When faced with a topic even tangentially related to sex, most prominent standard-bearers for right-wing American social conservatism wield an imaginary gang of helpless and endangered Children as human shields as they march off to the Culture War. As recent QueerLandia blogs discuss, whether it’s abstinence-only sex education or the exclusion of pro-LGBT content from school computers, people desperate to control the flow of information that they don’t understand or agree with insist that they are motivated only by the need to protect these innocents, even though, as Louis C.K. helpfully points out, what they often mean is, “This freaks me out and won’t somebody please help me never have to talk to my kids about it?”
Stipulated: even if they stem from a narrow and strict interpretation of the Bible (or other cracked and dusty middle-eastern scroll) and, if properly instilled, will never let your kids have any fun, you as a parent have not only the right but the responsibility to pass your values on to your children. It is not the school board’s job, nor that of a teacher or other community member, to instill your values in your children; you get to do that, and public policies do not impact this duty, whether they jive with or diverge from your personal belief system. Hopefully, you teach your kids that the world is a big place—certainly bigger than your neighborhood and your ideology—and then teach them how to make good decisions in line with your value system. Trying instead to legislate away people and values that make you uncomfortable does a great disservice to kids who may eventually go out into the world, and is a major shirking of your responsibilities as their parent.
Especially as it relates to LGBT issues, the rallying cry “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?!” shortly runs afoul of itself. The internet-filtering case in Missouri provides a handy and topical illustration: the school district in question uses a custom filtering system for school computers that “systematically allows access to websites expressing a negative viewpoint toward LGBT individuals by categorizing them as ‘religion,’ but filters out positive viewpoints toward LGBT issues by categorizing them as ‘sexuality.’” Talk about homosexuality all you want, the school district seems to say, as long as you say it’s wrong. This is a common-enough attitude: most arguments against gay marriage stem from a similar viewpoint. The basis of most cultural and (pseudo-) legal arguments against same-sex marriage is not “Shhh, don’t say ‘gay’ in front of my children,” but rather, “Homosexuality is unnatural and destructive;” “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” Fred Phelps and them think that homosexuality (and, more specifically, homo sex) is the worst and most horrifying thing ever—so diabolical that it offends even the iron constitution of God Himself—and yet they routinely stick protest signs in the hands of young children. To say that the topic itself is off-limits is disingenuous; the only thing so appalling about it that some legislatures apparently think it should be against the law to even discuss is that it might not actually be the end of the world.
As anyone who was one can tell you, there are lesbian and gay children. It’s not a sexual orientation at that age, but I was gay in the dang first grade. I wasn’t lusting after Spencer Wood at age 7, obviously, but I wanted to touch his big round tummy every chance I got and I wanted to talk about him all the time. What anti-gay crusaders and other defenders of the status quo miss while frothing at the mouth over protecting “our” children is the fact that they are jackhammering into the minds and hearts of innocent young queer kids the unambiguous message that they suck. That they are worth less than their “normal” counterparts, that they have nothing to look forward to but a lonely life of misery and woe, and that because He made them this way instead of that way, no less a figure than God Himself hates them and wishes them ill. (Which is enough to make one wonder why he would bother to give life to homos in the first place, but I’m no theologian…) In a recent interview with the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, RT News’s Thom Hartman asked your friend and mine how she reconciled her vocal and visible anti-gay stance with the fact that tormented gay kids and teens are killing themselves left and right. I don’t know if the charming Miz G has ever visited Egypt, but she swan-dives into de-Nile with her response. “I’m not fighting to make gay teens not feel accepted,” she says with a straight face. Just in case there’s no such thing as unintended consequences. I cannot be held responsible, she essentially insists, if my campaigns to institutionalize a second-class relationship status make people feel like their relationship (or desires and instincts in the relationship arena) is second-class. A prominent and supposedly pro-family activist who couches every reference to same-sex marriage as a defense of The Children shrugs and says that if gay kids take her strident message that being gay is bad for society to heart, well, that’s their own problem.
It is held up as a tragic and inescapable fact that gays are depressed, and often turn to drugs or alcohol before resorting to suicide—and if your family, respected and visible members of your community, and people running for President of your country traffic in the notion that you are abominably unworthy of love and respect, you may well wind up depressed, drunk, or suicidal. The recent laws passed in Utah bar any discussion of homosexuality on school grounds, even if it is student-initiated. The message to gay kids? You horrify us to such a degree that we cannot bear to look upon you; in the eyes of the law, you do not (and must not) exist. Can one claim to respect All Life, as many anti-Planned Parenthood cultural conservatives insist they do, and then instill this kind of fear, loathing, and self-doubt into every queer or questioning kid they can get their hands on? I propose that it might be about time for people who claim to speak and act on their behalf to step out from behind these human shields, assess the consequences of their words and actions, and actually think of the children.