“Protecting” children from knowing gay people exist

Opponents of marriage equality are afraid, in part, that same-sex relationships and LGBT people will come to be seen and treated as normal by society.  This is something most opponents will openly admit (a small example: Al Mohler’s comment that the ruling striking down Prop 8 was “a significant step toward the full normalization of homosexuality within the culture”).

I’ve been struck by the particular horror of gay marriage opponents over the idea that children would be taught that same sex relationships are normal.  “Protecting children” comes up as a recurring argument by the Yes on 8 campaign, by the pro Prop 8 lawyers, and many others. And it appears to be a quite effective argument; a recent analysis of polls leading up to the 2008 Prop 8 vote suggests that parents of school-age children – not African Americans as previously reported – were the key demographic in passing Prop 8, probably due to the effectiveness of Yes on 8 ads like the following:

I’ve been trying to figure what’s so frightening about the idea that children might read books that discuss the existence of LGBT couples without casting them as freaks or perverts.  Ultimately I think it’s at least a fear of loss of straight privilege, i.e.:
– the unspoken and pervasive assumption that straight people and relationships are the norm and are superior to LGBT people and their relationships, and
– the institutional and societal biases in favor of straightness that are built on and perpetuate those assumptions.

More below the jump:

The fiercest opponents of gay marriage are fighting to preserve a world where it’s assumed that everyone is heterosexual, a world where people attracted to the same sex are expected either to conform to the heterosexist norm and to try to pass as straight (“normal”), or to live marginalized lives full of guilt and shame, never able to marry or raise a family like other couples, barred from having the same benefits or legal protections as straight couples, presented as living an “alternative” and immoral “lifestyle.”   They want to live in a world where they can pretend LGBT people don’t even exist.   This is evident from Judge Walker’s ruling:

The key premises on which Proposition 8 was presented to the voters thus appear to be the following . . . 2) denial of marriage to same-sex couples allows days and lesbians to live privately without requiring others, including (perhaps especially) children, to recognize or acknowledge the existence of same-sex marriage couples. [Emphasis mine.]

Keeping the existence of LGBT people a secret from children is an extremely powerful and effective way to perpetuate closeted homosexuality.  If children are never taught about the existence of same sex attraction – or only taught about it as a perverted deviance from the norm which only damaged or evil people choose, as a “lifestyle” which is never truly an option for good children – it makes it that much easier for straight children to be learn to have contempt for LGBT people.  It makes it that much easier for LGB children to internalize ideas that will lead to intense guilt and shame when they experience same sex attraction for the first time – and that much easier for them to feel their sexual identities are something they have to hide, lie about, or suppress.

To put it more succinctly, teaching children to buy into straight privilege hinges on being able to effectively conceal and lie about the existence of moral, healthy, happy, loving, well-adjusted gay people.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  I came across an interview with a Massachusetts couple who sued their school district because their son was read a LGBT themed children’s book in his second grade class (video below, ht Andrew Sullivan).  The mom’s comments in particular are very revealing of how she takes straight privilege completely for granted:

Well, we were surprised, and really astonished, because we felt like, second grade is very young to be introducing the concept of homosexuality and gay marriage.  We thought they would at least wait until they’d had sex ed in 5th grade or 6th grade.
. . . .
We sincerely wanted to, um, just protect our children, while they’re children, not have them face adult issues.  While they’re children.  There’s a long enough time in their life where they can work through adult issues.  but we just wanted them to have a carefree and protected childhood.

One assumes that these parents had read their son books about princes marrying princesses before.  Most kids are exposed to images and stories of heterosexual attraction and marriage long before they can even understand them.  No one feels the need to “protect” children from the idea that straight people fall in love and get married until they’re ready for sex ed, and no one assumes that hearing such stories leads to the loss of children’s sexual innocence. Swapping out a female love interest for a male one doesn’t suddenly turn a children’s story into an “adult” story or make it appropriate only for sex ed.  These assumptions are both heterosexist – privileging straightness over same sex attraction – and homophobic in their implication that it’s impossible to talk about gay love without talking about gay sex.

So I had to laugh at the irony of these comments from the same mom about how she’s been discriminated against:

The tolerance that the gay community cries out for is not demonstrated to people who have differing points of view.  There is no tolerance.  The hate, the disparaging remarks, the hostility that we face [sic] were so astonishing.  When we sincerely wanted to, um, just protect our children . . . [see above quote]

It reminded me of the truth of this unattributed quote (via Adam Serwer): “To the privileged, equal treatment feels like discrimination.”


One Comment on ““Protecting” children from knowing gay people exist”

  1. Toranse says:

    Yup. I live in California, so I’m surrounded by all the Prop 8 arguments, and this is something I heard a lot. “They’ll teach that homosexual relationships are okay to *children*!” I think part of it is Christians desire that that everyone follow their morals and beliefs, while no one is allowed to impose their morals and beliefs on them. They want their children to believe that homosexuality is wrong based on their religious beliefs, and they don’t think that anyone – including school – should undermine that. So they want the school to reinforce their beliefs and the expense of anyone else.

    I also think it stems some from the same belief that fears teaching sex to kids…”if we tell them about it, they’ll want to do it!” I think a lot of these kinds of Christians believe that homosexuality would disappear if people stopped acknowledging it – that it’s only by entertaining the idea that it actually manifests itself. So they believe, by teaching children that it’s okay and normal, that suddenly we’ll have a bunch of children who will “decide” their attracted to the same sex, all because they were told it’s okay.

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