matters. Take heart. Write on.

      Reply
  17. Deb V
    Deb V says:

    Will,
    I am strengthened by your courage and the decision to follow through, but outraged by the small mindedness of this school’s choice.
    Other’s will support your work!

    Reply
  18. Steph L
    Steph L says:

    I am disgusted, not just on your behalf, but on behalf of all the LGBTI students and staff, and their families. You can only imagine how they feel and what they have to put up with at that school.

    As mentioned in other comments, I haven’t read any of your books, but now I am going to, along with my teenager who agrees with me that an author’s sexuality doesn’t matter when we are making reading choices.

    Reply
  19. Gemma
    Gemma says:

    Hi Will

    I’ve heard you talk a few times at Brisbane writers festival and at my school and I was kinda appalled that email from a school…
    At least my school didn’t cancel your speech I’m really looking forward to reading side kick and seeing you in March.

    Btw I think your pretty awesome

    Reply
  20. Lotus Amaris
    Lotus Amaris says:

    Will, you did the right thing in both declining the terms offered to you and publishing the email you received. The discussions this will provoke will be heard by those students who have missed out on hearing you speak directly.
    You made the right choice for the sake of the common good, ironically a core principle of Catholic social teaching that this school has foolishly disregarded.

    Reply
  21. Pearl Moon
    Pearl Moon says:

    I’d take it as a badge of honour to be rejected by any Catholic institution. For over a millenia it has been an organisation that oppressed women and people of colour and preached hatred and bigotry towards any person identifying as anything other than conventional heterosexual. Currently the Catholic Church and it’s ministry is being exposed as a place that harboured and implicitly protected sexual perverts and paedophiles.

    You may not be good enough for them….but just consider some that were – Searson, Ridsdale, Dowlan et al. Only yesterday Cardinal George Pell acknowledged it was an institution “full of crime and cover-ups”

    I feel sorry for the LGTBI students that will be deprived of your support but even sorrier that their parents think a Catholic school is a good place to educate their children.

    Reply
  22. I_Sell_Books
    I_Sell_Books says:

    What an utterly shameful letter from that school.

    I am so sorry this is happening to you. That school is going to lose out, but y’know who isn’t? All the people who are going to read your book, regardless of where they live or what school they attend or how old they are. You keep writing, and watch the world change.

    And yes, the store I work in does carry your work.

    Reply
  23. Jodie
    Jodie says:

    Hey Will,
    You are a brilliant speaker and your books are marvellously touching and funny. Sorry you had this brush with ignorance but on the plus side there’s a lovely big plug for your new book on Buzzfeed and maybe because of the ignorance of a few your new book will reach so many more people than it otherwise would have and that can only be a good thing. Can’t wait to read it and hoping it scoops up lots of awards. Congrats also on your recent coming out. Let’s hope that sometime soon that will become something that doesn’t require bravery and that all sexual orientations will be seen as part of a diverse natural spectrum, each one as normal and acceptable as all the others.

    Reply
  24. Louisa John-Krol
    Louisa John-Krol says:

    Dear Will, congrats on your new book “The Sidekicks”, which I bought from Hill of Content bookstore in Melbourne, after reading in “The Age” newspaper about the discrimination you experienced. I’m sad that an author in our country, our century, could be subjected to such prejudice. Until this reportage I hadn’t heard of your writing, as my focus is on fantasy or magic-realism, but I enjoyed your novel. I made a point of purchasing “The Sidekicks” in solidarity, as I associate with other minorities (re. alternative spiritualities & mental illness). I was chuffed to find that you’d already visited the shop to sign the book. If I ever return to classroom English teaching, I’d be glad to recommend or teach “The Sidekicks”. You handle the topic of sexual identity with sensitivity and it isn’t the dominant theme anyway, since the story also explores grief, danger of drugs, parent-teen relationships, interaction of diverse personalities (e.g. athletic versus academic), negotiating balance between discipline and independence, and the overlap between various modes of communication, from print to telephone, photography and film. All these motifs present issues to teenagers of any culture, class, gender or orientation. So thanks for your courage and talent. Here’s a link to my new music clip exploring eco-pagan magic. I hope you’ll find it heartening. Fey regards, Louisa. “The Green Lady”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU6NSHRlphI

    Reply
  25. Dizzidai
    Dizzidai says:

    Will – what a fine young man of integrity. Don’t be deterred, believe in yourself and keep following your dreams.

    Reply
  26. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    I’ve been considering what to write for the past week. I feel sad and surprised that this can happen, in 2016, in Australia. I want you to know that there are many people out there for whom this would have been a non-issue. Congratulations on coming out- this is why your book is so important for children- it would be lovely to see the angst associated with this reduced for future generations. I hope you can continue promote the book among other schools, and I sincerely hope that one day you appear at the school my children attend, so they can have some of these important messages reinforced from somebody who isn’t their parents.

    Reply
  27. Ed Hawkins
    Ed Hawkins says:

    I am 69 years old, and I was educated in Catholic schools from first grade through graduate school. Back then, it was a very bleak environment for a young gay boy. It always surprises me when I see remnants of that dark-mindedness in today’s culture. One huge difference between 1966 and 2016: YOU and gay men and women like you!!! I had no opposing voice to show me the way. Keep doing all that you are doing. May the Lord of us all bless you and protect you from the hurtful ways of His followers.

    Reply
  28. Sharelle fellows
    Sharelle fellows says:

    Will I want to thank you for coming to our small country high school and speaking for no fee to our students.It was simply wonderful the students were buzzing .
    You are a wonderful speaker and your passion humour and sincerity were a revelation .
    De La Salles loss was our gain and I think you are brave and strong .

    I cannot thank you enough and wish you every success
    Sharelle

    Reply
  29. Big W
    Big W says:

    When are going to put ‘Loathing Lola’ on your website?
    I am looking forward to reading when so done.
    Thanks a lot
    Beckett✌✌

    Reply
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