Saturday, January 13, 2018

SOGI programs: a liberal Christian mother’s perspective

SOGI 123 has come up just a few times lately, and I am having some thoughts that I feel quite strongly about and need to put out in the world so I can stop mulling them over. So I dusted off the old blog and wrote an essay. I’m having flashbacks to college. Shush.

Abstract: (aka: TL;DR)
SOGI isn’t perfect, but it is a good first step in a real, across the board, anti-bullying policy. It should expand to include other often excluded groups with less emphasis on sexuality. Parents need to take responsibility for our children’s moral education ourselves, and accept them for who they are. Also, stop whining and GET INVOLVED

(Sidenote: Don't @ me with "but oh noez the kidz are so confused!" nonsense. The world is confusing. Kids figure it out. Parent's can help if they care.

If you have a real, legit issue with SOGI 123 that doesn't revolve around hang-wringing conservative bullcrap about other people's personal choices, lay it on me.)

SOGI programs and backlash from a liberal Christian mother’s perspective.
With added snark.
By Me

As a parent and a Christian I have been hearing a lot about the SOGI 123 program that is being adopted by the schools in BC.  There has been a lot of yelling and shouting and pamphlets and news articles.  I had a basic idea of what it was, but I don’t have enough information to see why some people hated it so much. So I read it.  All 3 sections and some of the “lesson” plan thingys (for elementary ages). 

What I saw was mostly a program designed to get teachers and students to challenge their assumptions about gender stereotypes, which I am all for.  One of my main issues with modern society is that we can’t seem to allow people to just be themselves.  Boy things and Girl things and trucks and dolls and pink and blue and blah blah blah.  Why CAN’T a boy wear glitter?  What is so overwhelmingly feminine about shiny bits of foil that catch the light?  SOGI 123 tries to get people out of their comfort zones on this stuff, and that is cool.  I for one think we would have way fewer gender “confused” children if we just accepted them for who they are and what they like and didn’t try to define them primarily by their sexual characteristics before they are old enough to shave. Our children, LGBT or not, need to learn who they are as individuals. They can’t do that if we spend all our time telling them what to like and wear and be.  Besides that, the world has evolved.  Women are not stuck being pregnant and raising their million babies, and men don’t have to spend all day away from their children being the sole breadwinner for their million babies.  Why do so many people insist on treating children as though they have no other options? Seriously, it’s my second biggest frustration with the world.  It comes right after “why can’t people just be KIND to one another” which leads to my next observation…

Part of accepting our children for who they are is teaching them that it is not okay to bully or harass or mock or exclude people because they are different.  That is why the program wants to include non-traditional families, and gender identity issues in lessons.  This isn’t some big “turn everyone GAY” campaign.  It’s supposed to make people who are ALREADY experiencing life differently to feel accepted. I think it is also good to introduce kids to the idea of homosexual and transgender and all manner of other people because they are more likely to be kind and accepting of something they have already learned about.  We fear what we don’t know, and kids can be especially cruel about things they don’t understand. Learning about gay people at a young age doesn’t turn people gay.  But it might make being gay safer for those who are.  It’s not all about the “normal” kids, and they need to learn that too.

Now, this is not to say that I think the program is perfect and flawless and utopian. There are arguments to be made that SOGI123 has much to improve, especially in the areas of about parent involvement and consent, guides for teacher accountability and sensitivity, and age appropriateness.  I have some concerns that I intend to discuss with my daughter’s teachers as they come up.  Because that is my job.  As a parent. To be involved with the raising of my children.

 As an Anti-Bullying program, it is a step in the right direction.  I like the idea of the whole province being on the same page about what is unacceptable behavior.  I also like the idea of teaching our children while they are young that there are many kinds of people in the world who all deserve respect. I am not crazy about the fact that it pushes so heavily on differences in sexuality and gender.  What I wish is that the emphasis was balanced on cultural, religious, and physical differences as much as sexual ones. Now, I know that this skewed focus is because of the fact that it was a SOGI inclusion group that developed and advocated this program.  I think it is great that they got it as far as they did.  I would like to see it expanded to be even more inclusive.  I want my children exposed to as many different people and ideas as possible, so that they will be better prepared to be kind and empathetic in the wider world. 

Despite the legitimate reasons to be wary of the SOGI program, all the opposition I’ve seen has been entirely based on fear and hate.  "I don't want my kids learning about THOSE kind of people" “They are trying to destroy the normal way of life” "They are going to tell my son he needs to be a girl!"  What hogwash. Stop it.  No one is actually doing that.  No one is telling girls that they can’t like frilly dresses or boys that they have to wear them.  That is stupid.  What they are doing is telling people that a boy who wants to wear frilly dresses is just as important and human as a girl who wants to wear jeans.  Gender roles will always be a thing, and there will always be the “norm”, but the few people who don’t fit them need to know that they are still loved and valued.

The example they had in a “Christian” video I saw was of the teacher telling a girl she might be a boy because she plays with “boy” toys. This goes against the whole theme that SOGI 123 is aiming for. The whole point is to take that kind of gendered assumption making out of the school system and just look at children as individuals. Any teacher who does what they claim that one did (and I’m not convinced she exists) does not get it.  Yes, teachers are people with bias and prejudices and are thus able to make bad calls like the rest of us.  And I do think there should be training, expectations, and accountability for teachers implementing this program.  It IS a sensitive topic, and parents should feel comfortable that there isn’t going to be undue emphasis on the sexual aspects, especially for younger children. But children are not going to turn transgender because they know trans people exist.  If you don't want your kid learning about people that exist in the world then home school them, or send them to a private school.  If it offends someone's moral sensibilities to have a teacher tell their child that some girls like other girls and that it is not okay to mock, shun, or hurt them because of it, then I seriously doubt the quality of their morals.  I would much rather my girls learn that information from a trusted teacher than from a giggling, uninformed peer.  Ideally, it should come from me and their father before it is even brought up at school.

The other complaint is the disregard for parent’s rights. People are complaining that the school won’t tell them if their kid has joined a LGBT related school group, or asked to be called a different name.  It is MY job as a parent to stay involved and invested in my child’s life experiences, to make sure they can come to me when they are confused or upset, to teach them about God’s plan and their place in it, and how to make good choices. It is the job of the school system to make everyone’s children into good citizens, not to tattle on them to their parents about their personal choices. To expect otherwise is lazy parenting. I would home school my girls if I only wanted them exposed to my beliefs, and needed to know every single thing they did.  At some point we need to trust our children. Stay involved and vigilant, sure. But they have to make their own choices without us, and that starts the second they step into kindergarten. 

Parents have all the same rights in regards to their children they had before. As long as the account is in good standing, I am not allowed to tell parents what their 12+ children are taking out from the library. Same thing. It’s a law thing, not a school thing. Children are people with privacy rights. Get over it.

My church believes that all people have the divine gift of free agency, and get make their own choices. Because of that gift, there are many many people out there making choices that we believe go against God's plan. Somehow, we (Christians in general) can get ourselves more worked up about who people choose to love and how they choose to express themselves, rather than who they hurt, lie too, and take advantage of. We should focus our energy on condemning the people with hate in their hearts, not unconventional love. People are not often swayed by declarations of God’s love and forgiveness, especially by people who would deny them or their loved ones basic respect and consideration as equals. Talk about hypocritical. We need to be EXAMPLES of God’s unconditional love, not empty mouthpieces for it. There are an awful lot of people out there who are failing to teach their children how to not be bigoted jerks, so I can’t blame the schools for taking it upon themselves to emphasize our common humanity.

LGTB+ people have been persecuted and hated and demonized for ages.  They are still being assaulted, arrested and killed in parts of the world.  If my children end up being a part of the LGBT+ community, that is not the world I want them to live in, so it is a world I am not able to accept for anyone else’s children. Changing the world starts with how we teach our children.  Information is power and we need to give them the tools to strike that kind of hate and fear from their world. This is especially important if we want them to choose to lead moral, truly Christian lives filled with love and compassion for their fellow men.