We were in Dollar General grabbing a few things back in the summer, when Spawn (that’s my nickname for my 10-year-old son) decided he needed a new backpack. He didn’t really. The one from last year was still in good shape, but a new one had caught his eye.
Spawn: I want this one.
Me: This one?
Spawn: This one.
Me: Baby, are you sure?
Spawn: Yeah. Can I have it?
Now, I’m not stingy with my kids, and as long as I have the money, I am not opposed to buying them things within reason, even if it’s not a necessity. But this backpack…
It was covered in rainbow sequins. I knew immediately that we were about to be in some murky waters.
Me: Baby, I love this backpack. I think it’s beautiful. You know I love sequins and rainbows. But you know how kids are. Are you SURE?
Spawn: I’m not worried about stupid people. There’s no boy colors and girl colors. The rainbow is for everybody.
Me: Well I know that. And you know that. But you know how people ARE… So, what are you gonna do if I buy you this new backpack, and then you end up all sideways when someone starts giving you crap about it at school?
Spawn: I’ll tell them what I just said. And if they get stupid after that, they can taste the rainbow.
He completely won me over with his impenetrable logic, so we bought the backpack. And things were great for precisely twenty school days.
On the twenty-first day, my son came home in tears.
You see, in the course of those first three weeks of school, proudly wearing his sparkly rainbow sequined backpack, Spawn had become a shining light for his friends who were struggling, but also a target for some other children who’ve grown up with hate in their homes.
And still, the thing is that he wasn’t even upset for himself. He was far more upset and concerned for his friends who are scared to come out and have to be so damn careful not to give themselves away, because they can clearly see how tough a time he’s having already. Because he actually gives a damn about people other than himself, his heart is hurting.
My first reaction is straight up Mama Bear Mode. If you hurt my kids, I will cut you. But I know deep in my heart that these kids are only mirroring what they hear at home, and I can’t be there for those kids. But I can be here for mine. Always.
So, I said to my him, “I know this feels yucky, but you also need to remember that being gay isn’t a bad thing. So it’s the same as if someone were to be like, ‘HA HA HA! You have BLUE EYES!‘ you know? Like, ‘So? There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s your point?‘ Ignorant people are always going to find something to make trouble about. I know it hurts and it sucks, but we just have to learn how to turn that around and be bigger.”
Spawn returned, “That’s true. But, Momma, it’s also true that making fun of people makes them feel bad about themselves. It makes it harder for them to make friends, trust people, and even might not want to come to school at all.”
I can’t tell you the depth of how much I hate that he knows these things and why. And further, we don’t speak of it out loud on this day, but we’ve talked about it before: That suicide rates for LGBTQIA+ kids are so so high.
Indeed, according to The Trevor Project:
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
- LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost THREE times the rate of their straight peers.
- LGBTQIA+ youth are almost FIVE times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to their straight peers.
- LGBTQIA+ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQIA+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
- Each episode of LGBTQIA+ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
Together, we decide (he and I), that we can’t sit silently by and mutely try to take the high road on this. We sit down side by side and composed a message to his teacher. I went to the school’s website and filled out their online bullying report.
I received a call first thing the next morning. The counselor, thankfully, was very invested in making sure my son and his friends were safe, and laid out a plan of action that the school intended to take.
Luckily, since then, we have had no further issues, but I won’t fool myself with lies that this will be the end. Not for him, and not for his peers.
If you are the type of person who is still telling your kids — or even indulging in silence with the idea — that there is anything wrong with being gay, then I need for you to understand the harm you’re doing to other people’s kids — and your own.
Most people, I hope, don’t want to raise bullies. Most people, I hope, are upset when they find out that their kids are those kids– the ones who pick on others and make other kids’ lives miserable. But so often, people just don’t understand how their children mirror and internalize lessons of “otherness” that may be fostered in the home. Whether by a parent ‘slipping’ and saying something harmful, or by the parent not going out of their way to talk about difference and acceptance. A kid’s home environment can do damage far beyond not just to that kid, but to others around them, and to the world.
All of our children deserve to be safe at school. They deserve the chance to learn in an environment where they’re not constantly singled out, taunted, and assaulted, for any reason, but most especially for reasons beyond their control.
If you are one of these people who hasn’t fully accepted that LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights, now is not the time to be defensive. We don’t need the excuses, the reasons, the rationales. We don’t need the justifications. We need you to commit to do better. Our kids deserve it.