Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Lessons on Equality

I take my Little Sister to a lot of kid-friendly events and she knows a good amount of my friends and family now.  When a friend was moving to another state and a party was thrown that included children, I brought her to that too.  On the way there, I realized that I hadn't told her something about this friend and wasn't sure how she'd react.

As a teacher, you learn to navigate the tricky waters of students' families' views, prejudices, and beliefs.  If you tell a child that what their mother or grandmother believes is wrong or prejudicial, you're probably fighting a losing battle, as this is what they've grown up with and most likely internalized.  I've found it better to get them thinking for themselves, and have managed to fight some fairly entrenched prejudices, mostly racial, by doing this.

I thought about this as I prepared to have this conversation with my Little Sister about this friend.  I thought I was going to have to talk about whether or not you agreed with someone's "lifestyle" (kind of a terrible word but commonly used), it's still important to treat them with respect.  I thought I was going to have to explain why I actually had friends who were gay, as I was pretty sure my Little Sister had not had much interaction with people who were gay.  I thought I might have to explain how homophobia is similar to racial prejudice, and how it was important to treat everyone equally.

I was underestimating her.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: I forgot to tell you that this friend we're saying good-bye to is gay.  You might hear someone talk about how he's going to live with his boyfriend and I wasn't sure if you knew any men who had boyfriends or women who had girlfriends.

Her: I saw two men kissing once.  I didn't like it.  [long pause]  I don't like seeing anyone kiss, even if it's a man and a woman.

Me: That makes sense.  I think that's a normal feeling.  You don't have to watch anyone kiss.

Her: Is he nice?

Me: Who?

Her: Your friend who's moving.  Is he nice?

Me: Yes, he's very nice.

Her: OK. Then I'll like him.

That was the end of the conversation.

After the party, as we were driving home, I asked her if she had had fun.

"Your friend helped me with my Jeopardy game," she said.  "He was very nice.  He was the first gay person I've ever met."  Then she went to sleep.

I didn't need any of my explanations.

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