I’ve been speaking with parents. Parents of children with disabilities, black parents, latino parents, and parents of LGBTQIA+ children. It turns out we have a common frustration. When we post a news story about inequality or speak about something that affects us, white liberal/progressive friends say how mad they are. Then comes the question. They ask us what they can do. We tell them. They suddenly turn into cynical experts who know what will and will not work.
If the answers are not sexy, heroic, and easy, they don’t seem to care. This is arduous hard work and it is nice that you have a choice. Our kids don’t.
The young woman who cannot get into a building with no ramp only to be denied a job and cannot even get access to a straw does not have a choice. The young man who fears for his life when he gets pulled over hours after having the cops called on him for napping in the student commons at college does not have a choice. The transgender kid who dehydrates themselves so as not to have to use the restroom at school or work and gets denied a prescription refill because of the pharmacist’s sincerely held religious beliefs does not have a choice.
Everyday they have to lead lives that are unimaginable for the rest of us. They know it is a rigged system. They also know the hoops they have to jump through suck. Every day, every week and every month it feels there is a new war to be fought and a new hill that has been created. It is unfair, it is unjust, and it is the system we have to work with in the short game because immediate relief is needed now. Idealism with options is a right reserved to the white, able bodied, middle class, straight cisgender person with health care. You get to choose. Hashtags like #resist and #blm are things you can choose to turn on or off.
Here is a sample of how these conversations sometimes occur:
“That story is so offensive and so horrible. I am so mad and disgusted. What can I do?”
“I am so glad you asked. It does not have to be big. Vote. Write a letter or call your representatives to tell them how you feel. Attend a rally. Google “How Can I Advocate For Transgender People/Black People/Immigrants/People Experiencing Homelessness/Persons With Disabilities.” That alone is more than most people do.”
“The two party system is corrupt. Do you know what you really should do? (They then go on to say something that is idealistic, not viable, and often not even helpful because they have no idea what the problems are).
“Look. You asked. I’m sorry the answers are not sexy.”
“Hey! You should be grateful I care and I am in this fight. I am on your side!”
Conversations like this are about as useful as thoughts and prayers.
The Change That Has Happened
I belong to multiple online and tangible groups for parents of transgender and gender fluid kids. In one group I am a liaison to new parents who’s kid has come out. My specialty is parents from religious backgrounds since I used to be a minister.
In each of these groups are parents who keep us informed on the civil front. I am so grateful to each and every one of them. They will tell us about a bill or legislation that could affect our families. From there, there are also provided actions plans that we can take to help or halt the passage. This involves phone calls, letters to elected representatives, and other actions.
Sometimes we are asked to write a testimony of how something will or has affected our family and even asked to give depositions. We participate in research projects.
There is also the standing with. Sometimes one of the kids is facing trauma at their school and we go to school board meetings miles away from our own homes to hold space and show support. At these meetings are the opposition who will say horrible things to and about children and their parents.Last year four laws were passed in Illinois that benefits and protects LGBTQIA people. To get those bills to become a law we needed Republican votes and we needed a Republican governor to sign off on this. We were a part of that change.
Is there more work to do? You bet there is.
While we are doing this work sometimes something more dire and personal happens. One of our kids is hurt deeply by a relative or peer. There is a suicidal gesture. An assault happens. A death of one taken too young. An unhinged ex spouse blocking the child’s rights. We stand in that space of being there for the other parent while silently being grateful it was not our kid.
While you have intellectual conversations about how we can architecturally redesign public spaces to have a new option for restrooms and clever signs, my kid and I are at the movies and he has to pee right now. While you either don’t vote at all or do some third party protest vote because the candidates in front of you are not your utopian ideal, so vary many more are looking to November as an opportunity to gain back some of the limited rights they had and lost. There’s a difference between fighting for your life and not fighting because it is not convenient.
This is not sexy work. We will never get great selfies out of this or be in a trending sixty second documentary. Us parents and our kids do not do this to be heroes or social justice warriors. We do this because we have to if our kids are to have civil rights, be recognized for who they are, and survive.
Vote. Write a letter or call your representatives to tell them how you feel. Attend a rally. Google “How Can I Advocate For Transgender People/Black People/Immigrants/People Experiencing Homelessness/Persons With Disabilities/etc?” That alone is more than most people do.
I can’t promise you a great selfie or a known place in history. It’s not sexy and it is not storming castles, but it does chip away at walls and prevent new ones from being built.
If these things do not appeal to you, please do not mansplain to us why we are wrong. Do not whitesplain, cisplain, ablebodysplain, or any other such thing. It’s worse than not listening.
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