This year has been challenging for all parents in heretofore unimaginable ways, but for parents of LGBTQ+ kids, it has been especially treacherous.
It is always difficult raising queer kids; schools erase them, bullies brutalize them, and many of our religious institutions stigmatize them. We parents are left on our own to teach our kids their history and educate them how to take care of themselves and their partners. We must build up their self-esteem while training them how to confront all the things that tell them that who they are is wrong. (And of course, imagine where that leaves all the queer kids who don’t have parents willing or able to do all that.)
Hardest to explain to children is why their own government continually terrorizes them. Currently over 30 state legislatures have introduced over 100 anti-trans bills, most targeting trans kids by denying them medical care and banning them from sports. Some also seek to criminalize parents who are making sure their trans kids are receiving the medical treatment consistent with what their doctors recommend.
If you can’t find your way to oppose all these heinous bills on their merit, or rather lack thereof, every parent should vigorously oppose these bills because they are anti-parenting bills.
There is a sacred moment of parenting that every parent knows well. It is that tortured time once our kids have finally gone to bed and we allow our fear to roam freely. It’s the time for our optimism, the requisite ingredient for good parenting, to take its deserved rest and for our worry to well up unabated. These moments, alone or with a partner, are sacrosanct.
Republican state legislators are bullying themselves into the most personal thoughts and conversations about how parents choose to raise their children and how to care for them. These strangers intend to make the deeply personal choices only parents and guardians are qualified to make for their own kids.
And their interference knows no bounds, has no decency. These strangers sit themselves between parent and child at the most intimate points in a child’s life; when they rest their heads on our shoulders longing for safety and comfort only to find a scary monster blocking them. The beauty of raising children is to affirm their aspirations and help them reach their potential; it is devastating to watch these state legislators attempt to clip their wings.
The insidiousness of these lawmakers lacks basic understanding of parenting. Like a drone attack, they drop their hate-filled bomb demonizing trans children, criminalizing parents and guardians, then disappear. But we parents know that our decisions regarding our children are never one-offs. They all exist on a continuum; one leads to another that morphs into others, which then multiply, leading to even more necessary difficult decision-making. Each a building block, maybe a lesson and a few unfortunately turn to regret. The hard thing about parenting is we know we have to live with our decisions and that our children do too.
Parenting is often a game of managing expectations. Once you know you are going to be a parent, your ideas of what your child will be and what your life will be with them instantaneously coalesce. And the daily work of parenting is unraveling those expectations and parenting the child you have, not the child you thought you’d have or you thought you wanted. Now it is being legislated that we parent the child our government chooses for us.
I experienced firsthand bigoted governmental interference in the medical care for my child. It happened when our son was just a few weeks old and just two pounds, hooked up to a machine breathing for him in a neonatal intensive care unit. Frighteningly, he was in need of a blood transfusion. My then-partner, BD, and I were told that even though we were his parents, because we were both gay men, we could not be his blood donors. We could not care for our son the way we wanted to, the way we had pledged to, the way straight parents could. I seethed as we were sidelined by bigotry and a stranger’s blood coursed through our tiny baby’s veins.
It is so deeply offensive that the rotting Republican Party’s need for a culture war salvo trumps (pun intended) our parental love and devotion. They rile us up so to rile their base up, and all the while children are the victims. Whether or not these anti-trans bills pass, kids lose either way. Queer kids are listening to the legislatures, following the court cases, watching the news stories, and they are scared. It doesn’t take a majority of votes to tell a young person they don’t belong; just the divisive debate does that. Insert “Mission Accomplished” banner here.
Our country has many real challenges and problems, but parents and children making informed medical care decisions in concert with their doctors is not one of them, nor are trans kids participating in sports. These are faux crises, but the danger to children and parenting is real and present.
Richie Jackson is the author of Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son, published by HarperCollins. He is an award-winning Broadway, television, and film producer who most recently produced the Tony Award-nominated Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song on Broadway. He executive produced Showtime’s Nurse Jackie for seven seasons and co-executive produced the film Shortbus, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. He and his husband, Jordan Roth, live in New York City with their two sons.