I’ve been thinking about the Missouri “Don’t Say Gay” legislation (HB2051) since it hit public awareness. I’ve lived in Missouri most of my life, I am used to seeing legislative discussions that make my head hurt, but this one hit me harder than most.
I realize that this bill, like much legislation around the country, is a fearful reaction to the many advances that gay folk are making. It is more accepted to be gay now than 20 years ago. Gay people are often portrayed on TV shows, in books and movies and the storyline is no longer about being gay. The dramatic value of homosexuality has dipped in popularity. Being gay is less taboo, and for some people that is the last straw. This legislation feels like a last ditch effort from the folks petrified and disgusted by homosexuals to protect themselves through the guise of protecting the children. But from what?
I’ve made a point to bring up this bill to a lot of folks in the last week or so to gauge reactions. Intermingled with people whose feelings mirrored my anger and frustration, I was saddened to hear plenty of well-meaning people say that we don’t need to talk about homosexuals in school. Their kids are too young. They don’t need their kids hearing “about that” in school. It was as if people thought that teachers and administrators were giving lectures about how gay people “do it” in the classroom. I tried to say, “Wait, that is not what is going on. Educators talk about gay people to teach about difference, to share history, to prevent hatred borne of ignorance, and ultimately, to keep all kids in our schools safe and alive.” Who could be against that?
Suddenly I saw what was happening. Once again being gay had been reduced to the act of shameful, deviant sex. Gay people weren’t people deserving of respect and protection. Homosexuality was simply deviant acts and unclean actions deserving of erasure. This, despite the fact (because of it?) that gay people are so common now – not standing out as freaks, but blending in as good citizens. I could feel myself disappearing before my own eyes. I was being erased, along with all the gay teachers, business people, school board members, mothers, and fathers in Missouri. We were being erased by being reduced to gay sex.
Twenty or so years ago I wore a t-shirt that made fun of the fear of gay people. The much feared “Homosexual Lifestyle” was, and still is, about who we are as people not what we do in bed. My gay lifestyle includes going to work, doing laundry and watching TV while eating takeout. Being gay isn’t about the doing of deviant sex acts (whatever those are, anyway) any more than being straight is about what straight people do in their bedrooms.
I grew up in rural Missouri schools. I went to high school with some of those fellows co-sponsoring this legislation, and I am gutted that they feel the need to erase what might be a lifeline for Missouri students feeling scared or lonely or afraid. I am saddened to see that old t-shirt back in style, but the outdated fears that made it on point 20 years ago are clearly present today.
We humans, when faced with difference we don’t understand – that frightens us, almost always demonize it or pretend it isn’t there. If we have the power we try to make the scary difference go away. Thousands of years of human history show us fighting over religion, race, gender, color, sex, nationality. The same story replayed-always distrust born of fear. Similar actions regardless of where, when or who.
But happily, we human beings also have the capacity to grow. We now (mostly) see women as people deserving respect, those of different races are no longer thought of as animals, and hopefully we can also get past reducing gay people to what they do when having sex.
In schools we teach to help students have a productive life, be good citizens, and learn to respect what is respectable. To do that we talk about our shared history, in order be proud of our accomplishments and to learn from our mistakes. We set codes of conduct that teach acceptable behavior, and we set standards for getting along when people are different. In order to do that we often mention people who are happen to be from different cultures, or of different races and religions. We do that because that is part of our history and we need to acknowledge it and because learning tolerance is essential to our society functioning. We need to do it even if (especially when) the difference scares us.
Mentioning heterosexuals in school doesn’t mean we pull out a diagram of how they have sex, does it? I hope not. My kids don’t need to hear about that until they are older.
Category: American Culture