Embrace against Hate

Hugs. Lots of them.

It is clear to me now that holding my daughter is the most important gift I can give her during this period of intense growth. Since she chose to come out to the world she has grown up so much, but she also wants her mama to embrace her more than ever.

Last night during a long period of silent embrace she whispered, “it’s good to know someone’s here for me, whether it’s grades, sexual orientation, or sexual [gender] identity.”

These days I wonder all the time what we can do to inoculate our kids against the insidious onslaught of a bigoted society? Perhaps holding them as much as they need to be held, every time they ask for it is a start.


“Be the Change You Want to See”

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.

Human Rights Campaign

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.

Misgivings?

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


When Art and Truth Combine

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.


Risks in the Family: Vulnerability & Authenticity

Family and Drag – Part I

I want to share a blog post from Pink, Purple, and Blue entitled, “Have a Little Faith.” It touches on so many pertinent issues faced by families and their LGBT members.

Parents, Drag, and Celebration

This bisexual woman enjoys drag, but has not shared it with her mom, because her mom has been only conditionally supportive. Yet, her mother calls her and asks to she the videos of her performances. At first the daughter questions her mother’s motivation and says no, but after time passes the mother is able to express her wish to see them, without the intent to judge.

This posted depicts the complicated relationship between parents and their children, even when the children are all grown up and living life away from home. I hope that the writer is correct and her mother is ready to be exposed to her drag performance videos openly and with acceptance, if not with appreciation.

The author’s hesitation springs from experience. Her mother doesn’t embrace her LGBT identity, but she doesn’t condemn it either. The point that the writer makes about her mother showing up when asked, but not celebrating her daughter’s identity spontaneously is crucial.

Celebrating your kids for being who they are, without being asked is essential to raising healthy, confident kids and having family relations that are authentic and meaningful. This writer says:

I’m fairly certain that my mother will die and I will still never be fully sure about her feelings towards my life. That’s just the kind of person she is; her cards are usually played close to her chest.

This seems like a common sentiment, but such a sad one. I certainly don’t want that with my daughter.

This writer is brave and vulnerable – right on! She’s right if there is headway made at least one party must be vulnerable and take a risk. I wish her the best.

Family and Drag – Part II

Beautiful Transgressions and Taking the Long View

Speaking of taking risks: recently my lovely daughter was in a big, family wedding. She willingly grew her hair out for six months, wore a pastel bridesmaid’s dress, and as far as I can tell didn’t come out to anyone during the weekend, which would have caused drama that both detracted from the bride’s special weekend in the spotlight and added more stress to an already stressful situation. My daughter was gracious and accommodating or at least that’s what I discerned.

BUT – when it came time to pack for the events of the long weekend she announced that she would be wearing her suit and tie to the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I even took her out and bought some really stylish black dress shoes from the boy’s section of the shoe store. Dressing in what was essentially drag* for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, was both risky and beautifully transgressive.

Apparently the wedding planner could stop referring to our girl as he and him, no matter how many times my daughter corrected her.

According to my daughter this angered her, yet I wonder if there is a part of her that expected (hoped) this would happen because it drew attention to the very nature of her gendered performance at that moment. She is shrewd like that – she always has been. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about her. She can take the long view when she wants to undermine the status quo/powers that be.

You definitely can get a sense of this ability in My Daughter’s View of Herself, when I describe her clear three-year plan to address gender, then gay awareness/rights, and then being out at school. She may not be aware of her astute stratagem, but do it intuitively.

She’s taking calculated risks, making herself vulnerable, pushing the envelope of accepted behavior, addressing the reaction, and then pushing further. I definitely don’t want to think of this being directed toward teenage defiance. Yikes . . . and wow.

*Notes on Drag

I say “drag” because this is what it must look like to outsiders, but I don’t think of it this way because from day-to-day, sometimes hour to hour, our girl dress in outfits that range from the extremely feminine to the fully masculine. For us it is all her – there is no differentiation between what is performance and what isn’t. It is all performance, and none of it is.

This morning she went off to school in a short, pleated gray and pink plaid skirt, a gray t-shirt with a pink bow embroidered on it, silver flats with silver roses on them, and a pink and gray sweatshirt to keep away the autumn chill. Her nails are painted a precious lavender and she is wearing sparkly earrings.

Which outfit is drag?


LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy

In the wake of yet another teen suicide linked to bullying, bullying that singled out a student for being gay or allegedly being gay, too many school districts continue to ignore that their district policies fail to protect students from LGBT-related prejudice and harassment. Obviously language in a school district handbook isn’t the most important intervention to keep LGBT kids safe.

We need schools prepared to deal with diversity and school personnel who will take real action to protect students. However school policy sets the tone for how schools address difference, discipline problems, and the school culture in general.

Last year the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota came under scrutiny for their bullying policies and their practice of neutrality toward homosexuality in schools after many  students in Anoka-Hennepin district schools killed themselves after LGBT-related bullying. Associated Press writer, Chris Williams describes the situation on Boston.com:

It [the Anoka-Hennepin School District] has found itself caught between gay-rights supporters, who insist that any anti-bullying program must include specific policies aimed at protecting gay youth, and religious conservatives who call that unnecessary and biased toward homosexuality.

The district has told its staff to remain neutral when discussing matters of sexual orientation, while also ordering employees to step in if they learn of any harassment or bullying. [Emphasis mine]

Neutrality is not enough.

When I recently met with my daughter’s school principal to discuss that fact that she had chosen to come out to everyone including her friends at school and their parents, the principal made all the appropriate, district-sanctioned statements about how bullying was not tolerated in her school. She reassured us that our school community is especially tolerant of disabled students and therefore we could expect the children and parents to tolerate a lesbian student. (There are plenty of problems with that comparison, but that’s another post).

I have the utmost respect for our principal and I love my daughter’s elementary school. I know we are very fortunate to send our child to good, generally supportive school; however, neutrality and pat promises of zero tolerance are not going to deal with the reality of prejudice, hate speech, and intimidation that occurs in schools across the nation, even in nice schools like the one we send our daughter to.

I wondered how my local school district would compare with the Anoka-Hennepin district. So, I did some research about our local school district’s policies on harassment, discrimination, and sexual orientation.

Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct – Our Discrimination Policy

What I found is very disturbing. I have excerpted the pertinent sections from both the Student/Parent Handbook and the Code of Conduct. The Superintendent states that these documents: “foster an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others. State law requires each school district to create and implement a code of conduct for students that specifies policies and procedures.”

The sections of these documents that outline discrimination and harassment fail to include sexual orientation as a factor considered when determining

Discrimination Prohibited
XSD maintains a strict policy of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination. No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability. Any student who believes he or she has been subjected to prohibited discrimination at school or while participating in a school sponsored activity, should promptly report the concern to the student’s principal or to the Deputy Superintendent. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Harassment
XSD strictly prohibits harassment based on an individual’s gender, color, race, religion, national origin or disability. Harassment, in general terms, is conduct so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, creates an intimidating, threatening, or hostile educational environment. Slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above are wholly inappropriate, violate the District’s equal opportunity and nondiscrimination policies, and may subject the student who engages in such conduct to disciplinary action. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Thus, according to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered.

Hazing/Bullying
XSD strictly prohibits hazing, bullying, or intimidating students. Specific definitions of hazing and bullying are in the glossary at the end of the Student Code of Conduct.

The glossary sections that define hazing, bullying, or harassment are general and inclusive enough to include acts that make students frightened for their safety and undermine their ability to learn, but as the policy states above students cannot be subjected to “prohibited discrimination” and harassment is defined at “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above.”

Thus, discrimination and harassment based upon sexual orientation are not identified as actions that would undermine “an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others” per district policy.

The policy on cyberbullying includes the following language:

Misuse of Computers and the Internet Students shall not:

  • send or post electronic messages that are abusive, obscene, sexually oriented threatening, harassing, damaging to another’s reputation, or illegal, including off school property if the conduct causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment; or [Emphasis mine]

If we assume that there is a comma missing between “oriented” and “threatening” then we can surmise that messages that are sexually oriented are innately prohibited. The use of the word “abuse” could be interpreted broadly and include hate speech, but only that which includes “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above” (not based on sexual orientation).

Cyberbullying that is “damaging to another’s reputation” would only apply to sexual orientation if one believes that being queer diminishes one’s reputation.

The district’s Human Sexuality curriculum not only does not mention the sexuality of LGBT people at all, but it limits discussion of sexuality to that practiced within marriage. Same-sex marriage is not legal in our state, so that effectively implies abstinence is the only sanctioned possibility for queer people.

At every turn LGBT students are absent in all district policy on discrimination and harassment.
For our child, who at 10 has already been told that God only approves of heterosexuality, there is no articulated protection for her or even an acknowledgement that she exists.

“God made boys and girls differently for a reason” she is told by a child on the playground. Can we really remain neutral about that?

Justin Aaberg’s parents Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that “one form of the bullying their son endured came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.” Justin, a gay fifteen-year old high school student, hanged himself after being bullied. Justin’s story is recounted on an ABC News story about the recent suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.

“School systems need to do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, and not turn their back on them because of their sexual orientation” say the Aabergs.

I couldn’t agree more.


Be an Ally

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard, December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998

As a parent I want to make this world safer for my own child and everybody else’s gay child.

I won’t be able hide behind trees and crouch behind bushes while she goes to out into the world in order to make sure no harm comes to her.

What I can do is try to engage others in conversation about queer kids. Until she is older I can try to protect her from the ignorance or prejudice of people who know she is out.

I can be an ally and an advocate.

Yesterday I went to Safe Zone/Ally Training. I suggest that anyone who wants to make the world a safer place for members of the LGBT community consider spending an afternoon at a local training. I will proudly display my Safe Zone sticker beside my office door, so that anyone who needs a safe space will have one.

Moreover, displaying the Safe Zone sticker let’s others know they aren’t alone.

One can find plenty of information about being an ally information here.

Many universities regularly offer Safe Zone/Ally Training. Check with your local university’s LGBT Center or Women’s Center to see if or when they will offer a training session.


. . . it’s only a beginning.

October 12th will mark the 13th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

I just read a blog which reminds us, in the words of Indira Gandhi that:

Martyrdom does not end something, it’s only a beginning.

Jamie Morris Shacker writes a blog, this positive life and recently published a post Thinking of Matthew. He writes about Matthew Shepard, his own identification with Shepard, and his own life as a young gay man in a small town. I was especially moved by his story,

Growing up, I lived in fear of my hometown; I never felt safe there.  I remember walking home from work late at night wondering who was going to jump out of a car and attack me.  I still dream about those nights.  They were few but impactful nonetheless.  Or the bullying in the halls, on the play ground or just the looks and whispers behind my back, into books, etc…

Being a queer kid in a small town is not always an easy thing, in fact I cannot think of a single instance where it is.  I cannot speak to what it is like in larger cities, that simply was not my experience.  I think it must be the same, I mean no matter how big a city is, if you are ten, your world is your school and you do not have access to others outside of that world.  Well, maybe they do today with the internet.  But in my day, if you will, we certainly did not have that luxury.  Either way for hundreds of kids a computer is simply not enough.

I just wanted to write something, to express these crazy feelings I am having, to emote as I said earlier and to ask all you to never forget Matthew Shepard and to find all of those little queer kids (or any other kid who seems a little alone and isolated) and give them a hug or whatever you believe proper, so they know someone is on their side, that they are not alone.  And, when given the opportunity, speak out against hatred and violence towards anyone;  words do harm and words can be violent. When you hear someone make a negative comment about gay people in general, a specific person or any group, remember it is these attitudes that brought two young men to a field in Laramie, WY to kill.  It is this attitude and ignorance that ended a life.

Everyday I try to let my little queer kid know she is not alone by loving her and celebrating her, but just as importantly I try to surround her with as many vocal allies as possible. Yet for every one child lucky enough to be born into a queer-positive family like ours there are scores out there who are scared and alone. There are scores of children who are being negated and threatened by their own families and communities.

Most assuredly I will remember Matthew Shepard, on October 12th and every day.

 


Being Gay Bad for Your Health? No, but living in a bigoted society is.

A new study published in Sexual Research and Social Policy suggests that being stigmatized by a prejudiced society and enduring repeated “microaggressions” impact the health and well-being of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Not surprising, but always very disheartening.

The abstract for the article, “’We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism” (link to HTML of article) reads:

Stigma and social inequality deprive disadvantaged social groups of a sense of social well-being. Stress researchers have focused on prejudice-related events and conditions but have not described more intangible stressors experienced by sexual minorities. We use narrative methods to examine how sexual minorities experience stigma and social inequality as we focus on the more intangible stressors that are both pervasive and difficult to measure. Three themes emerged in the narratives of our ethnically diverse sample of 57 adult sexual minority women and men: (a) stigma deprived them of access to critical possibilities and opportunities; (b) stigma deprives them of safety and acceptance; and (c) despite this, the experience of stigma is also related to the adoption of a positive and collective orientation towards their stigmatized identities. Recognizing these stressors and related resilience can direct policy makers toward interventions that go even beyond eliminating prejudice by including goals to strengthen minority communities.

Obviously the most important response to this is to continue trying to change society. But what can we do for individuals who are being stigmatized right now?

How does one counteract this, especially if you have the opportunity to work with young members of the LGBT community? Are there ways to reduce susceptibility to the negative consequences? Are there coping mechanisms that can be taught?

Thus far my approach has been:*

  • instill a sense of pride of identity (going to Pride, identifying good role models, celebrating lesbianism, buying in-your-face t-shirts, etc.)
  • impart the knowledge that familial support is 100% and unconditional
  • foster a sense of positive agency – “I can make things better”
  • immerse her (as much as possible) in visibly queer environments to reduce the sense of isolation/encourage a sense of community

Yet, I too feel the hostility. I try not to convey the creeping fear and suspicion to my daughter. I want to convey confidence and a belief in our agency. Still, we have to talk honestly about prejudice and hatred, and how to handle it when we encounter it. So hard.

*If you are reading this and think that I must be making my kid gay, realize that this is her identity; she is sure, and she has committed to being out. Way out. This is how I know . . . How Do You Know for Sure?


HuffPo Article: “Lessons from Sharing the Story of my (Possibly) Gay 6-Year-Old Son”

This story “Lessons from Sharing the Story of my (Possibly) Gay 6-Year-Old Son” is simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking. It is so fascinating (and sad) that people both cannot believe that children can know their identities from a young age.

This story is wonderful because provides additional support for the argument that if children have positive role models and understand the very real concepts of gay, straight, lesbian, queer, trans, etc. they will be able to recognize themselves from among these identities.

And thank goodness for Glee!

“Amelia” writes: “It got me thinking and after awhile I started to feel like I knew this big secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all: Every gay adult used to be a gay kid. It’s not as if all children start off as straight until some time later when someone flips the gay switch. We are who we are from the very moment we are born.”

Yes! And the fact that some (perhaps more) children are able to articulate their identities to parents who will listen to them and honor that knowledge is a testament to the fact that we may have actually made our society better than it was before. Nowadays, there is some legal protection for my child. There are pride parades for her to attend. There are t-shirts for her to buy and wear that speak her truth to the world in proud, bright colors.

I’m sorry that one of the messages from this article is just how much vitriol this poor mother has had to endure. I thank her for sharing her story, because lots of people spoke out in support of her too.

We aren’t alone.


I Hope They Won’t Disappoint Us

I took my daughter to her first 4-H event. We hadn’t met these people before. I looked at these new people. I had to assume they are potential friends. Yet I wondered, are these people open to having a lesbian member? I listened carefully to the parents’ language for clues to their values, their affiliations, but I was still left wondering.

Will we get to know them just to have to sever our relationship with them because they are not welcoming to us?

Three years ago we lived in California during the build up to the vote on Prop 8. Over and over again I was terribly disappointed by the narrow mindedness of our neighbors. It was so hard to live with hatred and fear glaring at us from apartment windows and street corners (of course we glared back). I dread feeling that again, though I know it is unavoidable. If not in 4-H, somewhere else.

I wonder if my daughter was worrying about the same thing.


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