I’ve been sick all day over an act of hate in our community.
I live in a small, bedroom community full of people I am delighted to run into at the grocery store, chat with on the sidelines of a game, or wave to as they walk their dog.
It’s a conservative town that often elects officials whose politics and opinions I don’t share. I’ve learned to love what I love and mostly ignore what I don’t. Countless good people live and work here.
This fall our district held a school board meeting about masking for the upcoming year. It turned into a hostile and divisive event, a meeting where parent after parent spoke about the rights of their children, the needs of their children, the freedoms deserved for their children, a meeting where there was barely an utterance of what was best for all children, for the community, for the safety and wellbeing of teachers and families. I heard privilege. I heard arrogance. I heard selfishness.
I felt ashamed to be part of such a community. We considered moving.
My wife and I have lived here for over twenty years, through the years when our neighbors put signs on their lawns promoting laws that restricted our rights to equal employment, housing, hospital visitation, partnership benefits and, eventually, marriage. Where our elected officials voted against our rights at the state level. We have invested in this community for all those years, as business-owners, as tax paying homeowners and as school volunteers and fiscal supporters across the twelve years we have had children in the district.
This is our home. It’s our children’s home. I reminded myself of all the brave steps our district has been taking toward diversity and inclusion, with the needed humility to realize, as our superintendent said, “We don’t know what we don’t know. We know we have a lot to learn.” That is something I want to be a part of.
We chose to stay, to be part of the solution, the reckoning, the transformation that is being asked of us here and across the nation.
When on election day this week the four open school board positions were filled with people who believe in an equal education for all students, in the safety of all students, in the inclusion of all students, I was cheered.
Because guess what? Liberals and conservatives aside, isn’t the point of a public school to be a school for everyone? And doesn’t that mean gay kids and trans kids and disabled kids and autistic kids and kids of every skin color and gender identity?
Out of respect for those who were targeted today, I will only say that there was a very personal and public attack made on educators in our district. An attack so full of hate and vitriol there is no forgiving it as free speech. This, on the heels of a similar attack last week against one of our teachers- who happens to be the winner of the 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year award - for her inclusive reading list.
How dare that teacher make available stories of trans kids, kids with same sex parents, gay kids, kids surviving war, immigration stories, and other tales of untold bravery? How dare she allow those kids to find themselves in the pages of a novel?
She is not implanting those ideas, not indoctrinating those students with the liberal agenda. She is teaching them the range of the human experience, opening their eyes to other people’s stories and experiences, an exposure that will serve them as they stretch their legs in a diverse world. She is giving some kids a place to rest their weary souls from the isolation of marginalization. She’s probably saving a couple of lives along the way, too, as the suicide attempt rate for trans youth hovers at 52% in the U.S.
I find the desire to censor these stories nonsensical. As though policing texts can also remove the existence of the people whose stories are housed in them. It’s like saying racism doesn’t exist just because some white people don’t think it does. Or that COVID isn’t real because you haven’t gotten it.
Last week my daughter’s friend abstained from standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. A substitute teacher confronted her, pursuing the issue after the student had politely answered that she was opting out. The substitute pressed the student, asking why she would disrespect America, the greatest country in the world?
If you aren’t sure what white supremacy looks like, you can start by listening for what it sounds like. Nothing shouts as loud as white supremacy. It is impudent, arrogant and egregious. It takes up all the space. It demands. It judges. It berates. It towers over. It controls.
It sounds a lot like a two-year-old having a tantrum if that two-year-old had lots of money and power and influence and was able to stomp over its limit-setting parents, write and enforce all the laws, pocket all the money and dominate the world.
As long as we think we are the greatest, the best, the top, as long as we deny the racism that is at the foundation of our country, we will continue to breed violence and white supremacy in our country. Western family values can’t save us. Neither can religion.
This isn’t about gay people or gender identity. It isn’t about what books are available in a teacher’s classroom. It’s about people who thrive in hate, who demand that others be silenced so they can continue to shout. It’s about having people on the bottom so others can be on the top.
Last week, at the start of basketball season, I had to sign a form about how to exhibit good sportsmanship at games. This form exists thanks to the atrocious behavior of parents that have come before and will come after. Every time I have to sign a form like this or hear an announcement made at a sporting event reminding parents to behave, I am beyond embarrassed. Who would even think to behave that way at a kid’s game? When did it become okay to model this sort of behavior for our children?
They don’t tolerate bullying in school. Do it and you will be punished, possibly suspended. Perhaps it’s time for a similar creed for parents.
Please let’s remember that our teachers are doing a public service. They are human beings with hearts and lives and families. They are not robots. They are not receptacles for anyone’s dogma, or vengeance. They are underpaid people following a calling to fulfill one of the most important jobs in existence, developing the next generation. They do this by creating open minds that can think and thrive in a diverse world.
If you need a narrower scope for your children, if you prefer they be taught to exclude, to be superior, that white is might, then public school is not the place for them or for you.
I applaud our district and our educators for standing for inclusion and equity. I thank them for their conviction not in a political agenda, but in a human agenda.
When I see the type of hatred I did today, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if your son or daughter was gay? What if you, yourself, had not been born into privilege but had been born in the ghetto white people made for you, under the weight of unfairly dispersed wealth and a constant policing of your body? How different would the world look if your own skin was unloved in this country? If your own children were the very thing you hate? What then? What if they already are and they can’t tell you because of all you have professed? Or are you so powerful that you can regulate that as well?
I once heard the phrase: “You can’t turn off the dark. You can only turn on the light.”
I hear a lot about choosing kindness, how it’s easier to choose love than hate.
While choosing kindness and love will always feel the most truthful to who I am, it is not always easiest. Kindness, at times, can be an act of great challenge. It means setting aside your own hurt, fear and defensiveness. Your own ego. It means treating others as you would hope to be treated and having enough imagination to know that looks like. It means trusting that just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
It sometimes means extending compassion to those who deserve it the least. And so tonight, though I am outraged and hurt, saddened and disgusted, I challenge myself to extend compassion to those who have brought hate to my community today. Because that is the town I want to live in. It’s the world I want to live in. It’s the human I want to be.
I found the switch. I’m flipping it on.