“Mama, sing that song that Daddy whistles.”
Year round, my 5-year-old daughter loves “Deck the Halls” because it’s familiar—it’s the only song my husband knows how to whistle. I love to sing it because I crack her up just by changing my singing voice from silly to theatrical to cartoon.
One day last week at the dinner table, I was singing it for her after one of her frequent requests.
“…Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la…”
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied my 9-year-old son wrinkling up his nose.
I wanted to cry.
Turns out he was repeating what he’d heard at school. Despite talking with him about equality for all his entire life, despite embracing gay relatives and family friends on many occasions, despite having many discussions in our house about how everyone is different in some way, some ugliness from outside had started to creep in.
Somehow, our nine years of planting the seeds of acceptance, tolerance and anti-bigotry had flown the coop. Peer pressure and effect had taken up insidious roots and were trying to destroy any good values we’d taught him.
It doesn’t surprise me, in a way. I remember being a fourth grader too, and “the way kids are.” (Those are air-quotes, by the way, for added sarcastic emphasis.)
It’s not the way kids have to be, however. But sadly, it seems homosexuality is the one acceptable bastion for intolerance and bigotry.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perhaps you caught the incredibly bigoted, anti-gay ad his campaign released in Iowa last week, targeted to woo the ultra-conservative, evangelical religious voters in that state. Widely criticized outside of Iowa, the ad continues to log more ‘dislikes’ on youTube than likes.
Even though the ad was panned—and reportedly the cause of internal campaign strife—somewhere along the lines someone in Perry’s camp thought it was still okay to spew hate like this: “…you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
The only thing it made me pray for was for Rick Perry to go away.
Most concerning to me is the way such ‘acceptable,’ overt bigotry trickles down to the kids, often giving way to bullying that can, at times, push vulnerable teens over the edge. The kind of bullying that led Tyler Clementi to take his own life last year hasn’t ended, and we’ve heard too many stories of children as young as 9 or 10 who have found the only solution to be suicide to escape homophobic bullying from peers.
Think about the message delivered by one Michigan teacher who changed the lyrics of “Deck The Halls” for students in music class, who were taught to sing, “Don we now our bright apparel.” As one well-known activist, author and columnist Dan Savage said, it seemed the carol needed to be “straightened out” and that gay had no place in school.
Savage has been at the forefront of helping LGBT kids and teens struggling with negative messages about homosexuality with the “It Gets Better” project. According to their website, the project was “created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.”
The project shows videos from people who self-identify as members of the LGBT community, and from people who are not gay but support tolerance and acceptance, some famous and not-so-famous. The movement has helped somewhat, with stories of teens who have written, emailed or created videos crediting “It Gets Better” with helping them cope against hatred they experience.
I always assumed my son’s generation was one that had been born in a more enlightened age, where they just grew up “knowing” that moms work, that all people have differences we accept, and that sometimes a friend will have two dads or that being gay is ok. Sadly, although I assumed I’d sent my son off to school with those lessons solidly locked in, I forgot the power of peers, and that not everyone else has been equipped with those same lessons.
So we’ll be talking about it a lot more again, especially about how to speak up loudly in defense of what we believe when it differs from loud bigotry around us, and how to encourage others to be accepting of differences. We’ll also be trying to integrate the things we hear and what our own reality at home is.
Last, I think I’ll be searching for my brightest, gay apparel in league with people I support, and singing loudly about a word that should equate to tolerance, love and celebration. I hope you’ll join that chorus. For when it comes to our kids, it seems we still need to sing louder to drown out the off-key messages of hatred just to Deck The Halls.
About this column: Trying to find meaning and connections in issues and events for the people of lower Fairfield County.