ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A new sculpture that could be placed in Abilene’s storybook garden is causing some controversy, as several Abilene residents claim it supports LGBTQ+ community values. At Tuesday’s Visual Arts Jury meeting, some residents even showed up to encourage the jury to change the sculpture altogether.
The statue in question is a kitten cuddled up to a unicorn. Members of the jury said they believed it represented friendship and being yourself, but for some meeting attendees, it represented something entirely different.
“It has a clear message saying that you can be something you cannot be. It’s a transgender-affirming book,” said meeting goer, Jenna Sprot.
Because this statue could be placed in Abilene’s Storybook Garden in honor of the illustrator being celebrated at the 2024 Children of Arts and Literacy Festival (CALF), residents showed up to speak their piece.
“It’s grooming them to be prepared to think, ‘hey, I don’t have to be who I was created to be. I can be whoever I want to be,’” another attendee, Tammy Fogle volunteered.
This sculpture is based off characters in the KittyCorn book series. One book in particular, The Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, is about a kitten who wants to be a unicorn.
Fogle said this book does not represent what she called Abilene’s values, and other residents were in agreement.
“I read it and immediately, I received a message that it was about gender identity, and it didn’t even seem like a hidden agenda,” claimed Molly Harless, a third voice against the book and sculpture at Abilene’s Visual Arts Jury.
After public comment, some members of the jury spoke up to say they never got that sort of message from the book.
“I think you can make anything say anything that your mind wants to go there, and I did not get that,” Donna Albus, former Abilene City Councilmember and current Visual Arts Jury member argued.
Another member, Pam Tippen, brought up that the author and illustrator said this book is about friendship. Because of this, Tippen said the jury should believe just that. She added that CALF and these sculptures have never become a political issue.
“As soon as you start bringing in the angle of politics or the belief systems, then you’ve made it political,” encouraged Tippen.
Some members said the kitten and unicorn appeal to children, which is why it was chosen, but others think they should listen to the community.
As Fogle pointed out during the meeting, Kitty-Corn illustrator, LeUyen Pham, has been a part of many books, so the jury could just choose a different illustration for the sculpture.
“We’re not doing this to attack any people,” Fogle assured. “This is just about making sure that our children are protected from books that present messages that our community, as a whole, is not okay with.”
Sprot added, “We don’t want the CALF to become a vehicle for a social agenda.”
The jury decided to table the issue to allow more time for research. They will vote on whether or not to recommend this statue to the city council at a later date.