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
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
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