The cover of Christian, the Hugging Lion.
The cover of "Christian, the Hugging Lion" Photo: Simon & Schuster

The Florida Department of Education banned a children’s book by the authors of And Tango Makes Three last year, despite the fact that it contains no mention of sexuality.

As the Tallahassee Democrat reports, the state’s Education Department has released a list of 1,218 books that had been challenged during the 2022–2023 school year. 386 of those books have been removed from school library shelves, including Christian, the Hugging Lion.

The 32-page children’s book by And Tango Makes Three authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and with illustrations by Amy June Bates is about two men who raise a baby lion together in the London apartment they share. Like Tango, which was inspired by a pair of real-life male penguins who raised a chick together at New York’s Central Park Zoo, the book is based on a true story.

According to the Florida DoE’s list, Christian was one of 25 books removed from school library shelves in Manatee County. The Tallahassee Democrat reports that district officials cited Florida’s infamous Parental Rights in Education Act, widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, as the reason the book was banned. The law bans discussion of topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity at all grade levels. Under the law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, Florida parents can sue a school district if they feel the law has been violated, despite the fact that the state’s DoE has not yet released official guidance on how it should be applied.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, there is no mention of sexuality in Christian, the Hugging Lion. John and Ace, the two characters who raise the lion cub together, are never referred to as gay in the book and they are not identified as a couple.

Christian, the Hugging Lion is just the latest example of a children’s book that does not include any mention of sexuality or gender identity being banned or challenged by anti-LGBTQ+ conservatives. One Texas school board member recently cited author Shannon Hale and illustrator Leuyen Pham’s Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn as an example of “sexually suggestive” materials available in elementary school libraries. The Caldecott and Newbury award-winning picture book concerns a pink kitten who wishes she was a unicorn, and like Christian contains no mention of sexuality or gender identity.

In June, Christian, the Hugging Lion authors Richardson and Parnell joined with six students and their parents to sue Florida’s Board of Education and a school district where Tango has been banned. The federal lawsuit seeks to restore access to the book along with a permanent injunction preventing the state from enforcing the Parental Rights in Education Act.