I think I’ve become a bit spoiled living in San Francisco. Not just because of the sun, the warmth, and the beauty that surrounds me every day in this city, and not just because of the incredible job I have, placing me at the forefront of change in education…
But mostly because, more than anywhere else in the country, it’s okay to be gay here.
I became especially aware of this a couple of weeks ago while in our nation’s capital. I was there for the National Board Conference, where I spent two days collaborating around teaching and learning. In my spare time, I walked the streets, saw the sites, and reflected on the grand amount of history that the city holds in its palms. I even was able to stand in the very spot that Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
I was also lucky enough to have my boyfriend accompany me, so that we could spend our afternoons and evenings together, enjoying the scenery and learning together about the hidden pieces of history that Washington D.C. has to offer. One evening, we were walking by the White House, making jokes about jumping the fence, complementary arms wrapped around each other’s backs, slowly gliding along the pavement and breathing in the crisp, early-spring air. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a school group, one of many I saw throughout the weekend. This group, however, was different — a group of boys, most likely middle-school aged.
Upon first glance, I could have sworn that I saw them staring at us and laughing. Initially I ignored it, but I couldn’t help notice them continuing to stare, gesture, and laugh in our direction. I was tempted to smile and wave, I was tempted to engage with them, but I didn’t. I just let it go. Why? Partially out of fear, and partially wanting to honor their ignorance, knowing that some day they might understand.
But now, after two weeks have passed, it still bothers me that I did nothing, especially in light of recent events in Indiana. I was blown away by Senator Pence’s inability to answer the simple question: “Is discrimination against homosexuals okay?” and it helped me to remember that activism is the best shot we have at truly making a change. Pacifism only perpetuates that which we feel we cannot control. All of it — the new Indiana law and the ignorant middle schoolers — reminded me of what it felt like to be a teacher in Chicago: to sit and listen to my principal and superintendent ban conversations about same-sex couples in the school, and to have my principal question my ability to select books for my own classroom after merely suggesting we find more LGBT picture books to include in our classrooms.
The bottom line is fear, discrimination, and hate are still alive and thriving in our country.
And perhaps because the culture in San Francisco is so liberal, I’ve become less akin to the struggles that LGBT individuals and couples are still fighting all over the country. It makes me wish I would have done something two weeks ago, if not for me, for the gay individuals and couples in D.C. who have to see those kids walk their streets all the time. Better yet, it made me realize the importance of opening up these conversations about LGBT acceptance at a young age.
Discrimination comes from ignorance, and ignorance comes from fear. By opening up the conversations early — whether it’s in school or not — we give our kids a chance to be knowledgeable, develop their own opinions, and respond accordingly. We are all teachers, through our words and through our actions — and by trade or otherwise. We have a responsibility to stop heckling and hate in its tracks, especially when it’s coming from kids.
Because, Senator Pence, discrimination is never okay. Never.