Amelia over at Huffington Post Gay Voices posted a blog about moms who are standing up for their LGBT/Gender Non-conforming kids.
I recommend it. She has brought together some of the moms, like me, who can’t keep quiet about how great our kids are. We are observing that a new day is here and our kids are a part of it–these kids have the words and confidence to express how they feel and who they are.
They, and all the other amazing little pioneers, deserve to be embraced and supported. And the parents of these kids need to know that they are not alone as they try and navigate this uncharted territory.
These women are really wonderful: smart, funny, and tough. My kind of ladies!
I recently heard Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns reflect on his October 12, 2010 statement about bullying and being gay during a City Council meeting. Wow. It was a considerably more intense experience than I had anticipated.
Apparently I cannot watch the video of his speech without crying, still. It is well worth watching (again): Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better” www.joelburns.com
At the event I attended, he described what brought him to that moment of bold action–one that would turn his world upside down. Week after week he read and watched news stories about young men killing themselves after being bullied and harassed for being different, or perceived as such.
Finally, after a report of a young man who took his own life after witnessing homoprejudice at his local city council meeting, Joel was moved to speak out. Talk about the universe knocking on the door and saying, “hey, you need to do something about this! You, City Councilman. Yeah, you!”
His experience describes the sort of moment that (hopefully) all people encounter in their lives–a moment of choice. Be true to your values, stand up, and speak up, or stay silent, be safe, and let injustice continue unchallenged. I gather that Joel had no idea what the ramifications of his action would be, but it was huge.
Today, I remember how important it is to not let injustice proceed unchallenged. There are so many moments great and small when we choose to make a stand or stand aside. We needn’t put ourselves in danger or sacrifice everything to a cause, but we can act with integrity, and on occasion take a bold action that may have incredibly widespread consequences.
* I hope I’ve accurately represented his story. My apologies for any incorrect interpretation. Watch the video and hear his own words.
Please visit the Facebook page for lots of articles, links, and resources!
Accounts of gay teens killing themselves and LGBT individuals being tortured and murdered abound. I read, and I feel sad and anxious. I desperately do not want this to happen to my kid, or anyone’s kid.
A Dangerous World
Currently I live in a community with no queer visibility. Since we moved here two years ago, I’ve felt the lack of a LGBT presence. Recently it feels like a desert. Parched, I am crying out for a drink. There are crosses galore here, but no rainbows.
I became angry about this. I know there are queer people in this part of town, so why aren’t there any rainbow flags in the shop windows or stickers on cars?
People here are afraid, and for good reason. Workplaces are hostile. State and local policies are discriminatory, or blind at best. There aren’t domestic partner benefits or protections. Stories of bigoted cops harassing gay motorists are not uncommon.
I Am Complicit
The invisibility of my family’s identity, affiliations, and commitments make us complicit. I am the problem.
For the bulk of my adult life I have lived in places where I regularly saw rainbows in shop windows welcoming LGBT shoppers, or a long, thin, horizontal rainbow on the back of the truck in front of me at a red light, or an adorable woman, woman, dog, dog, cat stick figure family on the back of the SUV parked next to me at the grocery store.
Me, my naked car, my unadorned office door – this is the problem. I am the problem. Or at least I am part of the problem.
For many years I have benefited from the fact that others put their identities on display, so I can celebrate and appreciate the great community in which I live, or the cops can hassle them just a little extra at a traffic stop, or some bigot can scratch “Fag” across the hood of their car.
Walk the Walk
A couple of weeks ago I told my daughter, “I want us to put an equality sticker on our car.”
“Can we do it together?” she asked.
We went out into the garage, cleaned off the back window, and affixed the sticker using her kid-sized hands and my adult-sized ones.
I put my rainbow-colored Safe Zone sticker on the most visible spot next to my office door, and the matching Safe Zone pin on the bag I carry to work, and everyday I have worn a pin, necklace, or wrist band that makes my sentiments and commitments visible.
I had some trepidations.
I thought what if this harms my opportunity to advance at work? To that I concluded, first I have never wanted to work in a bigoted work environment. If I am just fooling myself that this place is inclusive by never testing the bounds then I am cowardly. Second and most importantly, my kid means more to me than this one job. If I expect her to stand up for her beliefs and identity, then I sure better do the same.
I thought what if my gay co-workers think I am being some weird poser with my purple NOH8 wristband? Queerness is not an open topic of conversation where I work. No one has ever asked me about my identity, so why should I care what others might assume about me?
Once again my fear and insecurity can allow the problem to continue or I can walk the walk.
I can’t make the larger community resplendent with rainbow flags, equality symbols, and little gay stick figure families but I can bring a little of it everywhere I go. I can make LGBT-ness visible to the cashier at the market, the student in the hall, and the teachers and staff inside the elementary school.
I don’t want my kid, or someone else’s, to grow up in a world feeling all alone. Hopefully, every so often these days someone is behind me at a red light or beside me in the produce section and finds comfort in a sign of LGBT community.
Be the change you want to see in this world.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Check out the amazing video I just linked to on the Raising Queer Kids Facebook page. It is both a work of art and so touching. Watching it made me feel so clearly the importance of supporting kids, our own and others.
I so appreciate Randy Potts’ sacrifice and courage to go public. His story gives birth to real understanding, empathy, and conversation. Thank you Randy, even if I never meet you.
This morning like every Wednesday morning, I perused the contents of my daughter’s “Tuesday Folder.” Its a manila envelope sent home on Tuesday afternoon full of fliers, completed school work, and promotional materials for activities like basketball clinics and youth softball leagues.
Red Ribbon Week
Today I came upon a bright red flier describing the school’s activities for Red Ribbon Week. If you are not familiar with Red Ribbon Week, it is dedicated to substance abuse awareness, particularly in the public schools:
Today, the Red Ribbon Week brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.
Red Ribbon Week established in 1988 by Ronald and Nancy Reagan recognizes the torture and death of Enrique Camarena in 1985 and to set aside time for drug use prevention education and drug abuse awareness. Many of us grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign of the late 1980s. Red Ribbon Week was part of the administration’s overall commitment to the War on Drugs.
- I believe Red Ribbon Week is important. Recognizing the sacrifices of the law enforcement and Department of Justice, and Drug Enforcement Administration agents is an obligation and honor. Many brave people have risked, and lost, their lives making our communities safer for us and for our children.
- I acknowledge Red Ribbon Week and support it.
- I do not want my daughter to abuse drugs and I am happy that the school is helping me educate her about the dangers of drugs.
- I put our Red Ribbon Week flier on the front of the refrigerator so next week we can take part in all the activities, including wearing red clothes in recognition of everything Red Ribbon Week observes and stands for.
- I am fine that the children at my daughter’s school will miss class time for assemblies about drugs and will complete lessons about it while in class.
BUT . . .
The irony of this was striking. During Ally Week, the week after National Coming Out Day and the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, our school didn’t mention one word about the sacrifices of LGBT individuals or try to raise awareness of LGBT issues. THIS is the week that the Red Ribbon Week flier came home.
Just so you know:
October is LGBT History Month.
October 11th is National Coming Out Day.
October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.
October 17th – 21st is Ally Week.
My daughter’s school recognizes none of this, but my daughter does. Tomorrow, October 20th is Spirit Day and my daughter has her head-to-toe purple outfit picked out to wear tomorrow in celebration and recognition.
Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against bullying. (. . .) Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag.
Probably her outfit will go unappreciated by her classmates and teachers, since there have been no discussions, bulletin boards, posters, or assemblies acknowledging LGBT history, awareness, bullying, activism, accomplishments, lives lost to make communities safer for LGBT people, or deaths just at the hands of violent bigots.
Black Ribbon Day*
So, I would like to recognize today as Black Ribbon Day at our local school. A Day when we blatantly ignore the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT people.
Couldn’t we just have an Anti-Bullying Day?** Is that so much to ask?
*Notes on Awareness Ribbon colors:
All the possible colors already stand for other issues. Black ribbons commemorate September 11th, the Virgina Tech shooting, and represent melanoma awareness. Red ribbons stand for substance abuse awareness and even more commonly for AIDS awareness. In reality the power of the symbolism is already diluted since every color of ribbon stands for many things. My choice of the black ribbon is in no way intended to belittle the loss suffered from the attacks of September 11th or from melanoma.
**Notes on Violence Against LGBT Students:
In case you’d like statistics and facts about what life is like for LGBT kids, especially in school, please peruse the following sites. The the GLSEN site and tell you far better than I can.
Dealing with Gay Students, Bullying in Different Ways from CNN – Listen to what Minneapolis Public Schools do – intervention and education can work.
Violence Against Gays and Lesbians from The National Centers for Victims of Crime – Gives a sense of the kind of violence endured by LGBT people in general.
One last note in defense of October:
October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Month, Dwarfism Awareness Month, National Pork Month, and National Cyber Security Awareness Month and they’ve gotten no coverage in school either. I hope somewhere someone is writing angry blogs about how these other issues have been ignored by the public schools! (Well, maybe pork doesn’t need a special day in the schools – we celebrate pork awareness every month in our house.)
Last week and this week CNN and Anderson Cooper AC360° is featuring An Anderson Cooper Special Report – “Bullying: It Stops Here.”
Tonight, Friday, October 14 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET, Cooper hosts a town hall: “Bullying: It Stops Here”.
For as long at it is available on YouTube I highly recommend watching the October 5th episode. There is astounding video of what one child endures on the bus (in part 3 of 4) and a sickening video of a principal intervening in a active incident of bullying (in part 4). They are must-see videos (links below).
Be warned this show will likely make you sad and furious.
I have spent a lot of time discussing and role-playing with my daughter how to defuse the hostile situations that she encounters and may encounter in the future. It is important defuse them so they don’t escalate, but it is also absolutely essential that she feel that she can defend herself too. She has a series of responses that she uses to answer back to ignorant and hateful statements. She has crafted arguments on her own and with us to answer comments which come from a variety of loathsome discriminatory origins: religiously motivated bigotry, misogyny, physical disgust direct at LGBT individuals, etc.
Sometimes she quasi-jokingly says she will sock the perpetrator in the nose. Of course I make it clear that a violent response to a hostile situation is not okay, but truthfully after watching the videos of what these kids endure, I find myself thinking that she would be justified if she socked a bully in the nose.
At this point I do not trust that if she went to anyone at the school that they would be able to effectively deal with the situation. If schools cannot figure out how to productively address issues of diversity and bigotry before there is a incident on the playground, in the cafeteria, or on the bus, I have NO FAITH that they will be able to deal with it once it is happening.
One thing that becomes crystal clear from this program is that principals, teachers, all school staff need to be trained how to deal with this. They are clearly at a loss about how to respond.
How would school personnel know how to handle LGBT bullying if the school district, the school, and the principal have never made crystal clear what will and will not be tolerated? If there are no institutionally prescribed consequences for homo-prejudice before there are incidences of violence, how is a teacher supposed to have any power to do anything?
And how can we trust our schools to protect our kids when teachers like Viki Knox in New Jersey makes public statements about her own personal homo-prejudice? How many other Viki Knoxes are teaching in our school classrooms, but are smart enough not to out themselves as bigots on Facebook and Twitter? We are yet to see what will happen to her, but America would not tolerate a public school teacher in 2011 making racist statements on Twitter and Facebook because they were offended by Black History Month being honored in their school.
I now see that my daughter and I have to role-play and problem solve what she should do in a situation where an adult is as ill-equipped to handle LGBT bullying as the principal in the video in the AC360° October 5th episode. I need to make her aware that some teachers are bigots who cannot separate their prejudices from their obligations as educators bound by a duty to all students.
Her teachers say they love having her in class; they praise her polite and respectful demeanor. Yesterday at I even overheard my daughter thank the maintenance man for taking such great care of the school. I am happy that she is that kind of child, but I will not have her politely subject herself to ill-prepared, perhaps ill-intentioned, school personnel and their potentially destructive “interventions.”
I hope that Anderson Cooper AC360° and CNN will continue to make this episode available to the public. Allowing continued access to this material would be a real contribution to raising awareness about the lives of LGBT youth and the need to end bullying.
Here are the links: