I am wearing purple today, as part of a nation-wide inititative to raise awareness of the prevalence of gay and lesbian teen suicide in our country. And of course, I asked my sixth graders, "Does anyone know why I am wearing purple today?" A number of them did, and there followed a long discussion about it. The topic comes up every year for one reason or another, more often than not because I overhear someone using the word "gay" as an insult, or when we're reading Bridge to Terabithia and the father calls his son a sissy for loving to draw. I've been teaching for fifteen years, and it never ceases to surprise me how much easier the conversation becomes year to year. The world is changing, and though I can't be an activist like Jamie, I feel compelled to continue to play my part in that shift in mentatlity.
Today, the kids brought up Glee, and the characters of Kurt and his father, and a number of them literally said, "I don't get what the big deal is. Who cares who you like?" They talked about Don't Ask/Don't Tell, (none of it prompted by me, I swear) and one girl said, "My mother doesn't let me go to church anymore because of what the bible says about gay people." (I had to play that one cool...while I will profess my beliefs loud and proud when it comes to people's basic human equality, I have to tread carefully around religion, being as I have to also teach evolution, and all of the major religions of the world from the ancient Greeks to modern Buddhism and everything in between.)
The tone of the room, of the conversation, was so surprisingly relaxed, nothing like it would have been fifteen years ago, or ten, or even five. Yes, there were the couple of snickering boys, but there were more kids rolling their eyes at the snickerers, rathering than everyone just shifting uncomfortably, looking at the floor. And I know it's because of the hard work of the people on the front line, raising awareness, holding the rallies and raising the flags. I'm not that person, but I hope that if I do have a gay student in my class this year, there is at least the tiny part of them that knows that the conversation is okay to have, it's not going to be as bad as they think...it gets better.