Library Reading Seeks to Make Fitchburg More Welcoming to LGBT Community

February 18, 2019
Fitchburg Public Library Children's Librarian Nicole Irvin talks about the importance of building understanding and tolerance toward the LGBT community. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- A community reading at the end of the month that will feature three books about transgender youth is an opportunity to build understanding and make the city more welcoming to the LGBT community, organizers say.

“It’s important to get (this information) out there and expose people to these types of stories and humanize this,” said Nicole Irvin, a children’s librarian at the Fitchburg Public Library who had the idea to host the community reading. “These are our neighbors, people we go to school with, and people in our community.”

The library will join communities across the country hosting “Jazz and Friends” readings on Feb. 28.

“I am Jazz” -- the book the event was named for -- was co-written by transgender teenager Jazz Jennings about her experience growing up and how her family came to understand her. Her recent experiences are featured on a TLC show that shares a name with the book.

At the community reading, First Parish Church Pastor Wil Darcangelo, Mayor Stephen DiNatale, transgender resident Parker Gates, and transgender educator Renee Manning will read “I am Jazz,” “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, and “They She He Me: Free to Be!” by Maya and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez.

“Julian is a Mermaid” is about a boy who sees a parade of people dressed as mermaids and wants to dress as one too. With support from his grandmother, he dons a mermaid costume and joins the parade.

“They She He Me: Free to Be!” is about the use of pronouns for a variety of gender expressions.

Afterward, Manning will host a “Transgender 101” conversation to talk about her experience and answer questions about being transgender.

Irvin knew that some libraries were hosting readings with drag queens, but thought that the community wasn’t quite ready for that.

When she heard about the Jazz and Friends community read, she thought it would be an educational opportunity and a way to show that the library is inclusive.

The children’s library already had “I am Jazz” and “Julian is a Mermaid” as part of its collection, and the books have been checked out about a dozen times each.

Irvin talked with Darcangelo about the community read at the library. He recommended Manning, whom he met in seminary, as someone who could add to the event.

Darcangelo, who is gay and grew up in Fitchburg, said the city has become more welcoming to the LGBT community. For example, he and his husband, Jamie Cormier, married on the Upper Common in 2015 and invited the public.

The challenge the gay community faces is how transgender people fit into it and how they are treated, he said.

“It’s about what we can do to make people feel comfortable,” Darcangelo said. “We have to understand, embrace, and recognize (this identity).”

He thought it was important to hold the event because 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a standoff between demonstrators at a gay bar and New York police that sparked the gay rights movement.

The community reading ties into other efforts in the city to support transgender people.

There is the LGBT Youth Tribe support group through First Parish, which was started by Laurie Brown, a grandmother of a transgender child.

For the whole community, Fitchburg and Lunenburg will hold its first LGBT pride celebration for North Worcester County.

First Parish will also hold a pride week celebration starting June 23.

Follow Mina Corpuz on Twitter @mlcorpuz.