Accidental Role Models: Integrity and Bold Action

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.


Reflecting LGBT/Gender Queer Kids

I continue to hunt for good books for LGBT/gender queer kids and tweens. I am looking for books that celebrate their identities or at least make their identities a part of a story that is not about overcoming/surviving bullying/self-hatred/family rejection.

Today the Huffington Post published an article Dreaming of Dresses: Transgender Books for Children. The author B.J. Epstein is spot on when she writes about the need for more books for the five to twelve year-old set.

I am unfortunately aware of no texts about transgender characters for readers between five and twelve or so. However, there are a couple of picture books, which at least can be used with children up until the age of five or six, regardless of whether they are themselves trans or know any trans people.

My Princess Boy, which is by Cheryl Kilodavis and illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone, is about a boy who likes pink and enjoys wearing tiaras and other princess clothes. While there is no indication that this boy is transgender, in that he seems to identify as a boy, the book is positive in that the boy is accepted for who he is and how he likes to dress.

This is a strong message to pass on to children. It doesn’t matter if the princess boy is transgender or not, if he will grow up to identify as a transvestite, if he will be straight or gay or bisexual; for now, he is a little boy who likes pink sparkly dresses, and that’s completely fine with his relatives, classmates and teachers.

As Epstein notes, the princess boy is awesome as he is in this moment. It is not important if he grows up to be gay or transgendered or so on. This is message that needs to be hear more frequently . . . yes, here comes my “but.”

Books about Gay Characters for Kids

I think we need to add to the corpus of books for LGBT/Gender-Nonconforming kids with books that offer narratives for kids that identify as LGB too. Little girls read Cinderella and watch endless hours of princess stories and most parents don’t find them overly sexualized or problematic–of course many of us criticize those stories as anti-feminist, yet it is just about impossible to shield our kids from the complete domination that those stories have on the three to nine-year old entertainment market.

What if we began to write princess meets princess or prince meets prince overcomes hardship/evil witch/awful stepmother, and then finds romance and domestic bliss in a well-appointed castle, fairy tales? Would there be an outcry of this is “teaching kids to be gay”? What if these books were shelved between Peter Pan and Snow White in the library and any kid might read them?

That might result in tolerance and understanding before children even enrolled in kindergarten.

There are plenty of books about kids having gay parents and that is wonderful, but young readers are meant to identify with the children in those stories not the parents.

My tween needs books in which the hero/heroine is gay, but that isn’t the entire story. I’d like to note that the comic Runaways, Volume 8, “Dead End Kids” written by Joss Whedon fits the bill beautifully, but it is not suitable for younger readers.

One last note: anyone know a introduction to puberty and sexuality book for tweens that addresses LGBT issues? As my baby says in In Her Own Words:

We want to be taught who we are. In sex ed we want to be taught what to do with our lives. I don’t want to learn about something I’m not. If they’re not going to give me a proper education, what’s the point?


Queer Kids Make this a Better World for Everyone

I love how our queer kid has changed our lives.

Because of her . . .

I work harder to make the world better for all queer kids.

I have the chance to participate in her own amazing, unique journey.

I see the world through different eyes.

I am more courageous.

I demand more authenticity and truthfulness from myself. If she is going to put her identity on the line, I better do it too.

I have a great role model to follow.

I am a better person.

Thank you, my sweet girl. I love you.


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.


“When Do Gay Kids Start ‘Acting Gay’?”

Slate.com article When Do Gay Kids Start “Acting Gay?” from September 2011.

This article may make some problematic connections, especially for those who argue that early childhood behavior should not be used as a indicator of a child’s future self identification. Queerty blogger Raising My Rainbow certainly got an earful about this from her commenters (look back through some of her earlier posts. Geesh.).

I do wonder how people who’ve never met our kids can make such authoritative statements . . . .

Nevertheless, this article does a nice job of furthering the argument that some children exhibit same-sex crushes before they know how to describe them. And nowadays many children are gaining the vocabulary to describe their feelings quite early, like the six-year-old son of “Amelia” (also at Huff Post). She wrote about her son’s crush on Blaine from Glee in her post “Mommy, they are just like me” over at Tumblr.


Queer Kid Speaks to Other Queer Kids – Installment 1

Tonight my daughter suggested that we start a book for queer kids:

I want to write this because I want other people who are in my situation to know. I have my mother, but my mother had nobody, so I understand how hard it is to be understood.

If you’re my age and are reading this you probably already know you are gay or lesbian or transgendered or bisexual. It’s not one of those things you learn early on – I was 7 when I learned. But some kids learn at 5 because they have a crush on an older person.

I might not be the most perfect and you might not think I am stating the truth, but you should come out.

Here’s the way I do it:

I say, “do you believe in gay rights?” If they say “yes,” then it’s a step and you say, “I’m gay” or “I’m lesbian.”

If they say “no,” then you just drop the subject because you don’t want to tell haters.

I think that it’s important to let everybody know. But I’ve learned from experience that not everyone is open minded enough to see that we’re still people.

We deserve rights.

We want to be taught who we are. In sex ed we want to be taught what to do with our lives. I don’t want to learn about something I’m not. If they’re not going to give me a proper education, what’s the point?

Why do we learn about Martin Luther King and not Billie Jean King or Harvey Milk? It’s not fair. They’re not giving us the education we need. These people did great things. They are right up there on The Famous People List and they should be taught. They did something for our world. They didn’t just bring equality, but something new. They brought me. I don’t have to just be fighting alone. I am fighting with them.

I know I’m not fighting alone and for all of you who are reading this YOU AREN’T EITHER!

You should be learning about gay culture and who you are and we should get the right education. We don’t need to only learn about straight people. We want to learn about us. We want to learn about who we are!

I just want to stress to you how much we need to learn. I feel like we are alienated out, but we’re still part of this world. We aren’t aliens.

- daughter, age 10

In her own words.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers