No Child Left Behind… Indeed!

Happy Labor Day weekend. I’m home working on some talks i’m going to be delivering next week: Monday, Sept. 4th I’m at Hampshire College as part of Orientation Week for new incoming students and all first-years. Then, on Wednesday, Sept. 6th, I’m at NYU, speaking to newly incoming and returning LGBTQ students as part of their welcome back party. I’m looking forward to both engagments. So for a few days, I’m going to post some old favorites, stuff I like that maybe you haven’t seen.

"No Child Left Behind" is a theme I’ve been grappling with. This article is from a piece I did for the GLBT Pride Week edition of Seattle’s The Stranger. Surely, you must be a fan of Dan Savage! So, plunk the magic twanger that is your "read more" button, to read my message for Pride just the way I turned it in to Dan, right before the paper went to press.

No Child Left Behind

first published as "No Queer Child Left Behind" in The Stranger, June 22nd-28th, 2006

So, hooray. We’ve made it through another year to yet another Pride celebration. Some of us will spend a lovely day on the newly-mown grass of a public park, where we’ll wave rainbow flags and listen to great music, terrific comedians, and stirring speakers. But one thing will be missing from our celebration of Pride: the children. The children always go missing from our celebration of Pride. That’s nothing to be proud of.

I’m not talking about the kids born to or adopted by same-sex couples. I’m talking about the genderqueer kids, the pierced, punk, and goth teens and pre-teens. Where are they on “Gay Day?” Where are the queer kids who get thrown out of their homes because their parents would rather see them dead than queer? What about the kids who take that message to heart and kill themselves? Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans aged 14-25. Queer and questioning kids comprise 30% of all suicides in that age group, and total numbers of teen suicides have more than doubled since the 1970’s. And what about all the kids who manage to stay alive, but live in fear, despair and hopelessness? Why aren’t they sitting out on the newly-mown park lawns with us? Why are we, of all people, somehow leaving these children—our children—behind?

"No Child Left Behind" is the well-crafted right wing battle cry meant to tug at the heart-strings of the mothers and fathers inside all of us—queer and straight alike. But the Bush administration has managed to hoodwink much of the nation into believing that children are left behind for no other reason than reading, writing and arithmetic.

As sex positivists and gender activists, we’ve all gone through times when we’ve been left behind because we pursued the free expression of our harmless desires and identities. We’ve all been stripped of whatever power we’d managed to secure for ourselves because we’re two or three bubbles left of what’s socially and religiously acceptable. But somehow we’ve managed to stay alive, and it’s gotten a lot better. It’s time we let our kids know in a very loud voice that it’s worth staying alive long enough to get past adolescence, because it always gets better. But we’re not doing that. We’ve become focused instead on “same-sex marriage.” Well, it’s high time that the idea of Gay Pride extend itself well beyond the notion of living, looking, and loving just like everyone else: married, or not.

I understand that right or wrong, the universal right to marry has been framed as a civil rights issue we all need to support; but the LGBT community is pretty much the only community that’s truly invested in the issue. Before we spend any more of our already scarce resources on marriage, wouldn’t it be wise widen our base of support and get more people invested? How can we do that?

For starters, I think we should hijack the “No Child Left Behind” program. We can openly and noisily join hands and resources with other sex positive and gender rights movements of all stripes—socially acceptable or not—to defend the rights of our children, and ensure their safety and well-being. The radical right continually expands its power base in the name of God. What kind of power base would we have if we recruited to our side everyone who enjoys yummy sex and gender-free equal rights?

The LGBT movement needs to get beyond the public ideal of soccer parents and junior executive gay men and lesbians who shop at Banana Republic. We need to embrace into our movement the sex workers, SM players, polyamorists, polygamists, fetishists, genderqueers, third-wave feminists… everyone of all races, ages and classes who has a stake in the freedom of sex and gender.

That way, we’d have a power base large enough to provide food, shelter, clothing, education and love for the sex-and-gender curious kids who get thrown away by their parents. We could make life a lot more worth living for those kids while they get through the worst times of their lives. Who else is there to do that but us? After we do that, there’s going to be plenty of people to support the right to marry, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and number of partners. My own passion is to let our fabulously queer kids know that we welcome them in our movements, that we want them to have a strong voice, and that we truly look forward to the wonderful new ways they’ll find to celebrate sex, gender and chaos—just like we did when we were kids.