Cumberland Council backflips on gay book ban after fiery protest erupts outside emergency meeting

Samantha Lock and Alex Mitchell
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Cumberland Council chambers to oppose banning a book on gay parenting.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Cumberland Council chambers to oppose banning a book on gay parenting. Credit: Paul Braven/AAP

A book featuring same-sex parenting will return to library shelves after a Sydney council rescinded its ban on the text over concerns it betrayed the community’s “conservative values”.

Cumberland City Council, which covers a population of about 240,000 people near Parramatta, narrowly voted earlier in May to “take immediate action to rid same-sex parents books/materials in council’s library service”.

But following community outrage and with the council’s funding under threat, members met on Wednesday night and reversed the ban.

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A motion put forward by councillor Kun Huang passed comfortably, with only councillors Steve Christou and Eddy Sarkis voting against it.

Labor councillor Mohamad Hussein, who supported the original ban, flipped his vote at the last minute to support the change.

Mayor Lisa Lake, who evicted multiple unruly attendees during the meeting, apologised for the hurt caused by the debate.

“Cumberland Council is actually quite an inclusive place and very welcoming, one of Sydney’s largest multicultural communities where we all manage to live together pretty harmoniously,” she told ABC TV on Thursday morning.

It was a very divisive and unnecessary debate about a little book that had been in our libraries for five years with no complaints ... I’m hopeful we can all move forward now.”

Religious leaders, students, equality advocates and local families packed the chamber’s public gallery to argue for and against returning the book to shelves.

And fiery scenes played outside the western Sydney council chambers as two warring groups of about 100 people each clashed in a tense stand-off.

Protesters yelled over the top of each other for hours with young families, couples and students turning up with placards and flags in hand.

Pride in Protest rally organisers called for the council to rescind the ban and for NSW Premier Chris Minns to expel Labor council members who supported it.

Counter-protesters at the chambers held placards demanding the council “leave our kids alone” and “stop demoralising kids”.

Meanwhile, inside, Mr Christou, the former mayor who first put forward the motion, maintained the community wanted the book banned.

“I’m only echoing the views of my community,” he told the meeting while asserting it was “not an attack on gay or same-sex couples”.

“We cannot have toddlers just asking parents questions about genders and non-binaries,” he added.

But local leaders and community members disagreed.

“You can ban a book on same sex parents but this won’t stop me, my friends, my family from picking up our kids from school or playing in the local park,” one woman said.

“You will have to ban us from your community too.”

Councillor Sabrin Farooqui said the ban sent a harmful message and could result in $750,000 in council funding being removed.

“If the book contradicts your religious values, don’t read it,” she said.

“My child should be aware of the reality and this is the reality of Australia.”

Cr Hussein earlier said his religious views had strongly guided his decision in voting in favour of the ban.

“The vast majority of residents in our area have religious beliefs. Mine isn’t an isolated view but one shared by a significant portion of our community,” he said.

Five copies of the book A Focus On: Same Sex Parents have been in the council’s libraries since 2019. It has been borrowed once.

It forms part of a series that aims to inform children about “difficult realities” and “healthy ways for children to process and understand them”.

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