Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

We All Win

Posted: February 12, 2017 in Blog
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m not much of a morning person. There may have been hypothetical occasions, even, when there may have been hypothetical house rules about talking to me in the morning. Maybe. But let’s be real. I don’t make much sense in the morning, so how much of a conversationalist could I be?

Today was a bit different. This morning, I voluntarily got up early on a Sunday to join my neighbors at our first neighborhood coffee gathering. I even got up a little earlier than I needed to, just to make sure that I DID make sense, should anyone feel like conversing with me.

It’s been such a weird couple of months. It feels like we are often all walking on eggshells with each other. I have experienced fear for the first time living on my street when my neighborhood was menaced this fall by a young guy driving a pick up truck with the word REDNECK emblazoned across the rear window and flying a confederate flag over the bed. I live in a diverse neighborhood. It feels like the entire country has become a dog fight, with minority populations being used to bait people into statements and acts that used to horrify us and now have become common.

It is not okay to live in fear. It is not even a place I wish to visit.

I have walked in my neighborhood every day for almost fourteen years, most days twice, with 2 dogs pulling in different directions on the ends of their extendable leashes. I know lots of my neighbors by sight, and some even by name well enough to stop and chat on warm summer mornings. People know me. There are waves and calls to say hi, or to wish me a good holiday in the Christmas season.

There was talk, even before the eggshell-walking started, that we were all quite attached to our neighborhood. People ask after each other. “Have you seen…”  and  “We should have them over…” Someone put up a Facebook page named after our neighborhood so we can communicate with each other.  Last year, some practical joker stacked my recyclable bin on top of the garbage bin and left them that way, ensuring the waste management people would just drive by. I was recovering from knee surgery and navigating the house on crutches. There was no way I could go move the recycle bin, which stands almost as tall as I do, into its correct position. So I posted on our neighborhood Facebook page—“Hey, if anyone is home this morning, can you give me a hand?”  It took less than a minute, and a neighbor popped over, put the bins in their proper locations and popped back into their own house.

On that afternoon when I first saw the pick up truck with the flag slowly cruising my street…no, he was not driving, he was cruising, looking for someone or something… it immediately worried me. There’s an elementary school on the corner, attended primarily by brown and black skinned children. There’s a Muslim family up the next block and the mom walks her daughters to and from school every day. My next door neighbors are Latino. The new neighbors in the corner house are an African American couple. I wondered who would not be safe—who was being looked for.

At first, I was concerned about posting anything to the neighborhood Facebook page. What if some of my neighbors supported the guy in the pick up truck with his flag? Was I going to draw attention or perhaps hostility for speaking up? As the only genderqueer person on this street, I did have to wonder about my safety, too. I can’t imagine that my neighbors don’t already know who I am…but was I crossing a line by speaking up and saying that the pick up truck and the message of the flag were making me uncomfortable?

When I heard that the pick up truck had been spotted on a couple of other nearby streets, I realized I couldn’t let it go. Was I ready to defend my space? Was I ready to speak up for my neighbors? For the little kids walking back and forth to school? I had to.

I posted to the Facebook page: Just want to make you aware…I know many of you have kids…we need to keep our neighborhood safe.  I waited, apprehensive. The comments that followed were warm and appreciative. Everyone who answered understood my point about neighborhood safety and agreed.

A few days later, I was out walking the dogs and the neighbor who wears a burqa passed by to go pick up her girls. Ordinarily, I smile and wave but I don’t go close enough for conversation to anyone with the dogs on their strings. I don’t assume everyone will like my dogs as much I do.  That day, I reeled the dogs all the way in and approached her.

“Have you seen the pick up truck?”

“Yes—and there’s another one just like it further up the street.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing…”

She nodded. “I’m not sure why anyone with those beliefs would move into a neighborhood like ours.”

“You know if anyone bothers you while you’re walking by, you can turn up my driveway—just come right to the house and ring the bell.”  I didn’t need to tell her where I lived. She’s been walking by while I mow the grass for at least two years.

“Thank you. I will remember that.”

“Let your girls know, too. We can’t have this in our neighborhood.”

She continued down the street.

So enough with the eggshells. This morning, I got up early and took my slightly incoherent, gender neutral self over to my neighbors’ house and we gathered with several other families to have coffee and danishes. I don’t know what the political stances of most of those people might be. I don’t know what religious affiliations most of them have. It didn’t matter. We had coffee and talked about spring, and gardening, and house projects, and our pets. I learned about growing mushrooms and that alligators and crocodiles have different temperaments and that most of my neighbors want to keep chickens and bees. Who knew?

We reclaimed our neighborhood and celebrated each other simply by having coffee. Our differences were minor in comparison to the myriad of things we wanted to talk about, standing around on a Sunday morning as kids ran through the kitchen and the dog wanted his belly scratched. In the words of my neighbor Greg, who is a math teacher (something I will never be able to relate to!), “Let’s keep this street and city full of love.”

Indeed, Greg. We all win with that outlook. I’ll get up early for that any day.

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Dear School Administrators,

I’m about to share with you an idea that is so radical, it might make your hair catch fire when you read it. Ready?  Here goes.

It is not the responsibility of the teenagers with whom you cross paths  to educate you about their gender identity. I know this is a crazy idea, but there are adults in the world who would be glad to have those conversations with you–other real adults who are also school administrators, lawyers and docs, who have spent a great deal of time learning about sexual orientation and gender identify development. Some of the Youth Outlook kids like speaking up but (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe) there are some 13 and 14 year old kids who feel sorta….you know…put on the spot when called upon to educate grown people whose motivations and goals are not quite clear and the kids don’t feel quite supported.

Okay, now put out the fire on your head and consider this. There are agencies that focus their work on supporting LGBT children and youth. They have attorneys on staff that have tracked the legal issues across the country and can give you the most up to date information available.  First, check in with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (www.illinoissafeschools.org).  They do amazing work with school policy and gender issues.

I know this hard work. Here. Put a little aloe on that burn. Now consider this. There is a growing number of school administrators who have already undertaken some education on the topic of gender identity, bathroom and locker room issues and have arranged for training for all of their staff. At this point, schools are even arranging education for parents who want to understand more. How do I know this? Because I’ve met them in person. They’ve come to trainings offered by Youth Outlook (www.youth-outlook.org), or they’ve scheduled Youth Outlook to come to their school for a presentation. Talk to them. They are a wealth of information about how they did policy changes, guidelines and training.

Back in the late 90s when Youth Outlook was just getting launched, school representatives told me ALL THE TIME that there were no gay kids in the suburban schools. I half expected it from the admin folks but I’ll admit I found it embarrassing from other social workers. Then, time went by and I kept bringing the topic up and more kids came out and GSAs took root. High school representatives stopped arguing about whether or not they had gay kids. They KNEW they had them. Those wild and rascally gay kids were everywhere!

About 5 years ago, I started pointing out that we weren’t talking about only gay kids any more and we weren’t talking about just high schools. By then, we were talking about middle school kids coming out and many, many more issues related to gender identity. And over the last few years, trans, non-binary and gender fluid kids have been coming out in droves.

Guess what our next challenge is going to be?  Can you connect the dots? Right.  Here. You need a little more aloe on that. The next trend is going to be elementary aged kids coming out as the whole range of L, G, B, P and T/non-binary.  The middle schools are still doing what the high schools did back in the 90s. “Oh, we don’t have kids like that here!” Imagine, if you will, what the response is going to be when the elementary aged kids start coming out in the same droves that the middle schoolers are right now.

So, back to my original point.  It’s not the responsibility of those kids to educate you, no more than it is the responsibility of trans teenagers to educate their doctors about trans health needs. There are trainings all over the country now. There are local organizations specializing in supporting LGBT+ kids. I encourage you to find us. We can help you, because it’s our mission to help them. Inviting a 14 year old to meet with the school attorney to explain gender…strikes me as a power play and the first thought that comes to mind, “Hey, pick on someone your own size.”

Really? Is this the first time someone has said that to you?

I know, I know! But don’t worry, I think your eyebrows will grow back. Take this aloe plant with you.  We’ll talk again soon.

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