Yesterday marked the end of Pride 2022. All of the corporate rainbow logos will go back into the closet for another year and whatever rainbow capitalism items were in the stores will be marked down. Remember to stock up for next year, okay?
Pride has been unusually challenging for me this year. I’ve been going through some things that meant I was too sick to really enjoy it. But the end of Pride Month this year is also really difficult for me. On July 1, 2022, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law goes into effect. Alongside it comes the “Stop Woke Act,” which bans the teaching of “critical race theory” (which isn’t actually what’s being taught to school kids but that’s a different story) and prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear personal responsibility for historic wrongs because of their race, color, sex or national origin. These two new laws have far reaching power to affect classroom teachers and students all over Florida. And they have teachers (and parents) worried.
A Shadow Hung over Pride 2022
Teachers are already being told to remove rainbow stickers and safe space symbols from classrooms. They’re being warned not to wear clothing with rainbows or with logos or slogans supporting Black Lives Matter. They’re being told that they have to remove photos showing same sex families–including their own families (but the same demand has not been made about heterosexual-presenting images.) Teachers are being told that they must use pronouns assigned at birth, and in some cases that they must out students to parents or guardians.
This is devastating. It’s also dangerous.
As I write, on the eve of these laws coming into force, I am filled with fear and with sadness. I ache for every questioning kid who no longer knows that they have a safe person to talk to at school. I grieve for every queer kid who will no longer see positive images to help shape their identity–something that would have meant so much to me when I was growing up. And for every kid who is being raised in a family with queer people, I am sad that they may no longer have the opportunity to talk freely and openly about the people who love them. And what about the opportunities to create true allyship that are all now being lost?
Yeah, I’m angry.
Events Surrounding Pride 2022 Have Made us Step Backward, not Forward
I’m angry about all of the missed opportunities that will happen. Opportunities to teach tolerance and to go beyond that to inclusion? What about love and the value of others? To emphasize the inherent worth and dignity of all people. To recognize the different things we each bring to the table and how those unique experiences shape so many things about our lives and about how we work with each other.
What might this do to the existence of Gay-Straight Alliances at schools? These are often the only safe spaces children have when they’re uncertain and exploring. Especially when they’re living in homes or with families where it’s not welcoming or safe for them to be out. We only have to look back at the impact COVID had to see how kids were affected by the loss of these welcoming environments. We know that GSAs in school reduce anti-queer bullying, sucidal ideation and suicide attempts among queer kids. They have a positive impact on straight kids too. When we consider that as many as forty five percent of queer youth have considered suicide in the past year. And fourteen percent have attempted it. When we recognize the low rates of support at home for gender non-conforming kids. What are we doing?
We know how important social support is, how much an affirming educational environment matters. And some politicians and some parents are anxious to take all of this away. If growing up in an environment that pressed compulsory heterosexuality worked, I’d be a lot straighter than I am. This won’t make more straight kids. It will make more dead kids. Note to politicians: dead kids can’t grow up to be adults who vote.
Pride 2022 is Done… How Do we Move Forward?
How do we teach tolerance? More specifically, how do we hand our world to children who have been deprived of opportunities to learn all of these important lessons about justice and equity and equality? And how do parents counteract the messages that our children will be getting in school? We know how powerful the influence of teachers can be. But it goes further than that. What’s going to happen now when someone gets called gay on the playground because they’re not good at kickball? Or because they like art class instead of phys. ed. and recess? What about the theater kids?
How much less safe are our children going to be going into a world where they never learn to deal with people who are different? Where the only lessons they have about it are intolerance and fear and silence?
Keep the Mission in Mind
It’s not our world that we need to prepare children for. It’s one that has changed since we were children. And one that keeps changing. It’s always going to be difficult to talk about the things that have changed because they are unfamiliar and perhaps even frightening to us. That doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to do it. In fact, those of us who have children around us who we care about are even more obligated to learn how to talk about these things.
Again and again as I write about these things, I reach for the words of Rabindranath Tagore, who said: “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” Because it is a different time. I grew up in a time when people were terrified of gay people because of AIDS. Now we have PrEP and effective treatment. I grew up in a time where same sex marriage was unimaginable. Where gender and sex meant the same thing, and there were only two options. The world is brighter and better for so many of the changes that have happened in my lifetime. It’s not healthy nor fair to my children or to any child for us to be going in reverse.
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.-Rabindranath Tagore