Celebrating Pride Month: Heather Has Two Mommies

Cover of the 1990 edition of Heather Has Two Mommies.

In celebration of Pride Month, Special Collections will be highlighting materials in our collections that are by or related to members of the LGBT community. Today, we will be exploring one of the first children’s books to depict LGBTQ parents and the first children’s book to specifically depict lesbian parents: Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies.

Heather’s History

Newman wrote Heather Has Two Mommies in 1989 after a conversation with her friend, Amy Jacobson, who was about to send her daughter to daycare. Jacobson and her partner knew that other children would ask her about her unique family structure, and they weren’t sure how to prepare her for these questions. Jacobson told Newman that someone should write a children’s books about same-sex parents, and Newman decided that someone might as well be her.

A page from the beginning of Heather Has Two Mommies showing Heather with her family.

Newman wrote the book in a matter of weeks and Diana Souza provided the illustrations. Publishers were uninterested in the project, so Newman co-published the book with her friend Tzivia Gover. Because they were self-publishing, they could only afford to have black-and-white illustrations. Alyson Publications picked up the book in 1990, creating the version we have in the Washington University Libraries’ Children’s Literature Collection.

A page from Heather Has Two Mommies. A daycare owner explains to Heather that there are many different kinds of families when Heather realizes she doesn’t have a dad.

Heather Causes Controversy

In 1992, Heather Has Two Mommies caused a huge controversy when it, along with Daddy’s Roommate and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride, was included in New York City’s “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum, which was meant to teach first graders to respect different racial and ethnic groups. The proposed curriculum, intended to bring tolerance, ended up dividing the city as the president of the District 24 school board in Queens called it “dangerously misleading lesbian/homosexual propaganda” and refused to adopt it. The controversy spread throughout the nation, inspiring opinion pieces in almost every major newspaper, including several in our own city’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

An issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from August 19, 1994 featuring a debate on whether representations of LGBTQ people should be included in school curriculum. Heather is mentioned by both authors.

The controversy regarding the curriculum was the start of harsh backlash against the LGBTQ community. A conservative political group in Oregon tried to use Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to scare parents into thinking that the LGBTQ community was trying to “indoctrinate” their children, attempting to pass an anti-homosexual referendum to classify homosexuality as “abnormal” and “perverse” and to allow discrimination against homosexuals. Colorado also considered a measure to remove protection for homosexuals in the same year.

A page from Heather Has Two Mommies explaining artificial insemination.

Heather Has Two Mommies Today

Close to twenty years after it was originally published, Heather Has Two Mommies is now considered an early forerunner in a growing genre of LGBTQ children’s literature. It has inspired other children’s books about non-traditional families, including And Tango Makes ThreeMommy’s Family, My Two Mommies, and many others.

Information on other LGBTQ books available through Alyson Publishing in 1990, from the back of Heather Has Two Mommies.

Newman herself, who had never written a children’s book before Heather Has Two Mommies, has now published over 25 picture books for children, including two additional children’s books about same-sex parents, Daddy, Papa, and Me and Mommy, Mama, and Me. An updated version of Heather Has Two Mommies with color illustrations by Laura Cornell was released by Candlewick Press in 2015.

The 2015 edition of Heather Has Two Mommies, with new color illustrations by Laura Cornell.

Sources:

Alyson, Sasha. “Fear of the Rainbow.” New York Times, Dec 30, 1992, p. A15

Egan, Timothy. “Oregon Measure Asks State to Repress Homosexuality.” New York Times, Aug 16, 1992, p.1

Hetter, Katia. “‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ Comes Out Again” CNN.com, March 24, 2015.

Steven, Lee M. “How a ‘Rainbow Curriculum’ Turned into Fighting Words.” New York Times, Dec 13, 1992, p. E6

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.