Equality Everywhere

Equality. Everywhere.

Because my baby deserves it too.


Parent of Gender-Nonconforming Child Speaks Out

Over the past 24 hours I have been able to observe and contribute to discussions carried on about my post “Where, oh, where are the queer children?” Some readers suggested that I am overreaching that my daughter is gay or that I am reading her behavior with some wish for a gay child. Fortunately, the bulk of the readers recounted their own stories of being 4, 5, and 6 and having a first gay crush. Most of those who told such stories recounted that they just didn’t have the concepts or the language to describe how they felt.

The dialogue that has started is exactly what I hoped it would be – people contemplating and raising awareness that kids are coming out earlier than ever before. It is vital to know that these kids exist and need their own support.

Save Your Two Cents

Nevertheless, I would like to convey is that until you are in the shoes of a parent whose child does not fit society’s notion of “appropriate” it’s probably better to default to grandma’s old adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Writer and mother Sarah Hoffman’s column today on the Gay Voices page of the Huffington Post addresses comments made by Fox News’s on-air psychiatrist Keith Ablow about a transgendered child and his belief that her parents are failing her and in fact may be unduly influencing her desire to be Tammy, not Thomas. In “Keith Ablow: Until You Have a Gender-Nonconforming Child, Stop Condemning Those Who Do” Hoffman describes her own life as a mom of a gender-nonconforming child and reveals:

that when you have a child who defies expectations, you find yourself making choices you never thought you’d have to make.

Parents, most parents at least, love their children deeply and want the very best for them. What’s best for an individual child may take many forms and be decided under extreme cultural pressure. Yet parents nurture children, sacrifice for them so they have every opportunity and live the healthiest, happiest, and safest life possible. Why would any parent choose to forge an identity for their child that would put them at odds with society and expose them to prejudice and danger?

Hoffman goes on to say:

A bigger mystery is why Ablow thinks any parent would want their child to be different in this way. Parents like Tammy’s are demonized; children like Tammy are ostracized and bullied. The notion that parents would try to make their children targets galls many parents.

She touches on two points here. First, most parents are floored to be accused of crafting their child’s identity so they are singled out for ridicule and aggression. Secondly, when children are very young the parents bear much of the brunt of the prejudice. C.J.’s mom at Raising My Rainbow recounts many stories about all kinds of strangers weighing in on her son’s gender-nonconforming clothing or toy choices and her parental failings.

Out in Front

The parents of a child who is gender-nonconforming, transgendered, or vocally outspoken about their lgb identity endure scrutiny, disdain, and outsiders telling them how they are failing as a parent. As a parent I want to be on the front line. I want people to question me or criticize me, because I don’t want my daughter questioned about her identity. I want her to enjoy being a little girl without being harassed for being who she is.

Raising kids is hard enough without bigoted strangers offering ignorant opinions about how to parent our kids.


“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


LGBT-friendly Schools

With my daughter out as a lesbian at school I am holding my breath waiting to see what happens. So far so good. She has almost two years to go until middle school though. Middle school was just the worst for me, and from the kids I know in the neighborhood who are in or just graduated from middle school it still is hard to endure.

Earlier this week I avoided doing work and tried to assuage my concerns about my daughter by checking out the local school district’s Visual Arts Magnet middle school and high school on the internet. Maybe those schools would offer a more nurturing, diverse environment for my artistically-inclined daughter, I thought. Educationally, I feel the future is up in the air in a way it wasn’t before. I just don’t know what’s going to happen at school tomorrow, next month, next year and the media offers me a daily array of nightmares to ponder.

I used to live in NYC near the Harvey Milk school for LGBT kids. As I understood it from someone who used to teach there the kids who manage to transfer to Harvey Milk had a really rough time wherever they’d been before. It wasn’t a school you went to just to enjoy the comradeship of other queer kids. Schools like Harvey Milk are few and far between.

Thus far my girl has been tough and brave. She says the kids who use religion to denounce her are stupid; she claims she doesn’t listen to them. Perhaps more importantly she has a circle of friends who embrace her (though I am pretty sure most of the parents still haven’t heard about her disclosure from their kids yet – let’s see what happens when the news trickles up to the parents). Her natural commitment to social justice would suggest that she can handle life in the neighborhood public school – that she might even do some good there.

Yet as a mother I don’t want ANYONE to be mean to my kid. Obviously, that is unrealistic since kids are mean to each other for many reasons and few people, if any, get out of childhood without a few battle scars.

TIME magazine is running a special feature on bullying, and one of the articles is about the Alliance School in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s an LGBT-friendly charter school, the first in the nation. The article gives voice to the kids who find the Alliance School a safe haven, as well as those who would say my daughter might be better placed in her neighborhood school, for her own sake and for the sake of her classmates.

The article, A Separate Peace argues that schools like Alliance might not be the answer, yet for some children a school like this is the thing that will keep them alive long enough to make it through school. Author Kayla Webley writes,

Parents want to protect their kids, but is wrapping them in an Alliance-style cocoon of tolerance the best solution? Some conservatives oppose the idea of a gay-friendly school on moral grounds, others for fiscal reasons: Why should taxpayers help make sexuality a central part of a child’s or a school’s identity? Developmental experts — and many gay activists — question the wisdom of shielding some students rather than teaching kids coping skills and promoting an atmosphere of respect on all campuses. “Being segregated doesn’t help gay kids learn, it doesn’t help straight kids learn, it doesn’t help bullies learn,” says Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor at Cornell University who chairs the human-development department. “All it does is relieve the school and the teachers of responsibility. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.” And yet to some bullying victims, it’s nothing short of a lifeline.

It is hard to embrace the argument that taking queer kids out of hostile schools is a problem because it relieves the schools of the duty to educate their staff and students about diversity and LGBT issues, and fails to hold the schools accountable for teaching bullies the error of their ways. As far as I can tell many schools are choosing to ignore LGBT students until someone dies. Moreover, in many states it seems to be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get LGBT awareness materials added to the curriculum in any form.
I’d like to know that there was a school like the Alliance School in our general area, just in case life gets tougher for our girl down the road. For now I will keep holding my breath and waiting.

LGBT Discrimination by School Leadership Disgraceful

School principals set the tone for the culture of the school. This situation is disgraceful.

Tennessee’s Principal’s Reaction to GSA T-Shirt Raises the Question: Who’s Really Causing the Disruption Here?

Sequoyah High School student Chris Sigler were seeking to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school. Sequoyah principal Maurice Moser thwarted their efforts at every turn.

The Sequoyah High School GSA should have been a done deal by now…if it weren’t for the principal, Maurice Moser. When they circulated a petition to show support for the GSA and got over 150 signatures, students say Moser banned petitions about the GSA at the school. Then, when Chris and two other students put together an application for school recognition of the GSA, Moser wouldn’t even take it from them because they hadn’t named a faculty sponsor. At least three teachers have expressed interest in sponsoring the GSA but then changed their minds after meeting with Moser about it. We’ve read that Moser has admitted that in the past, when other clubs needed sponsors, he helped them out – but this time he refused to help.

When Sigler wore a t-shirt emblazoned with “Gay Straight Alliance: We’ve Got Your Back” the principal told him to change his shirt, turn it inside out, or go home.

Chris ignored that [demand], because he knew his shirt was fine under the Sequoyah dress code. Later, Moser charged into Chris’s economics class, interrupted the students in the middle of taking a test, and ordered everyone except Chris to leave. What happened next is a matter for the criminal justice system. But putting aside the assault and battery allegations against Moser, it’s unconstitutional and totally inappropriate for a high school student to be punished for speaking his mind peacefully through the words on a T-shirt. The Supreme Court says that students can express whatever ideas they want through their clothing as long as they don’t cause a “substantial disruption,” and it sounds like the only person causing a substantial disruption at Sequoyah last week was Moser.

Stories like this not only anger me, but they make me wonder what the future holds for our family. My daughter is just the kind of person who’d start a GSA if the school didn’t already have one. In fact, if she knew about them now she’d probably try to start one in her elementary school.

The sense of clarity and resolution that I used to have about my daughter’s public school education, like she’ll go to X Middle School and then onto Y High School, has completely disappeared. Now I know we’ll play it by ear and try to find the most nurturing/least hostile environment for her.

All of a sudden the grade on her last spelling test doesn’t seem so important.


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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