Schools told an author to omit the word “gay” from his talks. A year later he’s still fighting back.

Marc Tyler Nobleman
Marc Tyler Nobleman Photo: Rebecca Hale

An author continues to fight back after multiple school districts tried to censor him from using the word “gay” in a presentation about his book that included a gay character.

Last August, Award-winning author Marc Tyler Nobleman was visiting Sharon Elementary School to discuss Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. The book tells the story of Bill Finger, who never received credit for his role in creating the iconic superhero. During his talk, Nobleman merely mentioned that Finger’s son Fred was gay, which led school officials to freak out and send an apology email to parents.

The district asked him to omit the fact from the rest of his presentations. At first, he obliged but he eventually couldn’t take it anymore and quit.

A month later, he was met with a similar controversy at the Northside Independent School District in Texas. After he made nine presentations in which he mentioned Fred Finger’s sexuality, two parents complained about his use of the word “gay” in front of elementary school students. Nobleman refused to omit the fact, and the district canceled Nobleman’s final presentation.

In an op-ed for the San Antonio Express-News, columnist Nancy M. Preyer-Johnson then posited that the school made the right decision. She said Nobleman’s views were mostly correct and that his presentations are impactful for children, but also that it isn’t his choice to decide when kids should first learn gay people exist.

“Should he be the one, as opposed to a health or sex-ed teacher, to decide when it’s ‘perfectly appropriate’ for 8-, 9- or 10-year-olds to first hear the word ‘gay’?” she wrote, adding that “while authors, books and words, libraries and librarians, students and parents should all be valued, and we’re in a time when words and books are often unfairly censored, NISD and other school districts still have the ethical duty to ensure books and visitors are age-appropriate for students of all backgrounds.”

Nobleman spoke with Preyer-Johnson, stating, “The more prepared they are for the beautiful diversity of our world, the less likely they will perpetuate intolerance.”

Almost a year later, Nobleman is still speaking out about the importance of including Fred Finger’s sexuality in his presentations. In a recent blog post, he said he has spoken at hundreds of schools in at least 30 states and 20 countries throughout the past two decades and has received extremely positive reviews that call his talks “inspiring” and filled with educational value.

“My talk lasts 60 minutes,” he wrote. “In that talk, I say that someone was gay. One time. I also refer to straight marriages. Multiple times. I was scheduled to speak at Northside schools for 10 days. The first nine days went great. Except for the two parents who contacted their school because I said ‘gay.’ Neither had heard my talk, read my books, seen my documentary, or met me.”

He expressed his dismay that the school prioritized the feelings of two adults “over the enrichment of hundreds of kids.”

“Their complaint pressured Northside into giving me a choice: leave out the word ‘gay’ on day 10 or there is no day 10. Whether my presentation was censored or cancelled, it would shortchange the kids. Ultimately I felt that the best way to stand up for those kids would be to stick to my principles. So there was no day 10. The kids were disappointed. School staff was disappointed. I was heartbroken.”

Nobleman told LGBTQ Nation that it wasn’t only anger his talks elicited. “One parent told me that her 5th-grade son hears ‘gay’ multiple times a day in school, but as an insult amongst classmates, and she’s glad he finally heard it used in a respectful way,” he said.

He went on to say on his blog that those who truly suffered the consequences were the LGBTQ+ folks in the school district’s community. “Northside ISD’s action signals to them that their very existence is taboo to mention. Northside ISD made them feel unwanted and unsafe.”

He concluded by defending his decision to cancel his final talk rather than acquiesce to the censorship demands: “When you have to choose between siding with the tolerant or the intolerant, there is no choice.”

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated