On Wednesday afternoon, I attended our school district’s Curriculum & Instruction Committee meeting regarding gender in the curriculum. I want to share my experience from the meeting.
At a recent Family Life Advisory Committee meeting (which I did not attend), parents were openly hostile. My reason for attending this particular C&I meeting was not to speak, but to just be there in support of what I thought would be multiple individuals who would speak in favor of the curriculum. However, it became clear that I needed to speak up in support of the curriculum as well as the LGBTQ+ community that was being othered, marginalized, and demonized in front of me.
I listened quietly as person after person went up to oppose the curriculum. Only one person spoke in favor of it—a pastor, in fact. And if I recall correctly, while many people got up and talked about God, this individual was the only church leader. (What I was too disgusted at the time to enjoy, was that when he led mentioning his profession, people were “mmhmm”ing behind me, but they stopped immediately when he began talking about introducing children to differences and acceptance.)
Someone behind me kept commenting on the fact that men were speaking up—and “good for them” for speaking up! That indicates that they think the roles of men and women are defined and limited. That’s one of the things we need to change: misconceptions about gender roles.
I walked up to the sign-in sheet and added my name, then returned to my seat—where I admittedly grew anxious.
They eventually announced me as the last speaker, so I got up and walked to the podium. I told them that I had not prepared remarks but that I also hadn’t realized that I would be in the minority, and so I felt I needed to speak up in favor of the curriculum. A board member told me that my comments were welcome.
I can only recall some of my words, but I will share what I remember, as well as clarify/elaborate, now that I have had a chance to sit with the experience.
My voice was shaking, and I believe my hands were as well. I was not eloquent, so I cringe knowing that the video will be posted by the school board—and that I might see video circulating from one of the iPhones pointed at me by people who were using their eyes and phones to record, not their ears to listen.
I said that I was ashamed of a community that wants to hide people. (To be unmistakably clear: I mean this.)
I addressed something that people kept saying: that there was no problem that needed to be solved. I said that bullying of the LGBTQ+ community was a problem and that familiarity/acceptance of differences (I think those were the words I used) could help reduce it.
At some point, I turned away from the committee and toward the parents in the room.
One parent had rhetorically asked if the district was going to pay the therapy bills of their confused kids. I said that the therapy bills would be zero if their LGBTQ child committed suicide for not feeling supported, and I told them to Google the suicide rate. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/facts-about-lgbtq-youth-suicide/
One woman had made a comment that there wasn’t an issue with gender in certain career fields. She said that her chemical engineering class had been at least half women, many years ago. While still in my seat, I googled the statistics. I mentioned at the podium that it was around 80% men (clarification: statistics show 60-81% male, depending upon where you look. Current STEM career information available from US Census Bureau at https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/01/women-making-gains-in-stem-occupations-but-still-underrepresented.html )
Female student population is increasing; however, I wonder if the speaker believes that that magically happened on its own, or if advocacy and targeted programs played a role.
One parent had claimed that this curriculum would lead to teachers telling girls who are uncomfortable in their bodies that they were trans. I asked the parents to show me, in the curriculum, where it said that teachers would be telling children that they’re trans.
I directed a comment toward a woman who had scoffed about what—are there trans lesbians?, by saying that yes, there are trans lesbians.
One woman mentioned that children are just children, playing with each other, not caring if someone is African American or what. I said that sure, children play with one another without being homophobic or racist–until someone teaches them to be. (To further clarify: until someone tells, implies, or shows them with behavior.) I didn’t have the wherewithal to mention that my neighbor pulled her mixed-race kindergartner* from my local elementary school because of the racist words and behavior toward her. This community has already taken the children who would be happily playing with their African-American friends and turned them into racists. If you’re wondering if I’m exaggerating about the racist behavior in our region, I point you to the post I recently wrote about the gun-toting racist students threatening Black students in our district on social media.
But back to the actual topic of the day that several people attempted to steer away from.
Several people mentioned that the children are too young for this awareness. It was not until I had returned to my seat that I recalled a moment when my child was five. Here’s the Facebook post I wrote that day:
I have been watching watching classic Sesame Street sketches with Sequoia, who is home sick… In a sketch this morning, Ernie, wearing a safari hat and toting binoculars, approached Bert, who was reading on a chair; he then began watching Bert through the binoculars. Bert asks what he’s doing, he says he’s friend watching.
Sequoia: They’re not friends. They live together.
Me: They do live together.
Sequoia: They’re not just friends. They’re more than friends.
Me: They probably are more than friends.
Sequoia: I think they’re a family.
Me: I think you’re right.
My five-year-old, without coaching or instruction, was identifying two male puppets as potentially not just friends but a family. She didn’t surmise that they were brothers or cousins–just “a family”. I am not identifying Bert and Ernie as having any specific relationship or identity–I’m just saying that children do notice family structures differing from their own. Why hide two daddies or two mommies as a family structure from them? Are these parents calling their own children unintuitive?
At some point, I got to what angered and upset me the most: the folks who had claimed that this would lead to, or was akin to, pedophilia; and that this curriculum was ”grooming” children to talk to adults besides their parents about sex. (In other words, they began to use their political, homophobic buzzwords.)
I was too upset to string together a lot of words, but then I at least found the words to tell them that it was disgusting to hear them link the two.
What I didn’t have the clarity to say was this:
I also did not have the clarity to say this:
Pedophiles do not want your child to be comfortable telling a teacher about the man next door who is sexually abusing them. Pedophiles like secrets.
Every time someone said that it’s okay to be LGBTQ+ but…,
their but or however, or whichever conjunction they used to indicate the coming contradiction, showed us, without words, what they really thought.
Their buts told the gay high school student who got up during open comments and bravely spoke about his experiences in the district—in front of a crowd of adults that had just indicated that gay people should be hidden away—how they actually felt.
And I now say to the opponents who were in that room: If your child does not fit your norm, you are showing them, without doubt, that you believe they should be hidden. That you are ashamed of them. That you do not accept them. That you do not love them for who they are.
You have shown your child that you are not a safe person to come to about their identity.
A flyer was passed around by parents at the end of the meeting. In large print, it said either You have a choice, or You have a voice. I don’t know the contents of the flyer because the person in front of me handed it back to the woman who had given it to him so that the flyer didn’t make it to me or the pastor who had spoken in favor of the curriculum.
That shows that no matter what words they use, they do not in fact think that everyone has a choice/voice. Just their bigotry.
Original post edited to correct that my neighbor’s daughter who transferred out of one of the local elementary schools is in Kindergarten, not first grade. So yeah…that’s even younger that parents are turning their kids into bigots. It is too late to reach many parents; it’d be nice if we could at least prevent the kids from becoming bigots, too.