What Idaho taught my family about the importance of diversity and acceptance 

Growing up in Idaho, diversity and equality were never regular topics around my house. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was typically the only time I heard about it, the context being “Why the hell are you missing school for that?” Using those words in relation to ethnicity, religion, culture or *gasp* gender or sexual identity and orientation was unfathomable. Luckily, my family members were not outwardly bigots, while I was young and we had no definitive beliefs or mores to cling to. I was able to create my own. Many kids I grew up around were not so lucky, terrible and powerful words used to disparage others and propel hateful propaganda were often used in regular day to day conversations. I swore to make sure I was a parent who did not adhere to either lifestyle; the silent nor the boisterous bigotry.

Once I was old enough to leave Idaho, I discovered a technicolor world my childhood had not prepared me for; it was fantastic!  The more people I met, the more experienced I became, the more I wanted to share this world with my children. But I, like most adults and especially young parents, felt the pull back to my hometown. So we went. I was shocked at what I found. The ignorance, hate and fear were so apparent everywhere I went. I tried to remember if it had always been that way and I guess it had; I just never noticed because I was so enmeshed in the culture myself. People were refusing to let people be in a parade; for fear that their sexuality would be contagious and spread through the image of a rainbow on a banner. People were up in arms over the possibility that a black man could be president! My children were young at that time, but they too, were appalled at the beliefs of this “Mayberry” I had brought them to.

My daughter, who was 7 at the time, asked my grandmother what she thought of Obama; my grandmother replied, “He seems like a nice negroid.” Is that even a word? My daughter was immediately disenchanted with her grandma. She had never heard that word, but could tell from the way it sounded that it wasn’t a nice word. We talked about it later, explaining that some people are simply ignorant and do not know any better having grown up in an era and an area where those types of thoughts and words are acceptable. We talked about how it is not acceptable to us and that we should share that with others, because ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

My children were and are often around LGBT people, and we have never made it an issue. I want my children to make their own decisions about people based on character, not color, sexuality, gender, etc. I have never introduced my children to people as “This is Joe Blow, my gay friend.” It’s a nondescript. If it comes up later, we talk about it. I have tried very hard as a parent to keep my children’s minds open and allow them to develop their own ideas and opinions about concepts and people alike. True, it often causes me static; raising children you encourage to challenge authority and status quo is a recipe for potential power struggles but it is also the only way to challenge my children to think for themselves and to ask themselves, why do I think this? Do I feel this way or am I simply repeating something I have been told?

My son came back from his father’s house in the Fall of 2010, with a huge chip on his shoulder parroting some homophobic religious venom he had heard his father say. I sat him down and asked him why he felt that way, what he had to back up those feelings and what he thought it meant to say those things. He gave some background into what he had heard and why his father may feel that way, and I gave him some counters to think about in a microview, personally and also in a macroview, looking at the big picture. Then I left it alone. Over the next few months I began taking him with me to friend’s houses, inviting friends over more often when the kids were home and then taking them to work with me at a.l.p.h.a. I never told the kids if any of the people they were meeting were gay or otherwise. After a bit, my son was very enamored with some of my friends and very distraught over the fact that some of them couldn’t get married. He gave the most logical argument for equality that I had ever heard, wondering why it was even an issue, why we had to call it gay marriage anyway because it was just PEOPLE who wanted to get married. “Why is it any different than a white person wanting to marry a black person?” he said. I had never been prouder of my 13 year old son. We talked about interracial marriage, and how at one time, it had been illegal as well. He was floored.

My daughter, 10 at the time, had always felt it her duty to correct the injustices of the world. Upon hearing her father’s argument of homosexuality being biblically damnable as sexuality is for procreation only, she countered that using that logic he too, should not be having sexual relations, as he had a vasectomy before she was born. Should I encourage my daughter to speak in such a way to her father? Perhaps not. Should I be proud that she critically thinks and can counter ignorance and is brave enough to stand up to an authority figure for what she believes is right? Damn right I should.

We have left Idaho for a more diverse area. My son now attends the Gay Straight Alliance and Chess club at his High School. My daughter is no longer taunted by homophobic slurs so often heard and tolerated on the playgrounds of Idaho schools. My children have acclimated well, in a land full of everything Idaho seems to be fearful of. Here, we have men holding hands with men and carrying their children. Here, we have people of every color. Here, we have people of every gender, regardless of DNA and “social” roles and rules. And they don’t bat an eye. And you know why? Because I don’t.

Take heart Idaho, eventually, we will breed the ignorance and bigotry out.



One response »

  1. The land of Idaho… Funny, I had the EXACT same experiences when I came back after so many years of living in Georgia, Denver and various places across the country. I remember going to a bar to watch a college football game. Having only been back about a week and not having been out much, I decided to go. I sat next to a couple of guys who couldn’t even talk intelligently about the game but continually make reference to the fact the quarterback was black, spewing the N-word. I sat there in stunned silence knowing you simply can’t change stupid and even blind ignorance is hard to educate sometimes. I had never in the previous 8 or so years of being away from home heard so much ignorance and racial epithets being throw around like two kids tossing a baseball as I did during the year and a half I was back.

    As for the homophobia… I think it goes back to the ignorance in regards to race and not being exposed to such people. And with homophobia, it’s a lot easier to wantonly discriminate and throw out slurs when it’s not an outwardly visible physical characteristic of somebody. What they (bigots and homophobes) fail to realize is that they probably, at any given time are surrounded by somebody they despise (for whatever ignorant reason) without even knowing it. The root of the problem lies in their own minds where tolerance and acceptance are prisoners and love isn’t actualized.

    I can understand where some Christians come from, though actually finding a reference to homosexuality and its “sinfulness” is rare and vague to say the least. I think they are very misguided people who would rather chastize and stone people who love in a way that’s unconventional to them and their beliefs and make that a focus as opposed to all the other sins the Bible mentions and all the egregious injustices of the world. Really? You want to pick out a man for loving another man or a woman for loving another woman in all the world has to offer for sin? Something tells me, they didn’t read the Bible all the way through and learn the lessons it taught. Here’s a hint: the number one theme throughout the Bible is love.

    There was a facebook comment that I read that pretty much summed it for me. A guy asked his 11-year old autistic brother whether or not he thought it was okay for two men to hold hands. His brother said, “I don’t see why not. If two people love each other, they should be allowed to hold hands.” Out of the mouths of babes…

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