An excerpt from Chapter 8:
A GLBT-friendly diversity curriculum being proposed for our elementary school might bring out a crank or two from the Catholic parish across the street, but no sensible person at my school would object to inclusivity.
The first sign that I was wrong appeared when Elliott and I approached the northeast side of the school. Cars were double-parked in the school’s surface lot, with more cars lining the streets as far as I could see. I soon discovered the reason for the parking squeeze—the entire south side of the school block was swallowed up by four Minneapolis Police squad cars and an enormous mobile satellite truck from the local Fox affiliate. “Cool!” my son squawked from the back seat.
I allowed him to gawk the crowds and cops without registering that this was, in fact, a bad thing. This meant that someone, somewhere, anticipated a burst of hysteria that four, count ‘em, four MPD officers would be required to quell. Elliott also failed to notice that he was the only child in the overcrowded music room. “HEY!” he yelled as a teacher waved from across the aisle. “DID YOU SEE THE NEWS TRUCK OUT THERE? COOL, HUH?” She nodded and stifled a giggle.
A school district representative approached the microphone with a plea for respect and self-restraint ahead of the short film that would preface our discussion. From her tremulous, agitated tone I assumed we would be watching a clip from Good Will Humping or You’ve Got Male, and I had my hands ready to cover my son’s eyes and ears if need be. I was disappointed to see a fairly boring five minutes of cute multi-culti children gabbing about their families, a few of which were headed by same-sex parents.
Post-viewing, a stack of index cards was passed throughout the room. Did we wish to share our opinions with the group? I nudged Elliott. “Yeah,” he said, cookie crumbs from the snack table tumbling down his shirt, “I wanna.” I wrote out our names and handed the card back down my row.
“Okay everybody,” announced the school principal, his usual look of hurried anxiety replaced with what looked like defiance. “Please,” he urged, “remember to be respectful and to honor everyone’s opinions. Our first speaker is Shannon Drury.”
Elliott squeaked with glee. I felt a moment of deep gratitude for holding off on the Thin Mints, for when the Fox 9 News camera operator caught sight of me he whipped his enormous lens directly into my face, where any telltale brown specks would be instantly visible. I edged through the crowd to the microphone, Elliott bumping knees and elbows with abandon as he trailed behind.
I cleared my throat, blushing under the telephoto lens and the hundreds of eyes fixed upon me. “First of all, I want to express how grateful I am that our school is offering to pilot this program,” I said. “It means the world to me that our school takes seriously the fact that children are already bullying and stereotyping each other. I am a member of the Human Rights Campaign, and I believe in their mission of equality and civil rights for everyone.”
A murmur went through the crowd. Had I said something wrong? Hell, you’d have thought I just declared myself a feminist.
As I warmed up, I revealed the shockingly obvious truth that children, our innocent and loving children, are born without prejudice. Their social phobias are learned from the adults who pass them along. I explained that when it finally dawned on Elliott that his best friend Morgan had two moms, his reaction was not “ew, gross,” but “NO FAIR! I only have ONE!”
I paused for the laughs that never came. That story usually killed, but in this crowd, it died. Tense anticipation showed in the sea of clenched jaws surrounding me. Every chest in that room was crossed with defiant arms ending in tightly balled fists. Uh oh.
I gave up and adjusted the mic for my short partner. “Hi, I’m Elliott, and I’m in second grade,” he said. The cameraman moved in closer. For a second I feared Elliott would shout in the mic for the guy to back off, which would be a trigger for pandemonium. Instead, he remained calm. “I think that bullying is just wrong,” he said. “Two moms, two dads, who cares? It doesn’t matter!”
The room erupted—with applause. The camera caught Elliott’s truly perplexed shrug as he wandered away for another dozen cookies.
To find out what happened next, check out my June 2008 column “What Would You Call a Welcoming School?” ….and of course my long-threatened book The Radical Housewife, coming to you soonish from Medusa’s Muse Press.
All illustrations by the brilliant Todd Parr.