Cumberland City Council has garnered plenty of attention after banning a book titled ‘A Focus on: Same-Sex Parents’ and other books, though councillor Steve Christou has said that the decision came to accommodate the interests of the area’s community.

The decision to ban the book, written by Holly Duhig, from eight libraries within Western Sydney’s Cumberland City Council has raised concern since the motion was passed by a vote of 6-5 on 1 May.

The NSW government has threatened to cut funding to the council saying that it is against the NSW Guidelines on Freedom of Access to Information under the Libraries Act 1939.

The response has led to Cumberland City Council to revisit the ban with a new vote at the next council meeting on Wednesday 15 May on a motion as to whether to alter or remove the May 1 amendment to the Cumberland Library Strategy.

Addressing the initial cause of the ban, councillor and former mayor, Steve Christou stated that he was notified via text by a disgruntled parent who sent a screenshot of the aforementioned book in the toddler section of a library.

He explained that the text message requested the book be removed from the shelf, with him then receiving calls later that afternoon from other concerned members.

“A few people raised complaints but most definitely after the media took hold of the story I fielded hundreds of calls and emails saying they support the stance,” Christou told Neos Kosmos.

The councillor explained that the central objection being raised was in having the book in the toddler section.

“I would say the majority of our residents just do not want their child asking questions from the age of two on same-sex parents.

“We are not just talking about this book. We are talking any form of sexualisation. Parents do not want the responsibility and do not think it is appropriate to answer any of these questions that is being encouraged by the library regardless of a book’s background, whether it is on about mothers and fathers or if it is on same-sex parents.”

‘A Focus On: Same-Sex Parents’ – the book that originaly caused offence to some council residents. Photo: Book Life Publishing

Christou added that the concerned residents would rather expose their children on these topics at a later stage in their life.

“Parents just believe that a library should be a library especially in the two-year-old section and they do not want their children being exposed to any sort of ideas that they really should not be exposed to at a young age,” he said.

“They are saying they can make their decision and ask these questions later on in life and I fully support that stance from them.”

The decision had a narrow vote of 6-5 in favour of the ban when it was first passed, with Christou stating that some of the other councillors’ reservations came down to their own ideologies differing from those supporting the ban.

“One councillor referred to it as book burning. Others tried to say it was discriminatory. I have been very clear and so have the people that have contacted me, that it is not targeting gay people or same-sex parents,” he said.

“However, their wishes also have to be respected that there are large portions of the community that just do not want any form of books that make a two-year-old ask questions around sexuality in nature at such a young age in that section of the library.”

The councillor expressed that he is extremely disappointed that NSW government could potentially cut funding to the affected libraries.

“It is absolutely disgraceful to stand as an overlord upon a democratically elected council that took a vote in trying to represent what they thought were the best interests of their community,” he said.

Christou added that it could have an adverse effect on the residents of Cumberland City Council, who he claims are “one of the most disadvantaged socially and financially in the whole state of NSW”.

“A lot of our people that do not have home computers or photocopiers rely on the library and its resources,” he said.

“It is absolutely disgraceful to take away funding from the community based on what their family values and moral values are. Personally, I will not be subscribed to threats from the State government.”

Addressing the reservations that have been raised in the media and in public, councillor Christou expressed that he understands many might disagree but that he is still acting in the interests of the community he represents.

“You are never going to please everyone in public life. You just have to go with what you believe is right and that the majority are telling you.”

Opposition to the ban

Cumberland City councillor Diane Colman. Photo: Cumberland City Council

Diane Colman was one of the five councillor’s who opposed the ban at the Cumberland City Council.

Speaking to Neos Kosmos Colman explained her reasons for opposing the motion were threefold: 1. It is discriminatory, 2. She is opposed to censorship and 3. She believes representation is very important in such a multicultural area as theirs.

Colman added that she had actually moved for the library motion in around November 2023 in regard to the library strategy for the next four years, which all councillors had approved at the time.

“It had been out to public consultation and had returned with overwhelmingly positive support and then I was ambushed by this motion to all of a sudden ban a bunch of books,” Colman told Neos Kosmos.

“I was shocked and frankly appalled,” she added while also admitting she had raised the issue regarding the guidelines on Freedom of Access to Information under the Libraries Act 1939.

The councillor elaborated on her disappointment in how the fact the motion passed in spite of these points she had raised.

“The fact that more than half the people did not take that on board and decided to ban not just one book (even though there is nothing wrong with it) but all books containing same-sex parents is terrible. I do not even know how you would implement such a ban.”

She expressed her embarrassment and dismay at the “reputational damage” this has caused for Cumberland City Council as well as the funding risk and “unnecessary hurt” it has created.

The council will meet again this Wednesday to discuss a rescission motion so that this clause will be rescinded and that the library strategy will be passed/adopted without amendment.

“I am working with councillors who had voted against it previously and trying to bring them on board,” Colman said.

Book Life Publishing, the publishers of the book in question, put out a statement in response on 8 May regarding the ban which reads:

“As a children’s educational publisher, it is our duty to provide information about the real world children are learning to navigate. Our aim is always to provide children with the information, support, understanding, and context to help them make sense of the world around them.

Same-sex parents are a very real part of our social world, and it is our responsibility to represent them in our books as we would any other group. The series ‘A Focus On’ attempts to foster understanding and compassion. Books in this series provide important information on key topics children often seek to understand during their formative years, including wellbeing and family life.

We are extremely proud of the books we publish and we are proud to present material in those books that support, with compassion people who often feel underrepresented.

All Children deserve to feel seen, understood and loved.”