In her seventh grade class two years ago, the 12-year-old daughter of some friends—I’ll call her Becky—participated in a mock political debate coinciding with the national elections. Two students were selected to play the roles of President Obama and Governor Romney, while the remaining students acted as the town hall public, offering up pre-determined questions to the candidates. After the debate, the students voted for the candidate of their choice.
When Becky was later asked by her father which candidate she voted for, she proudly asserted that she voted for President Obama.
“Why did you vote for him?” he asked.
“My friend Caroline asked Governor Romney what he thought about gay people getting married,” Becky said, reminding her father that Caroline has two moms. “Romney said he didn’t like that idea.”
Becky paused briefly, remembering that moment.
“That’s why I voted for President Obama,” she explained. “I don’t think it’s fair for Caroline’s parents not to have the same rights as everyone else.”
Hearing that story reminded me how some of us fret over the potential downside of our kids coming-out to their friends about our sexual orientation. We worry about them becoming a target of teasing and taunting, and sometimes we try to influence them to postpone the disclosure. But that carries a risk: secrecy tends to invite a taint of shame, subtly conveying to our children a sense that we don’t feel truly good about ourselves.
In most cases, parents are wise to let kids operate with their own inner timetable about coming-out to their friends. Our job is to be available to offer support, if needed, should disclosure result in disappointing responses. That becomes yet another opportunity to help our children understand the nature of prejudice—how it’s not about us but about the limitations of the person on the other end.
Although few of us believe it’s our children’s job to be the face of the gay rights movement, Becky’s story reminds us that there’s an upside to our children’s friends and classmates knowing that we’re gay. My spouse and I recognized the truth in the old adage “the personal is political” years ago when our son’s school pals would came to our house for play dates. We knew (and hoped) that one of the long-term effects on his pals of spending time around us would be an abiding positive view of gay people, a view immune to the myths and stereotypes that our detractors continue to spew.
Anything we and our kids can do to promote a more accepting world for lesbian and gay people only accrues to our children’s benefit in the end.