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The Kids Are Alright

Kids never cease to surprise me. On May 16 a strange thing happened in Denver.  There was a rally in support of marriage equality that drew several hundred people to the Capitol.  Taken at face value, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the event.  But what made this a national story was learning that the rally was the brainchild of nine year old Ethan McNamee, a third grader.

Displaying a flair for organization that many adults would do well to imitate, McNamee lined up speakers from PFLAG, the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, and other groups, in addition to asking the mayor and a senator for their participation.  He also gave a speech where he declared that LGBTs are “the same as other people. They just love somebody else."

Clearly, this is an impressive child who already has made a bolder contribution to the LGBT movement than most people are likely to accomplish during their lives.   But I get a funny feeling when it comes to enlisting children in the battle for LGBT rights.  Besides this example, I am thinking of Chance Nalley, a seventh grade teacher in Harlem who invited students to his commitment ceremony, as well as California teacher Erin Carder, whose marriage was upstaged when a parent brought a group of first graders to the proceedings. The latter case became something of a rallying cry by proponents of Proposition 8, who seized upon this as an example of how gay relationships would be “taught” to children.

And that is the problem with involving kids in social issues.  While it is no doubt a effective propaganda tool, is it fair to thrust children into situations they may not fully understand?  While the examples I mentioned were done in the name of progressive ideals, one can easily think of the flipside, such as cults like the Branch Davidians or  Jonestown, or hate groups.

Earlier this year, there was a story about a New Jersey couple who named their children Adolph Hitler and Aryan Nation (they came to prominence because a bakery wouldn’t decorate three year old Adolph’s birthday cake with his full name). Each time I think about them, or see photos of children at KKK rallies or Fred Phelps protests, I wonder how they are going to feel as adults.  Will they continue to hold the beliefs they were raised with, as many of us do, or will they develop a different outlook towards people and feel anger, guilt, and shame at how they were used as pawns by people who were  supposed to have their best interests in mind?

For now, McNamee seems determined in his support for LGBT equality, which was inspired by his relationship with a lesbian couple in his neighborhood and his parents stressing the importance of diversity.  I’m sure the kids who attended the marriages have a positive view on LGBT people, and it’s always said that social change has to begin with the youth. After all, Whitney Houston informed us that children are the future back in 1986, so I understand the desire to have them see us in a positive light. But I would caution against letting the feel-good nature of these stories obscure the creepy issues lurking beneath the surface.

On a different topic….. Adam Lambert lost in the finale of American Idol. While some people are distraught over the result, I am finding it difficult to ascribe much importance to the show.

For those who viewed it as a referendum on the acceptance of gay people, I would offer two points.  First of all, I cannot think of any instance in which LGBT people won when our issues were put to a popular vote. Instead, gains have been made as a result of judicial or legislative action, not the “will of the people.” So it is not surprising that Lambert lost to Kris Allen, a straight, married man active in the campus ministry at his college in Arkansas.

Also, despite giving every indication of being gay, Lambert has not confirmed his orientation, choosing to let people make their own determination about his sexuality.  While we often hear of the importance of being out, especially for public figures, we seem to give a pass to people who aren’t “out and proud” if we like them.  It’s one thing to say that coming out is a personal choice, but I think we should be consistent in our message, and not elevating people to celebrity or leadership status if they play the coy card. From “Blackout” for 5/25/09 by Anthony Rucker

 

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