Intern Insight: LGBT Spotlight Interview with Honey St. Claire

Honey St. Claire, photograph by Kadaver

By Kate Pentecost
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m sure everyone has seen the buzz that the movie “Love, Simon” has gotten and is still getting from audiences across America.

As part of the LGBT community myself, I can tell you from experience that representation for LGBT kids can be and frequently is absolutely life-changing as they grow into confident, valued adults.

The children’s book community has been doing a great job as of late telling the stories of LGBT kids, whether it be realism or fantasy.

Authors like David Levithan, Cori McCarthy, Malinda Lo, and Amy Rose Capetta come to mind, as well as a score of others who are out there writing for and about LGBT kids.

I also think it’s important for kids to see actual real-life LGBT folks who are out there being their best, most authentic selves. And I believe that we as authors can learn a lot from them as well, so every month, I’m going to be interviewing a different LGBT activist, author or artist about life, art, and children’s books.

I’m delighted to start this project with an LGBT artist and fellow Texan I’ve known for over 10 years, drag performer Honey St. Claire, the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Kate: So, Honey, tell us a little about you and your art. 

Honey: Well, I am a Drag Queen/Performance Artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m Transfemme (which means that I’m somewhere between male and female but much much closer to female).

When I’m not performing or hosting shows I like to read, play video games, and take long baths. I have a background in theatre going all the way back to my youth and then acted and performed frequently in both high school and college.

I have a degree from the University of Texas where I studied ancient history and classics, specifically Egyptology, which has been a huge passion of mine as well as an enormous artistic inspiration. Oh! And if I had to choose an animal to have for a pet, it would be a capybara.

K: Tell us a little bit about what you do and your current projects. 

H: I’m the hostess of Geeks on Fleek, Austin’s only recurring cosplay drag show. I’m a cast member of Die Felicia! Austin’s drag horror review. I am also the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Drag queens Moana Lisa, Honey and Zane Zena at BookPeople

K: What is Drag Queen Storytime? It sounds delightful!

H: It’s exactly what it sounds like. A few Drag performers reading books to children in full, colorful drag—sometimes with props. Sometimes we have a theme, sometimes not.

Other cities have had drag queen storytimes, and they’ve been great tools for outreach, so I thought, why not try to bring that to Austin?

The first one in February was themed around “Loving You” So it was very Valentine’s themed with hearts and pink and red etc. But instead of being focused on giving your love away to another person it was focused on loving yourself, which I feel is a valuable thing that you can’t learn too early.

We try to have treats, which is enjoyed by the kids and the adults! Also, I looked like a walking disco ball, whats not to love?

K: And how did it go over?

H: The kids had a blast! Not only were there cookies and fun stories, but the stories were read to them by these gigantic colorful creatures. They were shy at first but all quickly warmed up and had a great time!

The community reaction was fantastic! It was a little surprising to be honest because I was expecting a smaller turnout and mostly for it to be LGBTQIA families that were showing up, but I saw a ton of cisgender heterosexual couples bring their kids to the reading because they wanted their kids to experience different kinds of people and to grow up with an open mind which was, honestly, very heartwarming.

K: That’s amazing! Though it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d be the one to get this started in Austin. I know that books were a very important part of your life growing up. How did books affect you in your youth? 

H: Books were my escape. Since I was bullied often I didn’t really like to stay too long in the realm of reality. I used books to run away.

I got lost in far off worlds and other universes where everything seemed so much better than where I was.

K: What were some of the books you escaped into?

H: As a kid (and now, actually) I was a big fan of Cornelia Funke. I loved Imogene’s Antlers by David Small  (Crown, 1985) which, while not queer, is a great book to talk about diversity within a family.

I also loved Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer (Parents Magazine Press, 1976), The Magic Shop Books by Bruce Coville (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and in high school, Freak Show by James St. James (Dutton, 2007) was a queer favorite.

K: What books for kids exist now that you wish you’d had growing up? 

H: One particular book for children, Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury, 2016), is so wonderful! It’s a great way to introduce smaller children to gender and trans issues.

I also loved Libba Bray’s inclusion of a transgirl in the book Beauty Queens (Scholastic, 2011). I wish that would have been out back when I was a kid.

These are just a couple that come to mind.

K: What books for LGBT kids would you like to see written?

H: I want to see more LGBTQIA people take starring roles in different genres rather than mainly realism. I want to see more LGBTQIA characters in sci-fi. I want to see more of them in fantasy. I want to see more of them in horror (but horror that doesn’t rely on their identities as a source of fright or a reason they’re being targeted. We have enough bashing stories already, both in literature and on the news.)

And, more specifically, I want portal fiction like C.S. Lewis’s books and Neil Gaiman’s books, where portals open up to different dimensions when this dimension gets too rough for queer kids.

I mainly just want more LGBTQIA protagonists, period!

K: More! I definitely feel you there. Though recently Simon–Simon Vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins, 2015)(and the film version, “Love, Simon“)–has been a huge hit, as have notable other YA books with LGBT themes. 


This is a big deal! Yet, the book and others like it are still frequently banned and challenged. What would you say to people who think that LGBT content in children’s books isn’t appropriate? 

H: That is only because of their misconceptions of LGBT people. For years, all we have had are bars and places of secrecy—because for so long even loving someone would have been a crime that was legally punishable. But as time is moving forward, we are coming out of the shadows and more people are starting to see that being LGBT is not only about sex.

We aren’t deviants. We aren’t predators. We are everyday people. A lot of us love kids and want families. A lot of us already have families. And for queer kids, its important to have events and activities that they can take part in.

When you have to wait as a queer kid until you are 18 to really be able to go to a “Queer Space” well…that can do a number on you psychologically. These kids are already queer. They shouldn’t have to wait to be able to express it. And we shouldn’t make them wait to feel accepted.

K: Do you think that public consciousness is changing toward LGBT issues? 

H: I do. I think its changing slowly. But I do think its changing.

More and more people are seeing LGBTQIA individuals as fully fledged human beings. I think the rise of technology is helping with that a lot.

Thanks to Youtube and Tumblr and any other number of websites, kids and young adults are able to experience and to interact with LGBTQIA people in a way that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

Back then, it was you either knew someone or you didn’t. But now they can interact with other queer individuals all over the world.

Whether that means straight kids being introduced to the culture and meeting queer friends, or queer kids reaching out to queer adults with their questions and concerns, the increase in communication is a great thing.

K: So what can we as authors do to support LGBT kids in our lives?

H: The most important thing to do is listen. To hear them out and listen to their thoughts and their feelings. Don’t put too much pressure on them to fit into a mold. Don’t write off their emotions and their feelings as just hormonal and meaningless.

Yes, hormones play a big part, but the things they are going through are valid. We should know, because we all went through them too.

K: Do your research, use LGBTQIA sensitivity readers, and above all, keep writing!

Cynsational Notes


The next Drag Queen Storytime at BookPeople is scheduled for May 29.

Honey will be reading books that celebrate all things fierce and fabulous, including I Am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, 2018).

Kate Pentecost holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

She is obsessed with the Romantic Poets and can be identified by the enormous tattoo of Percy Bysshe Shelley on her arm.

She lives in Houston with her husband.

Kate is the YA author of Elysium Girls (Hyperion, winter 2020). 

She is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.

Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Where Does LGBTQ YA Go From Here?

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Amy Rose Capetta writing

While the goal of this blog series is to celebrate LGBTQ YA, there’s so much more room for growth.

It might seem like LGBTQ YA books are hitting new heights, when in reality they’re only beginning to find their audience.

In the words of Alex London, author of Proxy (Speak, 2015):

“The challenge remains getting books with overtly queer themes and characters in front of all sorts of readers. I’ve been lucky to have had my first YA included on many state reading lists, which brings it into schools and I’ve been lucky with some of my middle grade books to have the support of Scholastic Book Fairs–another route into the schools.

“But for kids without active librarians who seek out and promote LGBTQ books, those books might never find their way into the reading life of young people, straight or queer.

“You can’t read a book you’ve never seen or heard of, so exposure and access remain the greatest challenges…as for all books, really.

“We’ve a long way yet to go, but it’s a positive development that queer books are finally competing in the same marketplace as books without queer elements.”

I asked Dahlia Adler, the founder of LGBTQ Reads, about the gap that seems to exist between LGBTQ books and readers.

“I think it’s really, really important that people who have access to those readers – parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians – make it their business to have even just a bare bones rec list of LGBTQ YA handy.

“I’ve seen some people make amazing resources for that, like bookmarks with recommendations printed right on them that can easily be distributed, and that’s a huge help. Things like that, that help get the word out, are gonna be hugely important.

“It’s also tricky because you have this real divide in LGBTQ YA marketing – some of it is glaringly queer, and sometimes the queerness is completely hidden.

“And the fact is, we need both. If I could give every LGBTQ YA two different covers and blurbs, I totally would. Because it’s important for there to be books that are easily identifiable both so kids can find them or, if they can’t take any books home, to at least see themselves in the covers and blurbs.

“But there are also kids who really want to read these books but can’t safely buy or borrow them if they’re obviously queer. And that’s a very, very tricky thing.”

When I asked Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA the same question, they said:

“There are so many teens desperately seeking representation, and yet somehow, the connection never gets made that those books are out there…

“I think maybe one reason there’s so much disconnect is that, even though there are all these amazing #ownvoices books being penned, the ones that still reach peak heights of attention are almost all written by straight, cis authors…

“So I guess I’d love to see those big name authors of LGBTQIA+ YA have a thorough knowledge of other books and use their platforms to promote them.

“…One of the major angles missing right now is TUMBLR. Tumblr is where the teens are that are desperately seeking representation, and taking it in any form they can find.

“I once ran across a post in which someone talked about how they were crossing out the pronouns of one of the characters in a book and replacing them with she/her so that it would make it about an F/F couple. And my heart just broke a little.

“I think there’s also a lot that needs to be done in libraries and schools. The library I work at has kept our LGBTQIA+ display up, and those books are flying in and out like nobody’s business.”

I asked authors if they had any messages that they wish could reach readers, publishers, librarians, booksellers and/or educators who want to support LGBTQ YA. Audrey Coulthurst, who wrote Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray, 2016), said:

“It’s heartening to see the growing enthusiasm for LGBTQ YA and the efforts bloggers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and educators are making to help increase visibility…

“The thing I would love most is for event organizers to try to focus less on putting together ‘diversity’ panels, and more on creating inclusive panels.

“Why not include SFF LGBTQ books on a broader fantasy panel about worldbuilding? Or LGBTQ romances on sex in YA panels?

“Being inclusive of LGBTQ books allows us to have deeper conversations and showcase broader perspectives, directly furthering the movement for better representation by reaching readers who might not already be aware of the push for that.

“I’d love to see a shift from acknowledging (but compartmentalizing) marginalized groups toward complete inclusivity.

“Also, the YA community is so fantastic and full of passion, which is one of the things I love best about it. One evergreen reminder is that the best way to make sure your favorite authors continue writing is to support them with your dollar. That doesn’t always mean it has to come right out of your pocket either!

“Ways you can support authors:

Audrey Coulthurst
  • Buy their books (for yourself or as a gift). 
  • Request their books at your local library.
  • Discourage people from pirating books or selling ARCs. This makes authors sad (and penniless). 
  • Leave reviews on retail sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Tell your friends about books you love.”

The word absolutely needs to spread about the books that are out there.

Not all marketing budgets are created equal, and word of mouth is still one of the biggest factors in how all books, especially LGBTQ ones, reach their audiences.

That means we all have power in the publishing industry–to spread the word, to share books we love as widely as possible. In some ways, it’s a simple equation. The more LGBTQ books we buy, the more there will be.

There are also libraries to consider. Cori McCarthy and I looked for recipients for our Rainbow Boxes (a charitable initiative, connecting LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the U.S.), we chose many small community libraries because we knew that in many cases limited budgets meant they could only afford a handful of titles, the most visible and bestselling YA–which often leaves out #ownvoices LGBTQ books.

In other cases, organizations that raised money for library spending budgets wouldn’t allow the money to be spent on LGBTQ books.

If you don’t see LGBTQ books at your local library, talk to your librarian. Consider requesting titles or even donating books to the collection.

Talking to Becky Albertalli, author of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray, 2015), she pointed out some other factors at work:

“The most exciting part about writing and publishing LGBTQ YA has been, hands down, hearing from readers. I get the most beautiful emails from teens (and adults!) at different stages of the coming out process, and I feel so privileged to be a part of that moment.

“Interestingly, I haven’t encountered as many challenges as I anticipated. The one recurring frustration has been with a small subset of middle school librarians who feel that Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is inappropriate for their students.

“I 100% understand this judgment call, if they’re concerned about cursing and adult language, but these libraries often feature comparable heterosexual titles. It’s deeply upsetting that Simon’s (very innocent!) love story is seen as less appropriate for middle school than hetero love stories with equal or more sexual content.

“I think the most important message I’d like to share is for librarians. I’ve been seeing really wonderful LGBTQ YA collections in so many library systems, but I’m not sure there’s enough discussion around the importance of including electronic copies in public library collections.

“Having physical copies of LGBTQ YA on library and bookstore shelves is incredibly important as well, and it sends a powerful message to teens encountering these collections – but digital copies are often safer and more practical for LGBTQ teens, particularly in certain regions of the country.”

Malinda Lo, author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009) and Huntress (Little Brown, 2011), points out that when it comes to YA books that do include sexual content, there are even more barriers:

Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Radical

“I’m excited that the publishing industry is now more willing to publish these stories, but I also know that the struggle is not over. There are still limitations to the experiences that publishers are supportive of portraying in YA books.

“For example, straightforward representations of sexuality remain taboo for many, which is why I’m also very excited by E.M. Kokie‘s fall novel, Radical (Candlewick, 2016), which delivers one of the most realistic sex scenes involving two girls I’ve ever read in YA.

“Teens and sexuality push a lot of buttons in adult gatekeepers, and that’s one barrier that is still pretty high for representations of queer teens.

“However, now that so many more people in the industry are talking about representation, and with so many more authors writing these stories, I hope that it’s only a matter of time before barriers like this are also overturned.”

While some areas of representation are flourishing, others are still barely included in YA. There are a very small number of books about intersex characters and characters on the asexuality spectrum.

There are also strikingly few characters with nonbinary gender identities.

When I asked Bill Konigsberg, author of The Porcupine of Truth (Arthur A. Levine, 2015), what he’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, and what he wants to see more of, he said:

“I went on a road trip last fall to talk to LGBTQ youth across the south and Midwest about suicide and depression. It was an amazing, exhausting trip, and in the end I think I learned more than I taught.

“One thing that was especially valuable to me as a writer and as a human being was to learn about how pervasive gender fluidity is for this youngest generation. I don’t think I really understood when I set out on my journey the entire spectrum of the transgender experience, and I got educated!

“I think it’s extremely clear that what we are beginning to see on the shelves are books with gender-fluid characters, and that this needs to continue to grow as an area.

“I have a feeling that this young generation is going to change the world with its exploration of gender.”

When I asked Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016), the same question, she said:

“I want to see more queer characters of color, disabled queer characters, reliqueer characters.

“I want more ace/aro rep. I want questioning characters. I want explicit rep of all orientations.

“I want to see the entire gender spectrum reflected in YA and I want to see those intersections too. (And all across genres, too!)

“I love seeing how our stories branch out. I love seeing increasingly more support and excitement for queer YA. I think we’re making massive steps right now. But I’m a very hungry caterpillar. I want more.” 

More seems to be one of the most important words to take from this conversation. We need more books, more representation, more people supporting inclusive fiction in more ways, both old and new.

Before the series ends, I want to share Vee Signorelli ’s story of how they started The Gay YA.

It shows how far LGBTQ YA has come in five years–and how amazingly important these stories really are.

“In May of 2011, Jessica Verday put up a post explaining why she’d pulled out of the Wicked Pretty Things anthology: one of the editors said they would not include her piece unless she changed her m/m pairing to an m/f one.

“Book Twitter exploded with criticism of the straight-washing, and support for LGBTQIA+ characters. A #YesGayYA hashtag was formed, and other authors began sharing similar experiences of straight-washing.

“It became very apparent that there was a huge problem going on behind the scenes in publishing.

“It wasn’t necessarily straight up homophobia fueling it– it was more the (faulty) belief that it wouldn’t sell.

“My older sister and I both saw the same thing: tons of people calling out for representation, with no way to reach the ears of publishing, and no plans to build any sort of coalition to keep the energy going.

“We were only sixteen and twelve at the time, but it wasn’t even really a question in our minds: we knew how to do websites, and we knew social media.

“We both identified as straight at the time (ha ha), and we really knew nothing about the LGBTQ community. But, we had the time and the passion and the knowledge of websites to be able to do it. Then, due to life and health issues, we had to drop off for awhile. My sister started college, and it sort of looked like it would never get started back up again.

“And then I turned fifteen and entered into what I affectionately refer to as “the year of hell.” (TW for suicidal ideation) I was suicidal, and full of self hatred, and I didn’t know why. And then I realized I was queer and trans.

“I went through a lot of therapy, and that was really what stopped me from killing myself.

“But the thing that actually made me start wanting to live, the thing that made me think I might have a possible future ahead of me, was queer and trans fiction. Primarily, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2014), Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff (Carolrhoda, 2011), and The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan (Knopf, 2004).

“Those books meant so much to me. But, I knew from spending half of my life on tumblr that year, that most teens desperately seeking representation did not know about these kinds of books were out there.

“In a way, these books saved my life. I knew they could save other lives as well.”

Vee chose to restart The Gay YA, and it’s become one of the most important sources online for LGBTQ fiction and community. Please take a look at the work being done there, as well as at LGBTQ Reads, Diversity in YA and Lee Wind’s blog, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Amy Rose signs Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017) contract

As a queer person, I know that the years ahead are going to be difficult. I have sat with this reality every day, and one of the few things that offer me hope right now are stories.

We will need YA books more than ever, as a source of catharsis and beauty, of comfort and resistance. This moment is more than just a trend in publishing–it’s a rare and necessary chance for LGBTQ people to share their truth with each other, and the rest of the world.

If you believe that these books are important, that LGBTQ young people are important, please do what you can to support these stories. And if you already do–thank you, thank you, thank you.

And keep watching for the next step from Rainbow Boxes! We’ll announce a new way that you can help spread the love for LGBTQ fiction in early 2017.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels:
Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After
Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the
second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.