ALDI has been caught in the crossfire of the same-sex marriage debate as hysteria builds over how the topic of gender is approached with children.
An irate customer posted to the discount supermarket's Facebook page after discovering that its Special Buys catalogue for this week includes the book The Boy in the Dress,by British comedian David Walliams, of Little Britain fame.
"Aldi - we are so very disappointed in your decision to stock a book within your store - relating to transgenderism in children," the woman, a retired nurse and grandmother who news.com.au has declined to name, wrote.
"Apparently it's available on Wednesday Sept 6th. We would ask that you reconsider your choice to sell it!
Family and children must be protected in times where there are those whose agenda is to groom and sexualise them! We ask you to have a conscience in this matter!"
Walliams's book is about a 12-year-old boy called Dennis who enjoys playing sport, watching daytime television and surreptitiously reading Vogue magazine.
One day, he puts a female friend's dress on and wears it to school, where he pretends to be a French exchange student.
Walliams does not spell out in the book whether Dennis is gay, transgender (meaning a person whose gender identity does not correspond with their sex at birth), or simply likes to experiment with cross-dressing.
Published in 2008, it has been praised for promoting "tolerance and open-mindedness" towards children who do not conform to traditional gender roles. A film adaptation recently screened on ABC iView is available for streaming on Netflix in some regions. A number of Aldi shoppers sprung to the retailer's - and the book's - defence.
"Cheers Aldi for unintentionally ridding your stores of bigoted customers! Who knew a children's book could be so powerful?" one customer wrote on the Aldi Australia Facebook page. Another fan said those who had complain about the book appeared not to have read it, writing:
"If they did they would know there is so much more to the book than a boy who likes to wear a dress. Just ridiculous."
"You know what is weird. That the idea of a young boy wearing a dress is sexual ... came from a lot of heterosexuals," one supporter wrote.
Another replied: "I agree. How on earth is a lighthearted look at a topic that has been around for years 'sexualising and grooming'?" However, another shopper wrote: "I agree with that woman ... 'Your role is not to propagate sexually confusing material to minors.'"
And a man chimed in that Aldi risked being seen as "taking the same stance as Woolworths in taking sides re the SSM debate, alienating a huge percentage of your customer base". "I hope I can still choose to give the bulk of my grocery shopping dollars to Aldi and you will think about all your customers and not just a minor segment for the sake of PC," he wrote.
"May I suggest it may be a wise business decision to remove this publication from sale in your stores immediately." An Aldi spokeswoman said in a statement that it had "no intention of removing The Boy in the Dress from sale". "The book tells the story of freedom of expression and tolerance," the spokeswoman said.
"This forms part of a range from David Walliams, the third biggest children's book author in Australia, and is available throughout a number of major retailers." Other titles in Walliams' award-winning children's book series include Ratburger, Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist, Gangsta Granny, Grandpa's Great Escape, Billionaire Boy and Mr Stink.
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