For the love of reading

No baby is born homophobic. Or racist. Or sexist. Or with any other kind of bigotry. Babies can recognise their parents surprisingly young (that is, the people who day-to-day provide them with moment-by-moment care: sadly for Crdnl O’Brien, there’s no evidence babies understand the “natural law” of the Catholic Church which says they ought to recognise only genetic parents who are married to each other).

Blue baby rein: train driver - Pink baby reins: princessParents who want to teach their child sexism will find the surrounding culture holds a host of helpful examples, from Lego kits for girls and other “pink or blue” choices onwards – outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest.

Parents who want to teach their child racism … usually do. Some parents get more help than others, as this honest personal testimony describes – but a host of influences make a baby born without a racist thought in his or her head turn into someone who thinks that “Asian sex gangs” are the big problem for child exploitation in the UK.

Father-son picParents who want to teach their child homophobia and transphobia have a bigger problem. Most homophobic or transphobic parents make the comfortable assumption that their child “just will” acquire their prejudices. This is true in most cases, but parents who also regard the existance of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, as inappropriate to mention to children, will often find to their horror that their child already knows one or more of “those people” long before their parents think they’re ready to be taught homophobic/transphobic bigotry.

One Million Moms, the anti-gay mumsnet in the US, are offering middle school students (11-14 year olds) the “Truth For Youth” Bible (TFY):

The TFY consists of the New Testament in the God’s Word translation, along with 100 pages of powerful full color comic stories that are packed with “absolute truth” regarding issues young people are faced with, such as: Sexual Purity, Homosexuality, Abortion, Pornography, Evolution, Drugs, Drunkenness, Peer Pressure, School Violence, Sorcery, Witchcraft and Secular Rock Music. God’s wonderful plan of salvation is incorporated into each of the stories.

That introduction, for a nursery or primary school child, is unlikely to be one of their classmates: it’s much more likely to be one or more of their classmates’ parents. And if their class just happens not to have a child whose parents are a same-sex couple, the teachers may be reading aloud from books which teach children that all loving families are normal families well before their parents want to teach their own children that some families are inferior, different, and wrong, and some children deserve only contempt and rejection. Whereas the children themselves can do extraordinary things: after a grade 9 boy got bullied on his first day at school for being “homosexual” because he was wearing a pink shirt:

Two Grade 12 students — David Shepherd and Travis Price — heard the news and decided to take action. “I just figured enough was enough,” said Shepherd.

They went to a nearby discount store and bought 50 pink shirts, including tank tops, to wear to school the next day.

Then the two went online to e-mail classmates to get them on board with their anti-bullying cause that they dubbed a “sea of pink.”
Not only were dozens of students outfitted with the discount tees, but hundreds of students showed up wearing their own pink clothes, some head-to-toe.

A heartwarming story, if you think bullying is bad: what horror, for parents who want to believe their children will naturally grow up “just like them”.

Today the Scottish Government is holding a Summer Cabinet Meeting at Renfrew Town Hall (12.30 to 3pm) and No to Nato are holding a protest:

Alex Salmond has said these Summer Cabinets are an important part of building a future for Scotland where the government works with the people of Scotland. We are therefore accepting this invitation to bring our message to Alex Salmond and the whole Scottish Cabinet.

The Sissy Duckling, by Harvey FiersteinBut another group plan to show up too. They’ll be holding signs displaying the covers of books they don’t want their children to read in school (or anywhere else) because these books might teach their children that it’s good to take action against bullies, that marriage is something to celebrate, but divorce doesn’t mean the end of the story, and that it’s okay to do what you like to do instead of what your dad tells you a boy ought to want to do. (Actually a duck called Elmer, not a boy, but for some reason parents don’t worry about children learning to identify with ducks.)

The anti-gay marriage organisation says:

“Under sex education rules, schools must tell children about marriage. If the legal definition of marriage is changed, there will be political pressure for books like this to be used. Our legal advice is that teachers could be disciplined if they refuse to use the resources.

“Parents may also find it difficult to withdraw children from classes. Our supporters are highly motivated and harbour deep fears for the future that if the marriage laws are redefined, gay marriage will be promoted to schoolchildren in Scotland.”

They are right to have deep fears for the future, but it’s not merely that in a couple of years same-sex parents will be able to get married legally: the problem is that already teaching homophobia to children is being shown not to work so well. Polls and other studies continually suggest that while homophobic bullying is still a big problem, young people are likely to be less homophobic. In the US evangelical churches stringent against homosexuality are finding out this isn’t working on the younger evangelicals.

This isn’t due to the books they had in primary school. These are symptoms, not causes. The cause is simply that over the past 40 years since the first Pride was held in London in 1971 by a small group of very brave people, we’ve changed the world these bigoted people lived in. A child who knows that her best friend has two mums who are lovely, is just not going to believe her parents when they tell her earnestly that lesbians have tentacles and are fiends from hell.

Too bad.

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Filed under Children, Education, LGBT Equality, Racism, Women

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