This report was released today:
“All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families”
“All Children Matter” was released by the Center for American Progress, the Family Equality Council, and the Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with COLAGE, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the National Association of Social Workers (with a foreword by the Child Welfare League of America).
Do check out the All Children Matter website, download the report, and share it with others.
Interestingly, in terms of the most LGBT headed households per capita (where more than 1 in 4 same-sex couples are raising kids): Mississippi tops the list, and Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma hold the 4th-8th spots.
Seven of the 12 states with the greatest number of LGBT headed households are in the South.
While the information in this report doesn’t surprise me – reading it gave me chills. Such frightening realities presented in black and white. This is a very important read.
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
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.)
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.
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?