Children’s Book Featuring Lesbian Parents Faces Threats
18 September, 2017

The new book’s goal was simple: teach children to respect different types of families present in Ukrainian society. It was scheduled for a launch party in Lviv on September 15.

But then, suddenly, author Larysa Denysenko cancelled the event. The writer and human rights activist had received threats from right-wing activists and religious organizations. She could no longer guarantee the safety of the children who would attend.

It seemed like a rough start for “Maya and Her Mothers.” But it may have been a blessing in disguise. Since the scandal erupted, the book has received tons of free press and found many new supporters. Currently, it looks like a big hit.

Not So Scandalous

On the surface, “Maya and Her Mothers” is very much a tale about modern Ukraine. It tells the story of 17 children from a variety of different families — an ethnic Crimean Tatar family displaced by the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula, a single-parent family, a family where the father disappeared amid the war in Ukraine’s east, and others. The narrator, a little girl named Maya, recounts how at first she found some of her friends’ families unusual, but then her teacher explained that it’s important to respect everyone.

“It’s an absolutely tolerant book. It teaches kids to accept each other despite problems in their family,” Lilia Omelyanenko, co-founder of the Vydavnytstvo publishing house, told Hromadske.

Photo credit: Mykola Vepryk/HROMADSKE

But two stories depicted in the 64-page, richly illustrated book have attracted the most attention: that of two sisters conceived with the help of a sperm donor and of Maya, who was raised by a lesbian couple.

The Right Sector political party and fourteen other largely little-known public organizations sent a letter denouncing the book to the Ukrainian Security Service’s Lviv region director, the mayor of Lviv, and the head of the Lviv regional state administration. They claimed that “Maya and Her Mothers” is “dedicated to same-sex intercourse” and is a “direct attempt to force upon school children destructive principles that are contrary to values and traditions formed in Ukrainian families.”

“In the event of your inactivity, we will be forced to take all possible measures to prevent this frankly provocative presentation from taking place,” the letter reads.

Denysenko has also been receiving threat for two weeks.


The book’s launch party was supposed to take place during the Lviv Publishers’ Forum, a four-day literary festival that began on September 13.

But Denysenko, Vydavnytstvo, and the Forum’s organizers collectively decided to cancel the presentation for children, which was to be held at the Lviv Library. Ultimately, Denysenko felt she did not have enough information about how the police would ensure the event’s security.

“These are primary school kids and I could not take the responsibility for bad behavior by abnormal people,” Denysenko said. “They are my readers and I also hold responsibility for them.”

Photo credit: Mykola Vepryk/HROMADSKE

But the controversy has taken the author by surprise. Four months ago, she presented “Maya and Her Mothers” at the Book Arsenal festival in Kyiv and there were no issues.

“If you look at and analyze different social factors prevalent in Kyiv and Lviv, we need to pay tribute to Kyiv: it’s a more politically correct city because it’s the capital city,” Denysenko said.

Omelyanenko agrees. She feels “Lviv has never been tolerant of such topics,” even though only the “two last sentences of the book are about the two mothers.”

Both she and Denysenko believe that many of the people who sent the threats had never read the book. That appears to be at least partially true in the case of Svyatoslav Siryi, head of the National Corps party’s Lviv regional branch and a signatory to the letter denouncing “Maya and Her Mothers.”

Siryi only read some of the book, but found plenty to be offended by. “These test tubes, artificial insemination and so on. I think that’s too much for kids aged six and older,” he said.

In fact, the test tubes and the lesbian couple represent only a small component of the book’s story. But the response still has publisher Omelyanenko concerned.

“As far as I am aware, this is the first time a kids book has receiveed threats,” Omelyanenko said.

See For Yourself

Despite the controversy, the author and the publishing house are not letting their detractors get them down. The discussion for adults — which focused on society’s preparedness to discuss challenging topics with children — still went ahead with additional security.

The negative reactions also led Denysenko and Vydavnytstvo to make the book free to download in PDF form online. They want to help “more people understand what it’s about,” Omelyanenko said.

Within 24 hours there were already several thousand downloads. Omelyanenko now believes that “Maya and Her Mothers” has spread to 100 to 200 thousand people.

Photo credit: Mykola Vepryk/HROMADSKE

“We are happy that so many people found out about this book, because the reviews we received after they read it were really touching and inspiring,” Omelyanenko said. She and Denysenko are now planning several sequels.

“We know that we’re doing a good thing, so I think everything will be alright,” she added.

/By Maria Romanenko