• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Christian the Hugging Lion: The Children’s Book Banned for Homosexuality

ByRebecca Palmer

Sep 24, 2023
Rick Astley and the lion

In 1969, Chelsea socialites John Rendall and Ace Bourke purchased a lion cub from Harrods and baptised him ‘Christian’. Over the next year, they took Christian to glamorous parties, out for drives in their Mercedes, and for walks along King’s Road. When Christian outgrew their apartment and the cost of his upkeep became unfeasible, Rendall and Bourke recruited British conservationist George Adamson to integrate him into the wild at the Kora National Reserve in Kenya. One year later, upon receiving the news that Christian’s integration into a pride had been successful, Rendall and Bourke travelled to Kenya to reunite with Christian. After a cautious approach, Christian made a swift run towards them – to jump into their arms, in a clear display of unadulterated affection. 

This heartwarming tale, transcending species and continents, was adapted into a children’s book titled ‘Christian, the Hugging Lion’ by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell in 2010. Recognised by the Lambda Literary Awards, which celebrates LGBT+ works of literature, the book gently implies that Rendall and Bourke were in a gay relationship. While the two men and Christian are repeatedly described as a ‘family’, there are no explicit references to a romantic relationship.

Under the Parental Rights in Education Act, the School District of Manatee County in Florida has found grounds to withdraw Christian, the Hugging Lion from school library shelves. Better known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in March 2022, the bill prohibits ‘classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity’. It is framed around empowering parents to defend their ‘fundamental rights… to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children’. However, in granting this power of censorship to parents, the rights of children to express themselves openly, to learn without limitation, and to feel safe at school are curtailed. For LGBT+ youth, the consequences could be life-threatening. The Trevor Project has highlighted the bill’s role in perpetuating stigma and discrimination, leading to heightened risks of depression, self-harm, and suicide. 

The prohibition of Christian epitomises the fear-driven, reactionary politics of right-wing America. The mere implication of a gay relationship has allowed the picture book to be weaponised into an alarmist tool, with the end of exploiting anti-LGBTQ bias and riling up Republican support. This is not an isolated incident: DeSantis has proposed bans on gender-affirming care, drag shows, pride flags in public buildings, and gender studies courses in universities. In April, he professed to protect Floridians from ‘woke indoctrination’ by prohibiting the instruction of Critical Race Theory, which recognises racism as systematically ingrained in American society and acknowledges its structural persistence today. This series of discriminatory manoeuvres points to DeSantis’ harmful politics of erasure, founded on the terrifying suppression of identity. In outlawing Christian, he erases queer representation for children who may not yet have the vocabulary to express why they may feel different from their peers. He silences them when they do find their voice by forbidding discussion of sexual orientation in classrooms, jeopardising their mental health. In expurgating literature depicting non-nuclear families, DeSantis breeds a generation of blinkered Americans, raised in a climate of intolerance and censorship, and thus more likely to experience feelings of prejudice against marginalised communities.

Christian the Lion and Rick Astley” by urlesque is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.