Dolls for All

I’m a toddler mom, so dolls are part of my everyday reality. My 2-year-old has several dolls, but one is her special “baby” — a soft fabric doll with dark pigtails just like hers. My daughter spends a lot of time dressing and undressing baby, feeding her peas, giving her a bottle, and taking her for rides on her bike or in the shopping cart. I think this type of caregiving play is incredibly important to my child’s development. I know she’s lucky because not only is she encouraged to play with whatever she wants (she has blocks and trucks, too), but if she chooses dolls, she has access to one that looks like her.

That’s not always the case for other children. I’m pleased to report, however, that this is starting to change. I’d like to highlight a few companies who are making an effort to provide kids with dolls the reflect the diversity of the American people:

Natural Girls United: California mom Karen Byrd started her own business customizing dolls to give them natural hairstyles, from afros to dreadlocks. Byrd understands that having a doll that looks like them can positively impact a child’s self-esteem and confidence. She hopes to develop in young children a “positive view of what ethnic beauty is.”

Kay Customz: Custom doll designer Crystal Kay is making sure that all children are represented by dolls, including those with vitiligo, a rare skin condition that affects pigmentation, and albinism. Kay’s gorgeous hand-painted dolls promote inclusivity and a diverse definition of beauty.

Girls &Co: Neha Chauhan Woodward has created the diverse dolls she never had growing up as an Indian-American kid. Woodward recognizes that many children in this country (mine included) are mulitiracial, and set out to fill this gap in the toy industry. Woodward’s dolls aren’t just racially diverse (although half-Latina Cara is pretty awesome) — they’re smart, goal-oriented, and ambitious role models for young children.

MyFamilyBuilders: When I was a little girl, I used my barrettes to make a family and act out their daily activities. However, I made them look like I thought a family should rather than a reflection of my own single-parent, multiracial, multigenerational family structure. A toy like My Family Builders would have been really empowering. The set of 48 magnetic wooden pieces can be put together to make over 2000 combinations of family, a beautiful celebration of family diversity.

American Girl: I received my first American Girl catalog in the mail. I’m not sure I want to go down that road, but I was pleasantly surprised by both the diversity of available dolls (especially the customizable Truly Me collection) and the representation around disability (wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc.). I was most pleased, however, by the release of the first boy doll, Logan. Here’s why:

It’s important for boys to see themselves represented, too, and I think this marketing shift helps break down the stereotype that dolls are just for girls. From building empathy to confidence, playing with dolls is beneficial for all children.  Whatever their gender or gender of the doll they choose to play with, kids need to get the message that nurturing and childrearing aren’t gendered activities.

It’s getting better. You know diverse representation is becoming more commonplace when even Barbie gets in the game. The benefits of doll play to development are numerous, including boosting brain power, creativity, and social skills. We should absolutely be doing everything we can to get dolls into the hands of all children, and when those dolls provide kids with mirrors of their own identities, all the better.

Tips for an Inclusive Halloween

I love Halloween — always have. As a kid, I trick-or-treated in my neighborhood, bobbed apples at parties, and dressed as everything from a pumpkin to a black cat to Tinkerbell. Thanks to a mostly middle-class upbringing, Halloween was very accessible to me. However, I think it’s irresponsible to assume that just because October 31st was fun for me means it’s just as great for everyone else. That’s why this year, I’m offering this guide for a more inclusive Halloween.

1)Select costumes conscientiously:

In order to understand why some costumes are offensive, you must familiarize yourself with cultural appropriation. Essentially, cultural appropriation is the act of taking things (often for aesthetic or performative purposes) from a culture other than your own without demonstrating understanding or respect for said culture. Dressing up as a Native American or a geisha is unacceptable not only because it co-opts a culture as a costume, but because it reduces it to a single stereotype. Culturally-appropriative costumes fail to appreciate historical and cultural significance and are essentially an exercise in privilege. Frankly, there are so many options for costumes (including creatures both real and imaginary, professions, historical figures, and characters from books, TV, and movies) that don’t rely on racist tropes that there’s really no excuse for it.

2)Use Halloween costuming as an opportunity to empower children:

Website A Mighty Girl offers an annual Girl Empowerment Halloween Costume Guide, with recommendations sorted by age (babies to adult) and theme (superheroes, fantasy, occupations, etc.). I love this idea and submitted a photo of my daughter as a chef for their post-holiday round-up. However, I think it’s important that when it comes to crossing the gender line, we be equally supportive of a boy who wants to be Princess Elsa as a girl who wants to be Captain America.

3)Stock up on non-candy options:

For kids with food allergies and intolerances, trick-or-treating can be challenging (and when those allergies are life-threatening, downright sinister). This year, consider purchasing some non-food items (glow bracelets, bubbles, stickers, temporary tattoos, etc.) and place a teal-colored pumpkin on your porch to let parents know you have them. The Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by the Food Allergy and Research Foundation, began in 2014 and has increased awareness about kids with food allergies and intolerances. A little effort on your part can make sure that food allergies aren’t the reason Halloween is the scariest day of the year.

4)Don’t police trick-or-treaters:

When you answer the doorbell, just keep in mind that there’s always more than meets the eye. A child who doesn’t say “Trick or Treat” might be nonverbal. A sensory processing disorder may be the reason a child is in street clothes instead of a costume. Be understanding. Above all, make your neighborhood a welcoming place for all. A community in Pennsylvania is using special bags to cut down on “outsider” trick-or-treating this year. Because nothing says “inclusive” like demanding ID from little kids. If you only want to give candy out to certain children, might I suggest having a private party and turning out your porch light?

5)Remember that not all families celebrate:

This is especially important in schools. In the last few days, a Massachusetts school has been under fire for banning Halloween celebrations this year. This is nothing new. Schools have been canceling Halloween parties and parades since the ‘90s. Honestly, as public institutions, they’re not wrong. For many families, their faith systems do not include celebrating Halloween (or any holiday, for some). For low-income families, the cost of Halloween can be prohibitive. I don’t see this as a politically correct move. It’s about being more inclusive, and kids who do celebrate have any number of options, including events sponsored by the parks and recreation department, local businesses, and places of worship, that they’re not missing out on anything if there’s nothing going on at school. And even schools that don’t allow Halloween parties often have alternatives like an after-school fall festival.  

When in doubt this Halloween, err on the side of respect and safety. And remember: Any time a community can make a beloved tradition more accessible for all its children, it should.

 

#TakeAKnee: Reflections of a Military Spouse

When I first met my in-laws, everyone was having a lively discussion about football rivalries. Worried that I was being left out, my future mother-in-law said, “I’m sorry, Kimmie. What football team do you hate?” My response? “I hate football, Patti.” Honestly, there’s nothing that interests me less than this particular national pastime. However, when National Football League players are criticized for exercising their First Amendment rights, and when critics invoke the sacrifices of people like my soldier husband, you better believe I’m interested.

Let’s take a look at the history of the #TakeAKnee movement. At the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the “Star Spangled Banner,” explaining that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” Many athletes across many different sports have knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick, but his career couldn’t take the backlash and this year, he finds himself without a team. Over the weekend, President Trump used profanity and bullying language to encourage NFL owners to fire players who knelt for the national anthem. In an unprecedented show of unity, entire teams refused to come out of the locker room, knelt en masse, and linked arms in protest.

If your newsfeed is anything like mine, it was full of articles, memes, and posts either praising or condemning the actions of teams and individual players. The overarching argument of the latter is that it was disrespectful of the flag and all those who have served and died under it. As a proud military spouse, let me just say that it doesn’t bother me a whit that NFL players are kneeling during the anthem. Because I know it’s not about the flag. These athletes are protesting police brutality, injustice, systemic racism, and more recently, a president who would restrict their constitutional right to do so.

It really bothers me to have people invoke “our soldiers” as a reason for their anger because they’re not your soldiers. Soldiers are individuals; they don’t belong to anyone and their opinions are as unique as they are. For every veteran who is offended by players who sit out during the anthem, there is one who supports their decision. Take a look at #VetsforKaepernick, and you’ll see that countless veterans not only took a knee, but admonished critics for exploiting them in order to silence Black Americans. Even service members who don’t agree with players’ choices agree that they don’t get to pick and choose the rights they fight for.

The idea that protest is un-American is patently untrue. What exactly would you call the Boston Tea Party if not protest? Peaceful protest was a hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement. I’m so tired of white folks who call up Martin Luther King, Jr. as someone who “did it right.” They seem to forget that MLK was a revolutionary who was jailed and assassinated for what he believed in. Do it some other way, they say, but don’t disrespect the flag. However, like Tomi Lahren confronted by Trevor Noah, these same people are unable to produce an “acceptable” way for people of color to protest.

Another argument I’ve seen is that politics don’t belong in sports. First and foremost, I fail to see how social justice is “political.” Furthermore, there’s a long history of athletes protesting social issues, from Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to enlist in the Vietnam War. One of the reasons the Civil Rights Movement was successful was that it was televised, so if a player wants to draw attention to injustice, why not take advantage of the platform they’ve been given? Fans are part of the same culture that makes athletes superstars, so if they have a problem with them using it for activism, they have only themselves to blame.

You want to talk about the flag code? Let’s talk about the flag code. The United States Flag Code is a set of advisory rules; essentially, it’s etiquette. It’s not enforced, and if you look at countries where patriotism is compulsory, they’re not exactly bastions of freedom. I’m bothered that it is only this particular violation that seems to upset people. I don’t see anyone complaining about people wearing American flag leggings or failing to stand at a parade when the flag goes by (I know this because my family is always the only one who stands, in even small-town America on the Fourth of July). If it is this particular protest by mostly Black players that bothers you, it may say more about you than it does about them, and I invite you to sit with that discomfort. And if the only thing you’ve done for veterans is be righteously indignant on their behalf, I also invite you to examine the reason you’re really upset.

If you want to #BoycottNFL and stop buying jerseys, go for it. You have as much a right to protest as the players (you’d do well to remember that), but I’ll thank you kindly to leave my husband’s service out of it.

Back to School: Post-Charlottesville

Back when I was teaching, the back to school season meant supply shopping at Target, freshly laminated nametags, and the excitement of welcoming the new group of children in my care, along with their families. This year, teachers are faced not just with a new class list and curriculum, but the urgent need to respond to the bold resurgence of the white nationalist movement, made so terrifyingly apparent by the “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent attack on protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Ignoring current events because they are too “politically charged” for student consumption or deeming conversations about bigotry to be developmentally inappropriate are unsound and dangerous practices. It is the basic work of education to denounce and challenge hate and protect our students’ right to learn. Your role comes with the moral and legal responsibility to provide for full participation in school for all children, free from harassment and discrimination.  To quote educator Jamilah Pitts, “I am in this work because I am a teacher.”

I don’t have a classroom this year, so I’m using this platform to give elementary educators some first-day and beyond tools to effectively address hatred in America with their students in a way that ensures that all children feel safe, welcome, and respected in schools across the nation.

1)Start with a read aloud.

Picture books are a great entry point for potentially difficult topics. They can jump-start conversations and provide students with windows into the lives of those who are different from them, building a foundation of empathy. There are dozens of lists of books with diverse perspectives, including those provided by Welcoming Schools, Teaching Tolerance, and A Mighty Girl. Given the current political and social climate, I suggest Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side. It’s the story of two little girls who dare to be friends despite the literal and figurative fences keeping them apart.

2)Use the phrase “in this school.”

When discussing differences, children may push back with comments like, “In my family, we believe…” or “I heard President Trump say…” We do not want to put kids in the position of having their family’s beliefs attacked or ridiculed, but they can and should understand that sometimes home and school are different. It is completely acceptable to respond that different people believe different things, but here in this school, we respect everyone.

 3)Address stereotypes.

Our students are frequently exposed to stereotypes about people: in the media, in the community, and even at home. We can help counteract negative messaging with accurate information in school. In addition to the quality books and lesson plans that are available to this end, there are also excellent multimedia options. For our youngest learners, I recommend Sesame Street. From a character with autism to segments like “I Love My Hair” and “Dress Me Up Club,” Elmo and company have a long history of celebrating and educating about difference. Older students can benefit from the New York Times collection of 25 mini-films on race, bias, and identity.

 4)Explicitly teach civics and history.

In the era of accountability, it seems that the social sciences have taken a back seat to “the basics.” It will be to our own detriment, however, if we fail to take advantage of teachable moments around high-profile current events. For lower grades, we can use age-appropriate language to name and identify what’s happening while affirming the values of respect and tolerance. Older students, however, may have questions about the Confederacy, Nazism, and the KKK, and educators must be prepared to answer. Teachers can educate their students and themselves with resources available at Teaching Tolerance, the Anti-Defamation League, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or by searching #CharlottesvilleCurriculum.

5)Plant the seeds of allyship.

As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Remind students of those who did good, and empower them to do the same. It’s important to teach our students that there are many ways to be an ally. So often, we explain that it means standing up for someone. Kids need to know that can also be an ally by refusing to take part in name-calling, comforting the targets of bullying, seeking help from an adult, and learning to appreciate differences.

In the days following Charlottesville, my newsfeed was inundated with articles, images, memes, and cartoons in response to the events there. There is one that is burned into my memory banks. It is a photograph of Jewish women and children, naked and awaiting their murder. One is pregnant. One has a baby. One holds her toddler in her arms, the very image of the precious child I tuck into bed every night. I was overwhelmed by feelings of how it could ever have happened. And yet it did and it does, from Bosnia to Darfur to Syria to right here in the U.S., where people feel emboldened to fly the swastika and a white mother calls for genocide as she holds her two children in her lap.

History (the distant and the not so) tells us that evil prevails when good people do nothing. Teachers, I know you are good people, and I call upon you to be on the front lines of the fight for social justice. Education is the first line of defense for our democracy. So as you sharpen those pencils in anticipation of the arrival of your learners, make plans to do the deeper work of education — raising young people who will value and protect the diversity that strengthens us and makes us great.

In Response to Concerns Over Washington State's New Health Standards

On July 30th, the Tacoma News Tribune ran a letter to the editor entitled “Gender: New health standards are alarming.” (Read it here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article164246722.html) To be clear, this is an opinion article based on misunderstanding and misinformation. In the interest of disseminating accurate information, I’ll take on each of the arguments presented.

Let’s take a look at what’s true: Washington State will implement new learning standards for health and physical education this fall. Public review and input occurred in January of 2016, and the standards were formally adopted by Superintendent Randy Dorn in March of that year. That the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has developed standards is nothing new; it’s required by state law. I am surprised, however, that most people don’t know that it is districts, schools, and teachers that determine grade-level outcomes. The outcomes listed by the state that are causing such an uproar are optional (although they do represent best practice).

It’s important that we take a look at the writer’s source for their statements: Family Policy Institute of Washington. The FPIW is a well-known anti-LGBT group. In opposition to marriage equality in 2012, they promoted the completely false and utterly reprehensible claim that gay parents molest their children. They’re the same people behind the anti-transgender campaign entitled “Just Want Privacy.” If you want information, I strongly suggest visiting the OSPI website to review the new standards rather than taking the word of someone who gets their information from an organization with ties to anti-gay hate groups.

The writer’s statement that “children as young as 5 will be learning about gender expression, gender identity and fluidity, sexual orientation and HIV prevention” is misleading in places and blatantly untrue in others. I assume the author is referring to the addition of the optional “self-identity” grade-level outcomes. Gender expression is how we outwardly express our gender in terms of clothes, hair, etc. Gender identity is an internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither. In Kindergarten, this looks like  that there are many ways to express gender. I fail to see how this is inappropriate for elementary students.

As for the other claims, the term “sexual orientation” does not come up until fourth grade, and most educators I know use the definition of “who you love.” In elementary school, we look at sexual orientation through the lens of family, respect, and love. For example, students with two-mom or two-dad families should see their families represented and validated by curriculum and respected by staff and classmates. HIV prevention education is required and is taught in fifth grade, as it has been since I very first started teaching.

Perhaps the most outrageous assertion is that “third graders will be taught they can choose their own gender.” This individual does not understand gender identity. No one chooses their gender. They are the gender they are; it’s just that their gender identity may or may not align with their sex assigned at birth. Districts who choose to implement the self-identity outcomes are simply teaching children that they get to be who they are and the importance of respecting all people, regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.   

The author goes on to say that “fourth graders will be taught that gender roles are social constructs.” Even if you ignore the fact that gender roles are social constructs, that’s not the same thing as examining “how culture, media, society, and other people influence our perceptions of gender roles.” As a mom, I have no problem with schools taking on gender stereotypes. I don’t want my daughter limited — period.

The final accusation is one of indoctrination. This is not about promoting an agenda or attacking traditional values; it’s about fostering respect. As OSPI itself has stated, “Please note that teaching about topics such as self-identity is not the same as promoting the topics. Classroom teachers should not convey their own values about any sexual health education topic — that is the role of parents.” If a parent doesn’t like a particular grade-level outcome (and the district has decided to teach it), they can opt out. School districts are required to make any sexual health education curriculum or materials that they choose to adopt available for parent review.

This letter to the editor is yet another case of making an issue where there isn’t one.

LGBTQ Americans on Notice

To say that it’s been a difficult week for the LGBTQ community in this country is a gross understatement. I remember vividly then-candidate Donald Trump’s GOP convention speech about this time last year when he promised to protect LGBTQ Americans. This week, he proved himself to be what I’ve always known him to be on this issue and countless others: a liar. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you can see recent developments for what they are — a seemingly coordinated attack on an entire group of citizens of this nation.

On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted his intention to reinstate a ban on transgender people serving in any capacity in the U.S. military. As we’ve come to expect, there is no information on when and how this ban would go into effect. The Pentagon was not even notified, and the Joint Chiefs have announced that there will be no change to policy (turns out a tweet isn’t a legally binding agreement). However, this blatant disrespect and disregard for the sacrifice of our transgender veterans and 15,000 active duty service members horrifies me, especially as a military spouse. The move is unpatriotic and dangerous.

Yesterday, we learned that the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. In the past 10 years, courts have interpreted discrimination based on LBGTQ status as illegal as a form of sex discrimination, prohibited by civil rights legislation like Title VII, as well as Title IX and the Fair Housing Act. This filing is a shameful attempt to remove longstanding federal protections for marginalized people.

Just in case you thought your state might come through for you, look no further than Texas. Texans bristle at anything resembling federal overstepping, so it came as no surprise on Monday when the State Senate advanced its version of North Carolina’s bathroom bill. As someone the bill purports to protect (a cisgender woman and mother to a young child), I can tell you that SB3 won’t make me any safer. It will, however, jeopardize the safety of a group of already targeted people. I am, of course, referring to transgender individuals, including children.

Some argue that the above were merely meant to distract us from urging Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Make no mistake, millions of LGBTQ people would have been negatively affected by the repeal of the ACA. In what seemed to be the only good news this week, the GOP “Skinny Repeal” failed.

Regardless, we must not ignore these recent events. What can you do? Read articles like this (https://medium.com/@callmethey/to-the-cis-person-angrily-sharing-news-of-the-trump-transgender-military-ban-441862263bd8) and reflect on your own behavior. Text OUR TROOPS to 30644 to get involved with the Human Rights Campaign. Donate to the ACLU to help them fight back. Hold your representatives’ feet to the fire. Whatever we do, we must not allow this behavior to go unchecked. I for one refuse to believe that this is who we are.

Gender-Neutral for the Win

Just the other day, I walked into a conversation about gender neutrality in my own home. My 2-year-old daughter has a beloved fox lovey that she calls Coco. Through the baby monitor, I heard my mom say, “I don’t see Coco. Where is he?” She went on to ask my little one if Coco was a boy or a girl, and then it occurred to her that maybe Coco wasn’t either. She came into the kitchen, and we had a lovely discussion about pronouns and settled on “they” for dear Coco.

It’s not just happening in my house, either. Efforts toward gender inclusivity are happening across not just the country but the globe. Check out these three recent developments:

1)Target: As if I needed more reasons to love the big red bullseye, Target just announced the launch of a gender-neutral kids’ clothing and accessories line. The Toca Boca collection includes some adorable pieces, including a cat hoodie, sloth t-shirt, and science lab dress. Kudos to Target for not limiting children based on archaic, arbitrary gender stereotypes. Let clothes be clothes, and let kids be kids!

2)D.C. and Oregon ID cards: Last month, denizens of the nation’s capital became the first in the country to have the option of using X as their gender marker on their identification cards instead of M or F. Oregon soon followed suit, becoming the first state to allow gender-neutral driver’s licenses. This is a big step toward honoring non-binary identities.

3)“The Tube” in London: London’s underground has always greeted its passengers with “ladies and gentleman.” Not so anymore. Londoners will now hear “hello everyone” across the transport network. Transport for London showed its support for the LGBTQ community during Pride, and this change is a recognition of the power and importance of inclusive language.

The pushback against the binary is occurring everywhere. Gender-neutral bathrooms are becoming the norm from Berlin to Dublin City University. Canadians are pushing to change the lyrics of “O, Canada” from “sons” to “all of us.” Sweden boasts successful gender-neutral pre-schools. Emma Watson won a first-ever genderless acting award from MTV. Jennifer Lopez employed gender-neutral pronouns in a post about her sister’s child (to the delight of her inclusive-minded fans like me).

There’s an argument that the move to gender-neutral is going too far. I’d like to counter that we’ve never been successful as a human race when we’ve limited people. Maybe clothes, ID cards, and simple words don’t seem that significant, but when people feel free to be their genuine selves, I can’t help but think we all win.

Saying His Name: Philando Castile

Last week, following the acquittal of the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile, dash cam footage was released to the public. Like many of you, I watched in horror as a calm, courteous Castile did exactly what he was supposed to and died anyway. I choked back tears as Castile’s girlfriend’s daughter begged her mother to stop crying and screaming so she wouldn’t get “shooted.” Seeing the incident in real time is nothing short of appalling. As a teacher, mother, American, and human being, this entire situation breaks me.

My heart is broken for Castile’s loved ones. For his girlfriend who live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting knowing she otherwise wouldn’t be believed. For her daughter who witnessed shocking brutality and at 4 years old wishes her town was safer. For the mother whose loss and anger at the city that killed her son I cannot begin to understand.

My heart is broken for Castile’s school community. For the hundreds of children whose names he memorized so he could greet them by name every day in the cafeteria. For the little girl who continues to give Mr. Phil imaginary high-fives. I recently learned that Castile’s school, J.J. Hill Montessori, received the Welcoming Schools Seal of Excellence. By all accounts, Castile exemplified the Welcoming Schools guiding principles of love, family, and respect.

My heart is broken for this country. For the heartbreaking talks families of color must have with their children and the fear they must feel when they send them out into the world. For a nation so rooted in systemic racism that law enforcement is allowed to be judge, jury, and executioner. For the terrible miscarriage of justice in this case. And the one before that. And the one before that. And the one before that.

I don’t know where we go from here. This is not the first time a Black man has been gunned down by a police officer, but the evidence was so compelling that I was sure the outcome would be different. And then it wasn’t, and it changed me. We have to do better. I have to do better. Because while saying his name is important, it's just not enough.

Honoring Pride: Appropriate Actions for Allies

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: the “A” in LGBTQIA+ does not stand for ally. If at any point in history it did, it was a capitulation to straight cisgender people, and that’s not OK in my book. This is not to say that allies don’t have an important role to play, or that allyship doesn’t exist within the queer community itself. We must, however, recognize that ally is not a marginalized identity (in fact, there’s an argument that it isn’t an identity at all but an action) and that by inserting themselves into the community, allies actually contribute to oppression and erasure, specifically of asexual, agender, and aromantic people (the real “A”).

But don’t cancel your plans for celebrating Pride as an ally just yet. There are plenty of ways to participate and show your support that don’t monopolize emotional energy, take up space that belongs to the LGBTQ community, or ignore or deny straight, cis privilege. Let’s look at a few:

1)Send what the Human Rights Campaign Foundation calls “gentle signals.”

HRC’s suggestions include putting an HRC or PFLAG sticker on your car and tweeting or blogging a message of support of LBGTQ issue. Following the landmark marriage equality decision, thousands of people added a rainbow filter to their Facebook profile picture. In my house, I have books like Beyond Magenta and Safe is Not Enough and a signed book of poetry by Staceyann Chin on my shelves. A friend of mine recently offered via social media to send a rainbow flag to anyone on his friends list with the caveat that they send a picture of it in their yard.

“Gentle signals” like these are great way to show queer people that it is safe to be open and honest about who they are with you without demanding attention, recognition, or validation for yourself.

2)Educate within your own community.

I’m a writer, and I use my blog to highlight issues of diversity and equity as they pertain to educators. I use both my clout as an experienced teacher as well as my privilege to educate people like me. I also write for a progressive parenting site, and it’s been an excellent platform for inclusivity. I might write directly about society’s ridiculous obsession with gendering babies, or simply use inclusive language (e.g. “partner” instead of “husband”) within the context of an article about pregnancy or breastfeeding. As a consultant for Welcoming Schools, I teach educators how to respond to gender-based teasing and anti-LGBTQ slurs (e.g. “that’s so gay”).

Just the other day, I overheard my baby boomer mom talking to my daughter about her beloved fox lovey, Coco. “Is Coco a boy or a girl?” she asked. “Maybe he isn’t either.” She came into the kitchen to ask me how she should refer to someone who does not identify as male or female, and we had a great conversation about using “they/them/theirs” as singular pronouns.

This approach can help ensure that you don’t try to make your opinion “count” more than that of someone in the queer community. It also requires that you educate yourself.  

3)Make informed decisions.

When preparing to cast your vote, research the candidates and find out their positions on issues that impact the LGBTQ community. Patronize businesses that support LGBTQ equality, such as Apple, Target, and Starbucks. Even better, support local businesses owned by queer folks in your own community. Make sure charities to which you donate don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

 4)Live your allyship every day.

 By all means, join in on pride parades and celebrations, but don’t let that be all you do. You’re not an ally by virtue of knowing someone who is LGBTQ. Listen to the LGBTQ people in your life and find opportunities to ask them about the challenges they face. Avoid making assumptions. Create social settings that bring people together (always invite the significant others of your LGBTQ friends and family, just as you would include other folks’ spouses and significant others). When you hear derogatory comments or demeaning “humor,” don’t let it slide in your presence.

Pride is 30 days of celebrating LGBTQ people, history, and accomplishments, but it’s also about political and social change. It’s been 48 years since the Stonewall Riots that started the LGBTQ rights movement and inspired the creation of Pride. There’s still much work to be done as we move by fits and starts toward full equality, and allies can be part of that — in the right way. Just make sure your allyship goes beyond donning a rainbow tutu in June.  

To Pledge or Not to Pledge (Allegiance)

In a scrapbook in my attic, I have the certificate I received when I memorized the Pledge of Allegiance in kindergarten. The scratch and sniff sticker still smells like oranges. In high school, a classmate of mine questioned the fact that we didn’t recite the pledge in accordance with Washington State Law, but mostly I was just jealous that she was on the local news. The controversy over the pledge didn’t really hit me until I 1)became and teacher and 2)came to terms with my atheism.

At high school dance competitions, we were expected to stand uniformly with hands over our hearts during the pledge and anthem. One team member was a Jehovah’s Witness, and honestly, teenage me thought it was a little weird that she sat down. Thanks to a pamphlet from the parents of a student, I came to understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses see the recitation of the pledge as idolatry. While my class dutifully said the pledge daily, I respected my students’ right to sit or remain silent on religious grounds. I also did my best to shield them from shaming or ostracizing by answering other kids’ questions matter-of-factly and standing next to them during patriotic songs.

Sometime in my twenties, I realized that Christianity didn’t fit my beliefs. I decided that I would recite the pledge but leave out the words “under God.” I never made a production out of it – I just stopped. I don’t think it’s appropriate for those words to be included when this country was founded on the division between church and state. The pledge has been framed as a patriotic rather than a religious exercise, but for me, that just doesn’t stand up. I also don’t think most people know that those words were added to the original pledge in 1954 in response to the Communist “threat.”

As a teacher, I questioned the appropriateness of asking young children to swear an oath of loyalty that they’re not even necessarily capable of comprehending. This passage from The Portable Veblen has really stuck with me: “Indivisible. As a kid he thought it was a stuttered invisible. And that it referred to the flag itself. Kids making pledges on misunderstandings. He’d thought it meant the flag flew invisibly over all.” It feels uncomfortably like indoctrination for me. Honestly, I think we’d be better served in our efforts to raise good citizens by having schoolchildren participate in acts of service rather than repeating words they don’t understand.

I reject that saying the pledge is a requisite of patriotism. I don’t think any person or group has the right to decide what patriotism looks like. For me, patriotism means protecting First Amendment rights, embracing diversity, and supporting my deployed husband. The Supreme Court, in 1943, agreed with me: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

There have been numerous legal challenges to Pledge of Allegiance, but I don’t think it’s going away. I can accept the pledge in schools (and legally, I have to) with a few caveats:

·      Student and teacher participation is optional.

·      No discipline will be imposed on those who refrain.

·      Non-participation is not questioned (e.g. parental permission is not required, reasons other than religious grounds are accepted, etc.).

I would love to never again see a meme come across my social media feeds saying that everything is the worst because kids don’t say the pledge. The fact is, 45 states require it. However, I’d like the same folks to consider the following: a coerced, compelled, or hollow pledge means nothing. Freedom makes this country great, and that includes the freedom to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or abstain from it. Period.

 

What 5 Seconds of 'This Is Us' Confirmed for Me About Diversity Education

I recently watched This Is Us in its entirety. It’s a charming show with many tender moments, but it was a five second interaction during the Christmas episode that really stuck with me as an educator. In the episode, Randall’s biological father William brings his partner to the family’s Christmas Eve festivities. Randall appears perplexed, but fortunately, his young daughter Tess is there to clear things up for him. It goes something like this:

Randall (to wife Beth): Has William ever mentioned Jesse before?

Tess: It’s just like the book with two dads from school.

Randall: What?

Tess: Grandpa’s gay, Dad.

And she goes on her merry way. I know it’s a fictionalized conversation, but as a teacher, I thought there was a lot to unpack in terms of implications for diversity education, specifically efforts to be LGBTQ-inclusive.

First, it’s important for students to have books that provide both mirrors and windows. That the latter has been provided by her teachers is apparent in Tess’s reaction. Children’s literature provides insight into the lives of those who are different, and that’s key to developing understanding and empathy. When teachers share books like A Tale of Two Daddies and Heather Has Two Mommies, they expose kids to diversity and help them see the common thread through all families: love!

Next, kids need the vocabulary to talk about difference respectfully. Many school-age kids use “gay” as a put-down, often to mean “stupid.” When they understand what the word really mean (“a man and a man or a woman and a woman who love each other”), they’re less likely to use it as a slur. Just like Tess did, armed with the necessary terminology, kids can not only name difference (which is developmentally appropriate, by the way) but start to appreciate it.

Finally, elementary kids are not too young to learn about LGBTQ topics. The themes of family, respect, and love are completely appropriate for young children. Sex, for those who are worried about it, is not discussed beyond “who you love.” It was easy for Tess to accept her grandfather’s partner because she’d been provided accurate, matter-of-fact information about LGBTQ people. å

What I love most about this snippet is that what is a huge revelation for her father is positively shrug-worthy for Tess. And this is the case in schools throughout the nation. Kids are more concerned about fidget spinners and lunch menus than they are about gender markers and bathrooms (unless we make those an issue that they do have to worry about). As adults, we have a lot to learn from the open minds and hearts of children — kids like Tess who teach us that Grandpa being gay is no big deal.

 

 

 

"We Dine Together": Reasons to Hope

Turning on the news has become an event for which I have to seriously brace myself. The world is hurting, from Syria to Egypt to Stockholm. On the homefront, Congress is in chaos, hateful rhetoric has become mainstream, and everyday citizens seem more divided than ever. Millennials are a much-maligned group, but when I need to be encouraged, I look to them. A prime example of what I’m referring to is what’s happening at a high school in Florida, recently featured in On the Road with Steve Hartman (as part of the CBS Evening News it doesn’t pain me to watch).  

Denis Estimon, now a senior at Boca Raton Community High School, created the student group “We Dine Together” with one purpose: that no one would have to eat lunch alone. Group members roam the dining area in search of kids who look like they might need a friend. They shake hands, introduce themselves, and sit and talk. If the student is interested, they invite them to eat lunch with them in a nearby classroom.

It’s a small gesture, but it can mean the world. Estimon knows this firsthand. As an immigrant from Haiti, he entered first grade knowing absolutely no one. As a popular student, it would have been easy for Estimon to forget what it was like to be a new student. Instead, he founded a club and recruited football players, cheerleaders, and others at the top of the high school food chain to make his school a place where anyone who wants friendship and inclusion can have them without having to change who they are.

Can a little lunch club do all that? Actually, yes it can. The lunchroom can be an incredibly isolating place. There’s a social hierarchy that “must” be observed, and exclusive cliques make it hard for new students to make friends. In the teen world, students who dare to be different may be ostracized. Given the current political climate and with the specter of deportation over their heads, refugee and immigrant students may be worried about the well-being of their families and their own futures. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, 75% of transgender students feel unsafe at school. So, yes, a little hospitality can go a long way.

When I’m feeling disheartened by the direction our country is going, I take comfort in knowing that the upcoming generation is the most tolerant and progressive in history. I trust the kids who are making the lives of their classmates better to handle the problems of the future with kindness, dignity, and compassion.

Review: Gender Revolution

I finally had time to sit down and watch Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric. The National Geographic documentary, now available for streaming on Hulu, runs an hour and a half and is remarkably comprehensive. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to learn more about the complexities of gender.

The special is divided into three sections. First, Couric explores what it means to be intersex. She highlights the relatively arbitrary way in which doctors have decided whether a baby with anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female, should be a boy or a girl. The second portion is devoted to transgender people. Couric interviews Gavin Grimm, the trailblazing trans teen who has become the face of the nationwide bathroom debate. Finally, Couric explores the rapidly expanding views about gender among youth. A panel of college students explains why they reject the gender binary and embrace infinite gender identities.

The documentary features doctors, scientists, and experts in the field, but most compelling are the stories of real people and their unique gender journeys. Brian, who is intersex, was raised as a girl and only learned the truth from his mother when he noticed that the name on his birth certificate had been whited out. There’s the beautiful example of the loving relationship between Kate and Linda Rohr, who were married for 45 years before Kate transitioned. The show concludes with an interview with model Hari Nef and former tennis player Renee Richards, who represent opposing ends of the generational spectrum. Both transgender women, they are navigating the generational divide over gender.

Couric is an ideal host. Unassuming and down to earth, she makes it clear she’s learning, too. She laughs at herself when she makes a mistake (even including a slip-up in the credits), but it’s apparent that she wants to get it right. There were a few moments that were cringe-worthy, and critics have called her “befuddled.” I know that Couric has made some missteps in the path, but I for one appreciate the way she allows for teachable moments. For many, transgender topics are uncomfortable because people just don’t have the knowledge or experience. Couric allows others to learn from her example (both positive and negative). Her vulnerability and relatability make this show accessible to the exact audience that needs to see it.

This documentary is essentially a primer on gender topics, but it’s very well done. It should be required viewing for teachers and school staff, parents, and policy-makers. Learning about those who are different through “windows” like these is an essential piece in building empathy. If you are ready to explore the evolving concept of gender and better understand others, Gender Revolution is a great place to start.

Recognizing Privilege

Nothing seems to rile people up quite like talking about privilege. On the one hand, there are those benefitting from their privilege who don’t want admit or be blamed for it. On the other, there are people who hurl the word as an accusation. Frankly, neither is productive. You cannot deny that privilege exists, nor can you disregard a person entirely on account of the fact that they possess certain social advantages. The recognition of privilege is an important milestone, but it is a personal one – a step on the journey toward social responsibility.

I recently read Roxane Gay’s excellent essay on privilege in her book Bad Feminist. I could never put it as eloquently as she did, but I do feel inspired to share my thoughts and reflections. Gay defines privilege in the following way: “Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage or favor.” She deals deftly with the two sides, as I’ll explain below.

Deniers: People have a hard time accepting that they have privilege. It’s not their fault, they contend, but neither is it something they earned. I’ve heard many people, particularly on social media, who argue in this way: “I don’t have privilege. I’m white, but I grew up poor.” Gay’s response is as follows: “the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized.” You’re not being asked to discount your own suffering, but the fact remains that if you live in the developed world, you have things other people want… and that’s the definition of privilege.

Accusers: It’s not surprising that when you wield the word “privilege” as a weapon, people become defensive. As Gay states, “Too many people have become self-appointed privilege police.” We can’t hope to change hearts if we back people into a corner where their only option is to entrench. If we succeed in silencing them, we lose out on valuable discourse.

There’s this misconception that I “get” to write about issues of diversity and equity because I’m a member of certain marginalized communities. I would argue that it’s my privilege that gives me the platform to do so. I’m a multiracial female atheist who grew up poor, a child of divorce. However, I’m also a U.S. citizen and passport holder, able-bodied, college educated, middle class, married to a straight man, and have easy access to the Internet. I volunteered abroad, and when you see human rights abuses and abject poverty up close, you can’t help but realize how lucky you are. In fact, I believe it’s my recognition of my privilege, not the ways in which I have suffered, that have brought my heart to the social justice movement.

My home district settled a racism lawsuit shortly before I began teaching there, and one requirement was professional development in diversity. My first year, all school staff had to read Gary Howard’s You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know. I thought it was excellent, but then again, I’m not white. Many white teachers felt called out and targeted for their privilege, which is understandably uncomfortable. The fact is, all of us as educators have to suck it up and evaluate our privilege, but we can do that through discussion and observation rather than confrontation.

Evaluating one’s privilege is difficult but important work. Here’s a place to start: https://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/how-privileged-are-you?utm_term=.da37Ky2Yz#.psEnDKWQm. It’s a good first step to start thinking about the different obstacles people have to navigate in their daily lives, obstacles you may never encounter. Perhaps this will inspire you to action, or simply to live your life more mindfully. If we’re to move forward, we must get to a point where my experience doesn’t negate yours and vice versa, where “multiple truths can coexist.”  

Supporting Trans Students in the Trump Era

In 2016, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued federal guidelines for supporting transgender students in a landmark move. The Obama administration policy, in addition to ensuring other rights, allowed students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The order was put on pause due to a nationwide injunction that barred its enforcement, but it was widely viewed among the LGBTQ community and its allies as a civil rights victory. That work was seemingly undone with a stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen when, under the advisement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he rescinded the protective measures for trans students.

For those of us caring adults who know how important school safety is to transgender students (according to the 2015 GLSEN School Climate Survey, 75% of trans students felt unsafe at school), the revocation of the new rules seems reckless and needlessly cruel. However, it’s important to remember what this withdrawal does and does not mean. Trump’s actions do remove federal protections for transgender youth. However, the following are still true:

·      The DOE/DOJ guidelines are still best practice for supporting transgender students.

·      Transgender students may still have protections under state laws.

·      Transgender students’ rights are still covered by Title IX, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex.  

·      Affected students and parents can file suit for discrimination, and schools face legal liability.

·      No school is prevented from proactively addressing the needs of trans students, adopting inclusive policies, and creating safe school climates.

Therefore, administrators, teachers, and support staff (regardless of the change) should continue to support transgender students in the following ways:

·      Employing bullying and harassment policies that specifically enumerate gender identity.

·      Creating gender neutral dress codes and enforcing them equally.

·      Using the names and pronouns consistent with a student’s gender identity.

·      Providing access to bathrooms and other facilities consistent with a student’s gender identity.

·      Allowing students to participate in sports that are consistent with their gender identity.

·      Protecting the privacy of trans students.

Perhaps most important, we must be advocates for our transgender students. As was made clear on February 22nd, they need us now more than ever.

Scout's Honor At Last

The Boy Scouts of America isn’t exactly known for being progressive when it comes to inclusion. Although they have eventually come down on the side of equality, it can seem like a reluctant shuffle rather than a bold leap. That’s why I was so pleased by the BSA’s recent announcement to allow transgender boys.

The announcement came about a month after a transgender boy in New Jersey was kicked out of his Cub Scout pack. According to the BSA, the child did not meet eligibility requirements, as the organization uses the information on the child’s birth certificate and their “biological sex.” The Girl Scouts, by contrast, welcome transgender girls who are recognized by family and school and live culturally as a girl.

In the statement released in late January, the BSA reversed their birth certificate rule, deciding instead to accept members based on the gender they indicate on their application. This means that boys like Joe Maldonado, the 8-year-old transgender boy who was removed from his troop, can officially participate. And participate he did, becoming the first openly transgender member of the Boy Scouts just one week after the policy reversal.

This was a relatively quick about-face for the Scouts, considering it took several decades for them to accept lesbian, gay, and bisexual scouts and troop leaders. It wasn’t until 2013 that the Scouts ended their ban on openly gay youths joining the organization. It took two more years for them to allow openly gay adult leaders.

When I was in college, I remember my mom’s best friend explaining that the Mormon Church had an alternative scouts program ready to deploy if the BSA ever accepted LGBT people. I can appreciate the pressure the BSA feels from conservative parents and supporters who threaten to leave. However, I have a hard time comprehending how including transgender children could hurt anyone, whereas a ban does hurt someone: the child who is excluded. 

At the end of the day, the Boy Scouts of America did the right thing. This is a Good Turn, and a move in the right direction.

My Refugee Family

I am a refugee descendent. And not too far removed, either. My biological father and nearly all his family escaped Vietnam when Saigon fell in 1975. In a rickety old fishing boat, they somehow managed to arrive in Hawaii. From there, U.S. ships ferried them to a camp in California. My dad and uncle were sponsored by a couple in Washington through their church. Gradually, as they got their feet under them, the rest of the family was able to follow.

Coming to the United States was a difficult and humbling process. In South Vietnam, my dad had been a captain in the army, my grandfather ran transportation for the city of Saigon, and my uncle (who did not escape and was placed in a reeducation camp) was the Minister of Economics. All three were in danger of being executed. Two of my aunts were pregnant on the trip over, and my grandmother had what she later learned was uterine cancer.

My family learned English. They enrolled their children in schools. They took jobs wherever they could. My diplomat’s wife auntie, who had a chef, maid, and nanny for each of her three children in Vietnam, went to work in a fish cannery in Alaska. They lived communally until each family could find and afford their own place. They are the very essence of the term “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” That aunt I mentioned? She put all her kids through college. For me, my family truly embodies the American Dream.

That’s why President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees last Friday upset me so much. The order prevents refugees from entering the country for 120 days, bans Syrian refugees indefinitely, and places a hold on visas already granted to people from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen). It also stipulates that Christian refugees receive priority. The whole thing is, in my opinion, unconscionable. It’s not who we are as a nation. We are the country of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” When we have welcomed those seeking freedom to our shores, we have benefitted. When we turned away Jews fleeing the Nazis in WWII, it led to their deaths.

Ostensibly, the order is to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks. I don’t feel any safer after a week. I know the screening process for entry into the United States is already extensive and thorough. I agree with the experts who say it won’t help protect us because people from the banned countries aren’t the ones who have carried out terrorist attacks. I think this order is just about as effective as taking your shoes off at TSA. It’s an illusion of safety. As the wife of a deployed soldier, I worry about the impact this will have on the counterterrorism effort. Frankly, I think it gives terrorist groups more fodder and may aid in their recruitment efforts.

But it’s not just bad on paper; it’s terrible in practice. Initially, the ban applied to people with valid visas and green cards (the latter has since been rectified). Implementation of the measures has wreaked utter havoc on major airports across the country. Refugees, travelers with visas, and American citizens alike found themselves detained, questioned, barred from entering, and even sent back. When a new rule leads to a breastfed infant being denied access to her mother and a Harvard infectious disease researcher being denied entry, “poorly executed” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  

It’s time to take action. Let’s channel the fervor of the hundreds of volunteer immigration lawyers who set up shop at airports to offer free legal help for those affected by the order. What can you do?

·      Share your support for refugees and immigrants on social media.

·      Donate to the ACLU.

·      Attend a rally or march.

·      Become a refugee advocate.

·      Patronize businesses who support refugees (e.g. Starbucks, Lyft).

·      Volunteer to tutor refugee students learning English.

We are a nation of refugees and immigrants. I look at my relatives, and I see successful, hard-working, family-oriented, contributing citizens. I wonder what this country might have missed out on if we’d turned away the Vietnamese 41 years ago. I certainly wouldn’t be here. I am deeply indebted to my country, and it is with a grateful heart that I plead to the “better angels of our nature.” Let’s make sure those fleeing war, poverty, and persecution get the same chance my family did: a chance at the American dream.

Anyone But Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, is wholly unqualified for the position. DeVos has neither an education degree nor teaching experience. She did not attend public school herself, and neither did her children. She has no experience with the federal student loan program that put me and most everyone I know through college. Her confirmation hearing proved her to be ignorant (willfully or otherwise) regarding basic issues of public education. She’s not just inexperienced; she’s categorically unfit.

It’s not only her lack of experience that makes her a terrible nominee for Education Secretary; her past actions and positions are also troubling, to say the least. Under the guise of education advocacy and reform, DeVos led efforts in her home state of Michigan to implement vouchers (in which taxpayer money is used to send students to private and religious schools) and expand for-profit charter schools that operate without accountability. They have not proven more effective, most of them performing below their public counterparts. Make no mistake: this isn’t about “school choice.” It’s about dismantling public education, privatizing the system, and monetizing our children.

DeVos’s performance at her confirmation hearing didn’t do anything to allay my fears. When Senator Al Franken asked her to give her thoughts on the debate over proficiency vs. growth on assessments, she appeared confused. She refused to give a response other than “I support accountability” when Senator Tim Kaine asked if all schools receiving federal money (public, charter, or otherwise) should be equally accountable. Isn’t it obvious that all federally supported schools should be held to the same standard? Apparently not. I was most shocked, however, when DeVos couldn’t say definitively that guns have no place in schools, instead suggesting that schools might need them to protect against… grizzly bears.

All these things trouble me deeply, but as an advocate for equal rights (especially as they pertain to children), I’m most worried about how DeVos’s confirmation would affect these groups:

1)LGBTQ Youth: Although I was relieved to see DeVos distance herself from conversion therapy (a widely discredited and dangerous practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity), I worry that she won’t stand up for LGBTQ students and their families. According to the Human Rights Campaign, DeVos’s personal foundation has donated to Focus on the Family (which promotes conversion therapy), the Becket Foundation (which advocates for taxpayers funding discriminatory schools), and the Thomas More Law Center (which has challenged the constitutionality of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

LGBTQ students are frequently the targets of bias-based bullying in schools. Under questioning by Kaine, DeVos said she looked forward to “reviewing” the provision that schools receiving tax dollars comply with reporting requirements on harassment and bullying. How is that even something she needs to consider? Shouldn’t all our students be safe in all our schools?

2)Students with Disabilities: Perhaps most alarming to me was that when asked if all schools that receive federal funding should have to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), DeVos said it’s best left to the states. IDEA ensures that children with disabilities have the same opportunity and access to a quality education as their non-disabled peers. Upon further questions from Senator Maggie Hassan, DeVos revealed that she may have “confused” the federal law. Either she doesn’t care about protecting students with disabilities or she’s not familiar with a cornerstone piece of education and civil rights legislation. That’s bad news either way.

DeVos’s school choice advocacy also has the potential to harm students with disabilities. For example, Hassan expressed concern about private schools accepting vouchers on the condition that students waive their rights under IDEA. These schools then do not have to provide special education services. What happens then? Students with disabilities return to the public school and the private school keeps the money, leaving the public school with even fewer resources to serve them (after their budgets have been gutted to create charters and fund vouchers).  

If you’ve done the research, watched the confirmation hearing, and concluded, as I have, that Betsy DeVos must not head the Department of Education, please do the following:

1)Sign a petition. Here are links to a few:

http://edadvocacy.nea.org/nea/app/write-a-letter?1&engagementId=264253

http://networkforpubliceducation.org/2016/11/tell-your-senator-to-vote-no-for-betsy-devos/

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-your-senator-to-vote-no-for-betsy-devos

2)Call your senators and demand a “no” vote. You’ll find contact information here:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/.

It will take a few minutes of your time, but the consequences of failing to act will be dire. Our nation’s children are counting on us. Make the call.

 

Living Without Gender in Japan

Toman Sasaki is nothing short of a beautiful individual. A young Japanese man, Toman contours his delicate features with make-up, sports perfectly manicured nails, and often dons platform heels. It’s a look we might call feminine, but Toman would disagree. According to him, the concept of gender is unnecessary. And he’s not alone. Toman is one of many genderless danshi living his truth in Japan.

Gender bending fashion is nothing new in Japan. In fact, the genderless danshi movement can be seen as an outgrowth of the genderless Kei trend. It started when genderless models were featured in a Tokyo Girls Collection fashion show in 2015. Although the androgynous look applied to both men and women, it really took off for the genderless boys. The look included dyed hair, makeup, nail polish, colored contact lenses, and flashy clothing and accessories. A more unisex style for men may indeed have been inspired by anime (Japanese cartoons) as well as a slew of boy bands.

Whatever their inspiration, they’re drawing a discrete line between how one dresses and one’s sexuality. It’s a great lesson in the difference between sex and gender. In general, sex refers to anatomy, whereas gender is what a person knows themselves to be inside (whether that be male, female, genderfluid, or something else entirely). Both of these are completely separate from sexual orientation (who one is attracted to). It’s also important to look at the difference between gender identity and gender expression. The latter refers to one’s internal sense of self, and the latter to how a person outwardly expresses their gender via presentation, such as clothing, hairstyle, and patterns of speech, and mannerisms.   

For the danshi, their fashion choices have nothing to do with their sexuality, nor are they “trying to be women.” Many genderless models are straight. Those who are gay aren’t necessarily dressing that way because of their sexual orientation. Rather, they view their style as a way to express who they truly are as people. They are not bound by gender norms. It’s a rejection of traditional standards of beauty. They are redefining the definition of masculine and feminine, and defying that those concepts even need to exist.

I first learned of the genderless danshi through this excellent New York Times video: https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000004852253/genderless-in-japan.html?smid=pl-share. As this short film makes clear, the choices these young men make are not easy. In Japan, as in the United States, many people still cling to so-called traditional roles for men and women. The danshi are subject to shaming and judgement. However, they are also wildly popular, especially with young girls. Toman’s manager hopes that as they become more mainstream, more young people will feel empowered to live their lives true to themselves.

For me, the most striking comment that Toman makes is this: “If a person is living the way they want, that is manly to me.” Isn’t that when we are most successful? Most attractive? Happiest? When we aren’t forced to hide a part of ourselves for the “comfort” of others? I certainly think so. I applaud Toman and those like him who throw off the shackles of gender to live as their unique selves. Would that we all could be so bold and so brave.

2016: Triumphs and Tragedies

2016 is a year most people would like to forget. We lost a Supreme Court justice, “The Greatest,” Professor Snape, Princess Leia, and a score of icons of music, stage, and screen. On the world stage, terror wreaked havoc and the people of Syria suffered endlessly. In our own country, we slogged through what seemed like the longest election cycle in history, with an ending few predicted. In the area of diversity and equity, it was a year of both successes and disappointments. As we prepare to ring in the new year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the central civil rights stories of 2016.

Triumphs

Target: Anyone who knows me will tell you of my deep and abiding love for Target. I love that this company has eliminated gendered categorization of toys. They really won my loyalty, however, when they established a bathroom policy allowing employees and guests to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. There was backlash, and Target has been hurt financially by a boycott spearheaded by the American Family Association. CEO Brian Cornell has defended Target’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, although he also announced plans to expand family bathrooms (this does not change the policy).

Our Progressive Military: As a military spouse, the progress the armed forces have made toward LGBT equality this year make me especially proud. On May 17th, Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of a branch of the U.S. military when he was confirmed as Secretary of the Army. The following month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced an end to the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. Transgender individuals can now serve openly, may not be discharged on the basis of their transgender status, and will receive any medical care their doctor deems necessary (including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery).

Monuments and Museums: In June, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. It is the first national monument to LGBT rights. In September, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C. Founding Director Lonnie G. Burch III says, “This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans.”

Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill: The abolitionist, freedom fighter, and American hero will replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 note. She will become the first Black woman to grace the front of U.S. paper currency.

Historic Nominations: When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, he became the first Jewish politician to win a presidential nomination contest. Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate was also unprecedented, as she was the first woman to head a major party’s presidential ticket.

#NODAPL: After months of peaceful protest (and shameful police brutality) against a pipeline that would have bulldozed sacred sites and threatened the water supply, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe (and other First Nations who joined them in support) celebrated the Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is most certainly a win for Native American rights, but the fight is far from over.

Tragedies

HB2: Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina passed a hateful bill that prevents cities from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. It also undermines discrimination protections for all marginalized groups. Recording artists, film studios, and corporations have refused to do business in the state in order to put pressure on the legislature to repeal HB2. The NBA pulled its All-Star Game from Charlotte, and the NCAA moved all 2016-17 playoff games out of the state. The hope is that the economic impact will force the state to do the right thing. The Human Rights Campaign found that 62% of North Carolinians oppose the bill, and Governor McCrory was the only incumbent governor to lose in 2016. Unfortunately, the General Assembly recently failed to repeal HB2, even though it was part of a deal negotiated by the Governor-elect.

Pulse Nightclub Shooting: On June 23, Omar Mateen opened fire at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 and injuring more than 50, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. It was a both a tragic loss of life and a terrifying reminder of the vulnerability of the LGBT community to hate crimes.

Police Brutality: Stories of Black men gunned down by police officers seemed to run on endless loop this year. We say their names, and we remember: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott. Shortly after the shootings of Sterling and Castile, five police officers were killed in Dallas. We know that racism is endemic in our system of justice. Chicago and Baltimore were studied this year and found to be plagued by systemic racism. Moving forward, we must find a way to undo this, as well as to respect those in the line of duty while still holding them accountable for their actions.

The Election of Donald Trump: It’s no secret I was a Hillary Clinton supporter. I understand there are people who dislike her, but I found her to be a compelling candidate who stood for what I stand for and would be a champion of the disenfranchised. Trump made multiple sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks during his campaign, and I find his policies abhorrent. True, perhaps I don’t know for sure what kind of president he will be. But the nominations of “enemies of equality” to his cabinet as we close out the year haven’t made me feel any better.

As always, in the battle for equal rights, we seem to take one step forward and two steps back. While I am pleased by our successes, they seem to be mostly symbolic. It’s not that symbolism isn’t important; it’s that we need to be fighting to make change in the daily lives of people who have historically been persecuted. In 2017, I’m committing to being part of George Takei’s Resistance, lobbying my lawmakers to fight Trump and his ilk from sending us back in time, working with educators to make schools welcoming for all, and spreading the gospel of inclusion through my writing. We have made some strides, yes, but we have so very far to go.