Today is National Coming Out Day, which is because (to lift a quote from their page): “It’s the courage to come out as an active voice for LGBT equality that will result in real political and social change.”
Last night I used the Human Rights Campaign’s handy little Facebook app to change my status to something about how I’m a straight ally to the cause, and not five minutes later I saw one of my “friends” had changed her status to say that she would not be changing her status, because she absolutely will not support people being proud of their sin, which should rightfully be “hidden in the closet.” I removed her from my friends list.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t really care what you think about people being gay. You are entitled to your opinion. Even if it’s wrong. (Kidding!) (Not really!) But when you start saying things designed to shame others, things indicating that you feel entitled to dictate to others that they are not just wrong but BAD and UNACCEPTABLE, now you’re treading in dangerous territory.
And if you’re a parent, from where I sit you are doing something unforgivable.
When a parent purposely fails to provide a child with basic needs—food, water, shelter, even love—we call that child abuse. Why do we not call it child abuse when a parent purposely teaches a child hatred and intolerance?
The news is filled with stories of kids being bullied—sometimes to death—over their sexual orientation or other perceived differences. And I’m pretty sure not one of the perpetrators in any of these well-publicized incidents was born pre-programmed to think that tormenting another human was a-okay.
To be fair, I’m sure there’s lots of cases where the parents haven’t actively taught their kids to be jerks. The wonderful thing about children is that they learn by example. So maybe the parents didn’t say “let’s go hate on people different from us!” but instead just conducted themselves in a way that clearly communicated that different = bad and that any resultant behavior from this hypothesis is somehow excusable. Or maybe the parents are perfectly fine, upstanding people who never made it crystal clear to their kids exactly what the expectations are when it comes to dealing with other people, even those who are different.
Here’s what I think: Teaching your children to be tolerant and compassionate is NOT OPTIONAL. Withhold that from your kids, and to me you’re no better than the parent who doesn’t feed the kid who’s been “naughty.” Raising your children to be kind members of society is part of your duty as a parent.
Listen, people do things I find abhorrent. All the time. I don’t have to like it. But it doesn’t give me the right to harass them. It doesn’t give me the right to make sweeping judgments about them as people, or to try to restrict their constitutional rights. It doesn’t give ANYONE the right to treat them as less than people.
And part of my JOB as a parent is to make sure my kids understand that. Part of my job as a parent is to open a dialog with them, and keep it going, about what is acceptable and what’s not when it comes to dealing with others. Part of my job as a parent is to make it very clear to my kids that we will not tolerate them behaving badly towards others.
If I’m being 100% honest, I have to tell you that Monkey says and does some pretty rotten things to those he perceives as different/wrong on a regular basis. It’s part of the Asperger’s; first, that he’s so rigid in how he thinks everything should be, and second, that he often doesn’t get that his reactions can be hurtful to others. If ever there was an excuse to let a kid be a little jerk (“Oh, he can’t help it!”), this is it. But he is not excused, ever, not even for this, because it’s not okay. We explain it to him over and over and over, and progress is very slow, but the message remains the same: It’s not okay to make other people feel bad for being who they are, period. We are working through it, every single day. (The great irony here, of course, is that Monkey is often bullied. Guess what? It’s still not okay for him to do it to someone else, even by accident!)
Chickadee doesn’t have a disability, but she does happen to be a nearly-teen-aged girl, and—having been one of those before, myself—I think she and her friends do sometimes veer off into the land of “playful” torment. The distance between “just kidding around” and “actively bullying” is a lot shorter than any of us would like to believe, by the way. So we work with her, too. It’s not okay to make other people feel bad. Furthermore, there is an expectation in this family that you will conduct yourself with kindness and compassion, and if/when it becomes clear that that is not the case, there will be consequences.
I wouldn’t just not feed my kids because I can’t be bothered to think about it. Are you going to avoid talking to your kids about this stuff because you’re too busy? It’s not optional. It’s part of raising them to be good citizens of the world.
For National Coming Out Day, I challenge you to talk to your kids. Let them know what is and what isn’t acceptable to YOU, so that they can work on figuring out what’s acceptable to THEM. And you don’t have to think every difference is hunky-dory to have those conversations in a productive way; even if you think something is “wrong,” hopefully you believe that calling out and shaming people is wrong, too.
This is not about “sin” or what’s “right.” If you must couch your arguments in the language of sin, well, I seem to recall a story in the bible about the person without sin casting the first stone. And if you want to talk about what’s right, what’s right is treating people like human beings worthy of compassion and understanding EVEN IF you don’t personally agree with their every choice.
And if you’re a parent, what’s right is teaching your children that it’s never okay to bully or denigrate another human being. Does that sound hard? It really isn’t. Start by loving the bejeezus out of them, because people who are well-loved don’t tend to feel the need to be mean. And then follow up by talking, and listening, and then talking and listening some more. Don’t feel like you can fully support the lifestyle choices of others? That’s fine. Can you support not appointing yourself or your kids judge, jury and jailers? Can you support just erring on the side of NICE?
It’s not optional. Ever.
[Edited to add: I'm still sitting here thinking about this. Look, if for whatever reason none of the preceding has made sense to you, let me make this really easy even for the most closed-minded and selfish out there: Teaching your kids that bullying is wrong makes them less likely to become targets of bullies, themselves, and more likely to seek help if they do. There; a perfectly selfish reason to teach your children about kindness. That should cover everyone, now.]