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A Thank-You to My Daughter's Teachers

Laura Booker's daughter has two moms but has never been made to feel "different."

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last twenty-four hours thinking about my daughter’s teachers and her education in Maplewood, finding myself in tremendous gratitude.

As many people may be aware by now, yesterday, was making news and facing a school board investigation for having made disparaging comments about LGBT people on her Facebook page.

Among other comments, she posted, “Homosexuality is a perverted spirit that has existed from the beginning of creation.” Seemingly frustrated by her school’s display depicting prominent LGBT people in celebration of LGBT history month, she says, “Union is not South Orange/Maplewood where one out of four families consist of two Mommies or daddies. … Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us? I/we do not have to accept anything, anyone, any behavior or any choices! I do not have to tolerate anything others wish to do.”

While this story was unfolding, I was helping my daughter with her homework before she left for school. Emma, a second grader at Tuscan, was reading Odd Velvet, a book from Tuscan’s ROAR Project, a project whose mission — as I understand it — is to help students think about difference and diversity as well as to combat teasing and bullying. As part of the writing assignment, Emma was asked to think about times when she felt different.

Now here’s the crazy part: she couldn’t think of one instance in which she felt left out or different or ostracized by her peers. 

I couldn’t believe it. You see, Emma has two moms, and I thought for sure she could write about that. However, having lived in Maplewood for five years where she has been surrounded by families both like hers and different from hers, it apparently doesn’t occur to her that her family is different. (And in case you’re wondering, in the end the only thing Emma could come up with for her assignment was that she was one of only two girls on her t-ball team which was apparently much more upsetting to her than being a child of two moms.)

We’ve had this come up before: We got cut significantly from an article earlier this summer in NJ Magazine about kids growing up in gay families because Emma couldn’t come up with an exciting story for the reporter about the hardships of being part of a family with same sex parents. We’ve found that we can’t read her the books that have been written about having gay parents, like Heather Has Two Mommies or Tango Makes Three, because they start with the premise that the child (or child penguin) in the book is experiencing her or his family as different.

There are ways in which my daughter holds a significant amount of privilege. She is white; she has ample resources financially and consequently access to many educational opportunities; she is physically able; she is gender-conforming. I hope to raise her with an awareness of all that privilege. She is advantaged in that the way in which she is marginalized is often invisible in the way that race or ability is not. I also know one day soon she won’t continue to live in ignorant bliss about her family. Despite the fact that we’ve taken her to numerous rallies (ranging in location from Memorial Park to Washington, DC) and that she was a flower girl at our wedding when marriage was legal for a second in California, she still doesn’t quite get on a first-hand basis that there are still many people in this country who believe that her parents are immoral and deserve less than equal treatment under the law. 

Sometimes I worry that this is a form of naivete that will leave her unprotected and unprepared to defend herself in the future when she finds out the world is not as accepting as Maplewood/South Orange (apparently you only have to go down the street).

It’s led me to wonder what would it be like for her if she had a teacher like Ms. Knox. Ms. Knox’s Facebook posts have led people to question whether someone can hold such strong anti-LGBT beliefs and still adhere to the State and school district’s policy that require teachers to support students regardless of sexual orientation (and other protected categories).

It’s a good question.

In Emma’s three years at the South Mountain YMCA and three years at Tuscan, every teacher she has had has accepted her family configuration seamlessly to the point where, despite our worry, I would go as far as to say it’s been a non-issue.  Early on, one of her teachers hailed from a religious background that deems LGBT people “detestable” and “an abomination,” and we were concerned that consequently we might run into some problems. I don’t know what this teacher’s particular views are because I never had reason to inquire. She treated my daughter and discussion of her family with respect and acceptance and — here’s the important point — adhered to the regulations and policies of her particular school and school district. 

I never once felt that this teacher supported my child begrudgingly or found subtle ways to convey her disapproval (if there was any).

Now, as a queer and as a progressive, sure, I would love to see all teachers (and people) come to see being gay as a natural variation of human sexuality. As a pragmatist and realist, I’ll settle for behaving as your employer expects. I personally do not believe that Ms. Knox should be fired as a result of her comments. Investigation into her behavior within the classroom is absolutely necessary as is perhaps further sensitivity training which makes clear that, although her beliefs might not shift, there are very clear behavioral expectations.

Primarily though, I am left feeling not only thankful to this community but also incredibly grateful to Ms. Margie and Ms. Kathleen of the South Mountain YMCA and Ms. Guerra, Ms. Nelson (Plummer) and Ms. Cicolello at Tuscan Elementary for letting my daughter learn in an environment where she can feel proud of who she is and where she comes from.

Laura Booker is a psychotherapist who has also done numerous trainings on reducing homophobia in schools and within the foster system.

Risa Olinsky, M.A. Certified Wellness Coach October 14, 2011 at 10:17 PM
What a beautiful article!!
Wendy October 14, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Thank you for this. With so much in going on that makes me sad lately, this made me really smile and feel good in my heart. My kids don't know the difference either. I'm so glad I live here.
Bob Booker October 14, 2011 at 11:31 PM
What difference? Love is love, family is family. Period. Please send this to Pres. Obama, he should read it as well
Allison Kalsched October 14, 2011 at 11:58 PM
And this is why I love this town. Thanks for the story.
Randy Rabney October 15, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Great article, Laura, thank you for it.
Steve Mershon October 15, 2011 at 01:20 AM
Heartwarming, and beautifully written!
Alison Grant October 15, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Beautifully stated. I too am so grateful to live in a place where differences are abundant and embraced!
Susan Rogers October 15, 2011 at 02:58 AM
Wonderfully written. I am so grateful for our community that welcomes all types of families. Our son has friends from families of every configuration, and he accepts them all, with that same naivete - doesn't the whole world act like this? One day, our kids will learn about the Ms Knox's of the world and shake their heads in disbelief and pity.
Amy Biasucci October 15, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Amazing story Laura! Makes me so happy to live, parent, and teach in Maplewood/SO! More great experiences are awaiting your kids and all kids at Columbia High School :) Also, I love seeing the LGBT kids (that I know of) at CHS be themselves and enjoy the rites of adolescence openly and happily!
Jordan Barnes October 15, 2011 at 12:37 PM
Great article aside form Laura teaching her daughter that being white makes her priviledged. Equality should be taught across the board including simple matters such as race.
Mary Alice Carr October 15, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Beautiful and strong. Makes me proud to raise MY family here.
unleb October 15, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Great article, thanks Laura!
Lisa Citron October 15, 2011 at 03:12 PM
I got goosebumps reading this beautifully written article. Thank you for so eloquently underscoring why we live in this amazing town.
Donna Bernstein October 15, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful and heartwarming story.
Jennifer Howald October 15, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Thank you for such a lovely and well written story. Love, Jennifer and Rachel Howald, moms to our two sons, Callum and Will
Jan October 15, 2011 at 11:04 PM
I guess that there are two talented writers in the family! So glad that you wrote this, Laura, & even more glad that Emma is so comfortable and happy in this town. I love that it is a non-issue for our kids! Viva SOMA!
karen k October 16, 2011 at 02:46 PM
I love this piece because it quietly reduces the insanity out there to the silliness it is and instead focuses on what's most important: raising happy kids. kids who don't feel compelled to attack and torment other kids. kids who can be different without fear. any chance this writer can contribute a weekly column?
Mary Alice Carr October 17, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I'd love to see a weekly column by her!
Sarah Glickman January 11, 2012 at 12:21 PM
What a terrific story....and this is absolutely why we live in MSO and why we love the Y and local schools. We get it - it's just the rest of the world that seems to struggle :-)

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