Sunday, November 08, 2009

It’s Not Fair!

In our Pre-K class we vote for which book we’re going to read each day. Up until last Tuesday, our 11-student class had vote tallies of 8-7 and 10-6, which required several “recounts,” with the elections commissioner (me) often resorting to voter-by-voter polling to get an accurate result. That all changed on Tuesday when we got a 7-4 result from our first round of voting.

A few years ago, when I introduced voting, several kids howled, “It’s not fair!” whenever things didn’t go their way. This year’s crew hasn’t raised that objection vocally, but I’ve seen enough disappointed expressions that tell me they’re thinking it. Of course, when it comes to group decision-making, voting is how our society defines fairness.

Four-year-olds are notoriously and selfishly obsessed with fairness and that’s why I strive to incorporate so many opportunities to practice fairness into their school day.

For instance, after I describe our art, math, puzzle, and journal projects, we randomly draw names to decide who gets to “start” at which station. Ultimately, everyone will get the chance to do everything, but sometimes you wind up at a station you really didn’t think you wanted. It might suck, but it is fair.

Our Pre-K class mascot gets to go home with a different, randomly selected student each week. Someone got to take Love Cat home the very first week. Someone will have to wait 10 weeks to get her turn, but the point is that everyone gets the same opportunity.

Even when we don’t intentionally manufacture fairness, the 4 and 5-year-olds demand it. Last week, when Marcus wanted to “smell” the contents of a jar that contains a science experiment that has be congealing on a shelf in the classroom since September, the other children also demanded their turn, and I had to take the time to wave the offensive looking (although surprisingly non-offensive smelling) concoction under each of their noses.

By the time these kids are ready to head off to kindergarten, they will be experts on fairness, going through their days insisting on, and even fighting for, fairness for themselves and others.

The heart of fairness is that we are all “equal” and deserve equal opportunities and equal treatment. That cannot be put up for a vote. There cannot be special laws that apply only to certain people. That is patently unfair. That is, in fact, the heart of our democracy. I once tried an experiment where I allowed the children to vote to exclude one another from various activities. I'm proud to say, they rebelled and ultimately refused to vote, insisting that "everyone gets to do everything." Four-year-olds are capable of understanding this, so why are there so many adults who don’t get it when it comes to marriage rights?

In recent elections the voters of California and now Maine have narrowly decided that some of their fellow citizens should not be allowed to marry the people they love. Since when has it been fair to put the civil rights of a minority up to the vote of a majority? Does anyone really think that the majority in the 1860’s would have voted in favor of banning slavery? In what universe is that fair?

I’m sure I could very easily collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to ban Republican marriage in Seattle. It might even pass. Would that be fair? (Yes, it would be funny, but definitely not fair.)

Here in Washington state, perhaps lost in the hoopla around Maine’s blatantly un-democratic decision to take civil rights away from some of its citizens, we voted to uphold a law commonly referred to as, “Everything but marriage.” In other words we decided that it was okay for everyone to have the same rights, even if under a different name. That this had to be put up to a vote is obscene, yet I’m proud to live here. My gay friends are happy, albeit still dissatisfied. As one of them said, “It’s a little like separate, but equal.” Personally, I’d like to see government get out of the marriage business altogether, gay or straight, which is the proper domain of churches, and instead sanction and defend secular domestic partnerships for any and all. If it were up to me (and in part it is) I would be advocating “everything but marriage” for straight couples as well.

This is a simple issue of fairness, the core tenant of democracy. It’s an issue any 4-year-old can grasp. If we won’t fight for fairness, then we won’t fight for democracy.

My blogger friend Jesus has Two Daddies has encouraged me to pass this on. I hope it inspires you as it has me. And I hope you see clear to pass it along as well:

Today marks one year ago that I gathered with my family, friends, and fellow Obama campaign volunteers to watch the election results come in to campaign headquarters in celebration of all the things we have worked so hard for. Today I also woke to the news of the repeal in Maine that takes legal rights away from gay & lesbian citizens of that state. My friend and former boyfriend Tom is from Maine and lives there with the love of his life, Ray, with whom he has made a family for 15 years now. I called him this afternoon after hearing how distressed he was to offer some comfort and solace, and to encourage him to not be defined by this or to allow his love, his life, or his family to suffer one millisecond more of pain inflicted by these horrible people responsible for making this happen. Fortunately for us, love wins out and he and I both are fortunate not only that we have such a bounty of love in our own lives, but that we can celebrate it in each other because it matters.

There is a lot of responsibility that needs to be assumed and taken up. It's time once again to stop being complacent and start getting proactive, to start engaging one another and to call out those who mean us harm wherever they might be - loudly, without restraint, and without apology. ALL OF US have this responsibility, not just my GLBT brothers and sisters, but all of our straight friends and allies - if indeed you are our friends and allies. You can no longer stand idly by and watch as we suffer these indignations like it doesn't affect you, and if it doesn't affect you to watch those of us you call loved ones suffering the tyranny of second class citizenship, then we must force ourselves to question our loyalties to you. You cannot have it both ways because this is too important, and we can no longer afford to pretend that your silence isn't complacency. Speaking for myself, I would do that for each and every one of you because it is right and because it matters, and I cannot accept anything less than the same in return.

Regret is a terrible, numbing, cancerous thing. A few short decades ago hundreds of thousands of white people in this country stood by and said nothing when black people were denied civil rights, when they were tortured and killed, and they maintained an uncomfortable silence about how wrong this was, how evil discrimination is, all of the things they knew were true yet kept to themselves and those like them for fear of becoming vilified. That's a terrible thing living in that kind of fear, but it is also a wholly unnecessary thing and let's be honest - it's WRONG. It is WRONG to see an act of injustice and say nothing. It is WRONG to hear someone preach hateful speech about people you love and respect and say nothing. It is WRONG to maintain the status quo for the sake of comfort when it creates damage in the homes and lives of those you claim to love and respect. Moreover, it is WRONG to be silent amongst those perpetuating a wrong and not call out what you know is RIGHT. Silence is acceptance, and your silence is not good enough anymore. It never has been.

I am tired as I write this. I am life-tired. With everything that is going on in my personal life, I cannot help but be exhausted. I've been this tired before and I will be this tired again, but damnit - that's NO excuse to sit on my ass and not do any and every thing I can to say and do something that matters. That's all it takes, really - the courage to look fear in the eye and the drive to look into the faces of those who may never agree with you, who may very well even turn on you, even the will to push exhaustion aside long enough to make a declaration.

Because it matters. Because as my beautiful friend Greg recently learned and shared with me, it is a fact that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioniong teenagers are more likely to complete a suicide attempt than their heterosexual contemporaries - and one of them could be YOUR child. Because approximately one in four underage kids who come out to their parents are kicked out of the house. Because an estimated 40+% of the teenagers in NYC alone are GLBT and were kicked out of their homes are homeless by their god-fearing parents' indifference to love in favor of embracing religious hysteria. Because the average duration of life on the streets is one year after which it's death or prison. Shelters are run internally by gangs like crips, bloods. Sissy boys and butch girls are safer on the streets. Because there are homeless teenagers dying of HIV/AIDS as I type this that are beyond medicine and in support volunteers' homes so that they won't be forced to die alone. Greg knows this because he is volunteering his time for these kids, these children, the very same ones thrown into the trash by parents who are likely the chief constituent voting bloc that is responsible for the decision in Maine. Which, by the way, should never have been up for a vote in the first place.

That's what we're teaching our children, be they heterosexual or otherwise. That is what they are learning whether they are hearing it from the misguided voices harmonizing their collective bigotry or the deafening silence that results when such things are not being called out in opposition for the true evil they represent - and as I stated earlier, silence is acceptance.

So I'm challenging you all to share these words with as many people as you can. Repost word for word or cut and paste what you can personalize if you must, but you have an opportunity to throw a gauntlet down and step up and be a hero for me and people just like me, and we have never needed you to rise to this challenge more than we do now. Do it because it takes balls to do a courageous thing, no matter the cost. Do it because enough people have been beaten, tortured, and killed for simply being who they are and their voices and their hopes and dreams have been stolen from us all - and you can be their voices, hopes, and dreams so that their suffering is not in vain. Do it because nothing is faster than the speed it takes for compassion to die and it is the death of compassion that makes all of this necessary in the first place. Do it because Matthew Shepard can't and you can.

Or do it for the best reason possible - no reason at all - because you don't need a reason to do the right thing.

The choice to speak out in agreement is yours; I can only hope you will share this message with others. As many times as I've done this and seen one flame light a thousand torches to provide illumination for others to see, it isn't a choice for me - it is a necessity - a responsibility - and while your complacency is and will continue to be heartbreaking, I'm never giving up this fight until such a time that conversations in the future refer to this kind of discrimination against families like mine as a thing of the past. Do you understand what I'm saying? I will not be complacent, I will never give in to people telling me what is right and fair when they couldn't be more wrong, and I will no longer stand up to support those who will not do the same thing for me because they'd rather be cowardly and prefer the comfort they take for granted, something I refuse to do.

It is your turn to share this and spread these words so that others may do the same from your example. It's one small action that is all I'm asking for right now. It is your turn to say something, what will YOU do?

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Monkey's Mama said...

I reposted on facebook (my blog doesn't have enough readers anymore since I've slowed down posting this last year). However, I have to say I know Republicans (I know - in Seattle - crazy) that are not against gay marriage. And all Repubs are not evil.

MOM #1 said...

*SIGH* This is an extremely sensitive topic for me, so instead of ranting . . . I'll just go with the standard "everything you said."

The four year olds get it. Really? So smart.

Susan said...

Yeah, I love the kid thought process. I saw a vid ( which I could find for you if you want but you'll get the point anyway) of a rather plump & pompous catholic priest defending that the church had spent about a half mill for that Maine thing. We're just concerned for the children, he said, suggesting that they are simply trying to protect helpless kids from the craziness of such an aberrant union. Now let me mention here that this self-satisfied officially ordained pontificator is very, very black. Hm. And let's recall that last week, some white JP in Louisiana was forced to resign under an absolute deluge of complaints after he wouldn't marry an inter-racial couple. He defended his actions by? that's right! He just thinks about how hard it would be for the kids. One wonders how black priest would feel if this argument were against inter-racial marriage.

Eternal Lizdom said...

I am going to share this Tom. Thank you for this- well put together and nicely tied into a deliverable package.

Audrey said...

I'm a new reader and I will be sharing this. Thanks!

Elizabeth said...

Wow. That made me cry. This is an issue that I'm passionate about and one that hits very close to home. Charlie, KC and I have made signs and marched with the masses a number of times but it's just not enough. We need to do more and take every opportunity as "straight allies" to have calm, educated, rational conversations with those people in our lives who feel differently. Regardless of how difficult or uncomfortable it may be. The resistance that I've come up against time and time again is the notion that I and everyone else that support equality, are trying to deny others the right to practice their religion. I just don't see it. Oh how I can go on and on. I encourage folks to commit to conversation. If you change just one mind on this issue it may just be enough.

Unknown said...

Moving and profound. I surprise myself because sometimes, I don't know how I feel about it. I do know one thing for sure. I want people to all feel valued and special no matter who they are.