brucekluger.com

    USA Today, August 28, 2001

    Kids teach us lessons about gays, inclusiveness

    By Bruce Kluger



















    Last spring I was sitting at the dining room table with my 5-year-old as she
    pondered her latest homework assignment. Bridgette's kindergarten teacher had
    cleverly combined a writing exercise with the class' study of the calendar by asking
    students to "draw and label pictures that rhyme with the word May."

    Bridgette looked to me for help, so I began listing the possible "ay" words in the
    alphabet: "Ay, bay, cay, day, eay, fay, gay...."

    Bridgette brightened. "Gay!" she announced. "That's it! And I know exactly what I'll
    draw."

    Of the many times in which my young daughters have filled me with pride, this was
    clearly a standout. In a world that still instinctively blanches at the utterance of the
    word homosexual, it was uplifting to witness Bridgette, in her blissfully unjaded way,
    extract only joy from hearing "gay." Indeed, all she really cared about was the
    picture she intended to draw. And what a picture it was: two men standing side by
    side, both smiling wildly, with hearts drawn above their heads.

    Interestingly, another word Bridgette chose for the assignment"play"featured a
    pair of girls tossing a ball to one another. What I found most striking about the
    drawings is that, but for the ball, the pictures were identical to one another in their
    depiction of people who were deliriously happy.

    So how did a 5-year-old citizen of this country happen upon such an evolved,
    inclusive worldview, even when the grownups in Congress endlessly bicker over
    whether the president's "faith-based initiative" can legally discriminate against
    homosexuals; when administrators of the Boy Scouts have toddlerlike meltdowns
    over the prospect of admitting gays among their ranks; when such questionably
    titled groups as the Family Research Council and American Family Association
    coldheartedly redefine the word family to exclude those who are simply different
    from them? (An editorial currently posted on the AFA Web site argues that to
    include homosexuals in the family unit is to reject God from it.)

    I'd be falsely modest here were I not to credit my wife and myself for trying to
    provide a more decent perspective for Bridgey on homosexuality. Since the
    beginning, Alene and I have made it a point to stress love over gender as the most
    important criterion in selecting a partner, neither omitting nor gratuitously focusing
    on same-sex relationships. Politically speaking, we are passionate liberals on the
    subject, steadfastly maintaining that gay men and women should be afforded the
    same civil liberties, constitutional protection and personal respect as any other
    minority group in America.

    But in our parenting, our approach to this issue has been strictly apolitical. After all,
    we understand that Bridgette, like all children, holds a higher, yet simpler standard
    for fairness than adults. Sit her down at snack time with her friend Eliza, for
    instance, and it would be unthinkable to give Eliza the popular Fruit Roll-Ups and
    Bridgette the far less interesting carrot sticks. To a 5-year-old, everyone deserves
    the same break.

    The same applies to matters of the heart. In a child's mind, the right to love is
    inalienable and boundless. Freed from the social and legal confines of adult
    intimacy, kids pursue the objects of their affection with passion and abandon. Is it
    any surprise, then, that over the course of her short lifetime, Bridgette has
    announced her intentions to marry her neighbor William, her friend Anna, her
    Daddy, and two of the three Powerpuff Girls? Children go where their hearts lead
    them, and it is a blessing to behold.

    My wife and I have also been helped in our efforts to destigmatize homosexuality for
    Bridgette by her serendipitously diverse circle of friends. Her oldest uncle, my
    brother Steve, is gay, and since the day he first lifted Bridgey from her bassinet to
    hold her, theirs has been a relationship based on nothing but mutual adoration. For
    his part, Steve chooses neither to hide nor trumpet his sexual orientation when he
    is with his family (though on one occasion, he did ask our younger niece, Emily,
    then 2, to be his escort to a gay pride parade in Los Angeles. Emmy wore an "I
    Love My Gay Uncle" T-shirt and marveled at the floats).

    Meanwhile, the other gay men and women who populate Bridgette's universe
    captivate her not by the details of their sexual orientation, but, rather, by what they
    bring to the friendship table. Her pre-school teacher, Lewis, for example, taught her
    to love sushi and MGM musicals; our neighbor, Ellen, bakes her Christmas cookies;
    Daddy's childhood friend, Robert, does her nails. This is the stuff that stirs love in a
    kindergartner. As for the boundaries by which those feelings will ultimately be
    regulated once the child has grown, Bridgette leaves that for the grown-ups to
    decide.

    And this is where we fail our kids. In today's world, advocates of change champion
    their causes in the name of children. "We must curb violence on TV and in the
    movies for the sake of the kids." "We must provide clean air and unpolluted seas
    for future generations." "We must keep handguns out of the reach of little ones."

    But where are the voices speaking out on behalf of the thousands of gay men and
    women in the United States who continue to fight the kinds of discrimination—in the
    workplace, in federal agencies, on campuses—we thought we'd seen the last of
    with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

    It is not without some measure of patriotic pride that my wife and I have recounted
    for Bridgette the stories of people such as Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and
    Martin Luther King, explaining that it is their triumphs that make America a special
    place to live. How, then, am I supposed to explain Uncle Stevie's disappointment
    that he was never allowed to adopt a little cousin for her to play with?

    Suddenly, we're back to giving some Americans Fruit Roll-Ups and others plain old
    carrot sticks. And as any 5-year-old can tell you, that's just not fair.

Drawing by Bridgette Kluger, age 5