When I first heard about an eleven year old girl speaking against marriage equality before a Minnesota hearing, I immediately wondered if she was someone I knew. Why? Because it was so, so familiar. The truth is, I’ve been there. I never spoke before a house committee, sure, but when I was that age my father was quick to push me forward to speak to reporters in support of “traditional marriage,” or against abortion, or in favor of gun rights, or what have you. And I saw this pattern repeated again and again in my family’s circles, both in our state and beyond. It turns out that I don’t know eleven year old Grace Evans, but I did grow up in a subculture that considered using children as political theater props was a good tactical move.
While most have been considerate in responding to Grace’s comments, I’ve seen some people online tare into her rather viciously. I think this is unfortunate. If my own experience is any guide, Grace honestly doesn’t know any better. She likely does not know any LGBTQ individuals, and all the information she has on the issue probably comes from her parents and her church.
Is Grace Evans a bigot? Perhaps technically. But it’s not like she has much choice in the issue. I know I didn’t when I was her age. The thing that’s hard to untangle is that Grace probably thinks that she’s freely forming her own opinions here—and would likely adamantly refute the idea that she might not be. But the sad reality is that she doesn’t have access to the full amount of information she really needs to make up her mind on this issue—and also that familial and social pressures circumscribe her ability to make a truly free choice. I know I thought I was thinking for myself when I was her age, but in retrospect, I really wasn’t.
Some day Grace Evans will grow up. If she’s 21 and still opposes things like marriage equality or LGBTQ rights, I won’t give her a pass. By then she’ll be old enough to know better. But to be honest, I suspect that when she meets LGBTQ individuals and hears other perspectives, she’ll reevaluate.
I want to get back to something I mentioned above—the use of children as political theater props. I’ve actually written about this before. Both sides do it, though the Right definitely seems to be the biggest offender. Growing up, I was one of these political pawns. I attended rallies, lobbied legislators, worked the polls, and campaigned for political candidates. This wasn’t the problem. The problem was that my parents assumed my political opinions should be given just as much weight as those of any adult out there even as they were raising me such that I had no freedom to explore other views or espouse other positions. And more than that, the problem was that my parents consciously and intentionally used me as a political prop. They fed me lines and glowed with pride as I repeated them to reporters, voters, or other conservative political activists. The problem is that Jeff Evans had his daughter Grace deliver that speech instead of delivering it himself.
As my children grow, I don’t want them to feel that I am dismissive of whatever views or lack thereof they may hold, just because of their age. As I’ve often said, I think children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. But at the same time, I feel like as long as Sally and Bobby are children I will take their political positions with a grain of salt and expect their views to grow and develop over time as they grow, rather than assuming that their views will be static and that, at eleven, they have everything figured out (even if they think they do). But also, Sally and Bobby won’t have their ability to form their own views circumscribed by a curtailing of information or an expectation that they hold the same politics that I hold. And perhaps that’s part of why I look at Grace Evans the way I do—it’s not just because she’s a child but also because I grew up without the freedom in forming political opinions that I intend to give my own children, and she is almost certainly growing up without that freedom as well.
What do you think? To what extent should children’s political opinions be taken seriously?
Addendum: One of the commenters, Plunderb, made an excellent point that that I agree with entirely. I think is worth attaching here:
In general, I think it is important to listen to children’s political opinions when those opinions stem from their own experiences. I have no problem with an 11-year-old speaking up at a town meeting about the need for better parks or at the state legislature about a disease/disability that she lives with. Which is why I don’t have a problem with LGBTQ parents using their children as “props” when that consists of the whole famy going to a rally and saying, “Here we are. This is our family. This is our life and these laws matter.” Where I get dismissive is when children are expressing political opinions about other people’s experiences.