11:31 p.m. EDT May 11, 2016
The toughest conversation I've ever had with my 5-year-old son was about tomorrow.
The concept, I mean.
It goes something like this: "Is today tomorrow?" "No, tomorrow is tomorrow." "When will today be tomorrow?" "Today is always today and tomorrow is always the day after today, and when tomorrow is today it stops being tomorrow and becomes today." "So ... today is tomorrow?" I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.
On the other hand, the subject of gay relationships, often held up as a bogeyman of uncomfortable parental conversations, was a snap. On the way home from a party at the home of two gay friends, my son asked if the men were brothers. "No," I answered, "Boyfriends." And that was pretty much that.
That's what I'd like to tell a parent who protested at a state Board of Education meeting Tuesday that proposed school guidelines aimed at improving inclusion of and tolerance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students made for difficult conversations with her daughter, about why "they" want her to use the bathroom with boys -- it doesn't have to be hard.
The standards -- which the state board is considering, and could be adopted on a voluntary basis by school districts if approved by the board -- offer a broad framework to make schools safer and more supportive for LGBT kids. But that bathroom thing -- that gender nonconforming kids should use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, rather than their birth anatomy -- is the part that's drawn the most ire.
For trans people, their gender identity -- the gender they instinctively identify as -- doesn't match the anatomy they're assigned at birth. And while our culture has grown more accepting of gay and lesbian Americans, transgender people often face open discrimination, in the workplace and other settings. About 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide at least once. Violence against transgender Americans continues to rise. Transgender kids are at risk of bullying and harassment in schools. So the standards the board is debating aren't for show. They're a response to real danger posed to LGBT students in Michigan schools.
And that's why what we tell our kids -- who could, after all, be LGBT themselves -- about their transgender classmates is incredibly important.
When these conversations are difficult, when we share our own discomfort, what we're communicating to kids is that the subject of those conversations has a negative value attached -- that what we're talking about is strange. That it invites judgment.
And marking any group of people out as different, as targets for scorn -- or communicating to kids that it's appropriate to disapprove of the fact of someone else's existence -- helps to perpetuate discrimination, and the threat to LGBT kids.
The state Board of Education expects to make a decision on the standards by August. But whether the board approves the standards or not, there's a practical component to dispelling parental discomfort -- LGBT kids, inevitably, will exist in your child's world, whether you're OK with that or not. Whether you understand it or not. Whether you're comfortable or not.
So what should you tell your kids? If my son asks about those bathroom guidelines, I'll go with this: "Take care of your business and don't worry about what anyone else is doing."
It's advice most of us should learn to follow.
Source: Detroit Free Press