It is Bullying Prevention Month and yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. I’m not even sure if “anniversary” is the right word. I remember when this happened. I was two years out of high school and practically a kid myself. I remember thinking “how horrible” and “those poor parents”. But I went on with my day, I felt sad for them but I didn’t actually feel sad. My reaction to these types of horrors has changed dramatically and most notably, in the last five years. As they say, having a baby changes everything.
I read some of the articles published today on Matthew Shepard and found myself a bit teary eyed. Think Progress had an semi-uplifting take on all that has changed in the last 14 years (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/issue/) and how things are improving. In 1998, 53% of the United States believed that gay marriage was wrong, and now it’s down to 42%. So, that’s better, right? Right? Forty-two… still seems like a big number to me, that’s all. Sigh.
I can’t help but think of the world my kids will live in. Thanks to the tireless efforts of a lot of people, like the Laramie project, the death of Matthew Shepard will not be in vain. With enough time and awareness, we can chip away at bigotry and hate. But is it enough? My fear, as a mother, is that it’s not.
I look at L, my oldest, with her weird little idiosyncrasies that I alternately love and loathe and think: Could she be a bullying target? And of course, the answer is yes. Truthfully, I’m not sure you can forcast hate; it’s an unpredictable tide. That’s the terrifying part. That’s the part that will keep me up at night, and that’s the part of me that wants to chain my children in their rooms until they’re well into their twenties.
I can’t protect them from the haters. I can’t make a whole class of kids not turn on my my kid because maybe she’s different (don’t believe me?). Reading these articles today and feeling powerless, it finally dawned on me that while I couldn’t control everyone else, I could make damn sure that my kid wasn’t one of the bullies. I can, to the best of my ability, make sure that my kids are part of the 58% that believe there’s nothing wrong with love irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation. Maybe, then, they’ll pass those lessons onto their kids and the 42% from above becomes 32%. I can, and do, teach them kindness and tolerance and to appreciate the differences in all human beings. It was such a lightbulb moment – to go from feeling this overwhelming helplessness to realizing that I was thinking about it all wrong. It's not worth worrying, right now, about how others might treat them in the future. I have no control over that. It is worth thinking about how they will treat others - in some small measure, I can shape that.
Changing the mentality of a society isn’t done overnight. It’s hard not to be disouraged by what feels sometimes like stagnation. But it’s an empowering position – being a parent. I have the opportunity to directly influence the opinions of two little girls, who will become two grown women, and in a small way hopefully contribute to the good in society. I just need to let them out of their rooms first.
The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. – Helen Keller