Your civil rights are disrupting the flow of traffic

Your civil rights are disrupting the flow of traffic

 So here’s what’s going on today: I have sent my daughter to school despite the fact that there are going to be real, actual gay people roaming the school campus. I know that homosexuals will be present because the school sent a note home about it.

Perhaps I should explain: My daughter’s school is located on the campus of a Christian college. Her school and the college aren’t affiliated in any way other than the landlord/lessee relationship. Today a gay rights group is planning to protest outside the college. The school sent a notice home letting us know that this would be happening, assuring us that it should in no way affect the school other than rerouting us for pickup/dropoff and that there would be increased security to keep things under control.

Some parents have opted to keep their children home — not because it’s a gay rights group but because they are worried about the potential for violence in any protest. Tom and I talked about it, decided that we were comfortable with the way the school was handling things and proceeded as usual.  But I will admit to a wee bit of trepidation.

I hope by now that my liberal cred has been established. If not, let me state unequivocally that I believe that absolutely every citizen in this country should be extended the same rights and freedoms as every other citizen. Gay rights are extremely important to me as I have a gay cousin as well as many gay friends. (The other post I wrote about gay marriage was supposed to satirical, in case that wasn’t clear.)

But I have some complicated thoughts on what’s going down today . My child is very observant. She likes to ask big questions. I have vowed to myself that I will always be honest with my children when they ask me things. I try to keep in mind some advice my mom gave me regarding complicated questions: Only answer what is asked. So, for example, Megan knows that it takes a daddy and a mommy to make a baby. We haven’t gotten into the logistics yet and right now that’s enough for her. But when the day arrives that she starts drilling for more specific information (and that day very nearly came last week — yes, I was terrified), I will tell her. There will be no storks involved. And yes, we’ve talked about families with two mommies because she brought it up a few weeks ago. I’ll swing at the pitches as they come.

So for this protest I thought about what she would need to know as it related to her school day. There might be noise. There might be people with signs. There might be police. I decided to start there and see where the conversation took us. True to form, Megan had a million “but why” questions for each statement I made.

Why are people going to be in the park? They’re having an event there. What kind of event? It’s something called a protest. Sometimes people do that in this country when they’re unhappy about something. What are they unhappy about? They’re unhappy about something with the college. It doesn’t have anything to do with your school. But what are they unhappy about, mommy? Remember how you asked me before about why some kids have two mommies instead of a mom and a dad? That’s called being gay or homosexual. The college doesn’t let gay people go there. Why not? That doesn’t seem very nice. I know, honey. (And then I couldn’t help myself.) You know, I have a lot of gay friends and I think that gay people should be allowed to do absolutely everything that everyone else does. But not everyone thinks that.

And then, I admit, I took her little question train and pointed it in another direction. Finding answers to questions about Biblical interpretation and civil rights that would satisfy a 6-year old’s very definite sense of what is fair (something kids this age spend a LOT of time thinking about)  was a tall order during the drive to school.

Now here’s where my trepidation comes in.

I used to work for Ringling Bros. I was a promoter, which meant that I was part of the advance team who marketed the show.  When the circus or one of the Disney on Ice shows (which are owned by the same company) came into a promoter’s territory, it was the promoter’s job to be at the building to handle show/arena relations, deal with the box office and make sure that all of the marketing/public relations stuff was running as it should.

In the case of the circus, promoters also had to help get the animals from the circus train to the arena. And since you can’t fit an elephant herd on a truck, you walk. In New York City (where I had my promoter apprenticeship) the circus train parks in Queens and then you walk the animals through the Midtown Tunnel (which is closed to traffic) and down the streets of Manhattan to Madison Square Garden.

The first year I got to do this was, of course, very exciting. I kept wondering what crazy drug I had taken to wind up with an elephant herd in the Queens/Midtown Tunnel at midnight on a freezing winter night. It was quiet inside the tunnel and we were moving pretty fast — those elephants are more nimble than they look.  As we neared the Manhattan side, there was a buzz that got louder and louder. When we exited the tunnel the noise from the crowd just about knocked me back.  Most of the people were cheering. Some were throwing bagels to the elephants. And some were holding signs that didn’t say very nice things about how Ringling supposedly treated animals. These people were also yelling, but so was everyone else so you couldn’t really hear them.

We stopped for a quick photo-op as a clown rode an elephant through the toll booths (complete with a giant EZ PASS card — can Ringling stage a photo-op or what?) and then we resumed our march. And the protesters came along.

A group of them walked along the streets with us, shouting at us block after block. There were Ringling employees on either side of the animal line. We were supposed to walk alongside and keep people from getting near the animals. I was on the left side near the front. And so was Mr. Angry Protest Man. And Mr. Angry Protest Man was doing his damnedest to get close to that elephant. I asked him to step back. He ignored me. He got closer. I asked him to step back again. He ignored me. Again and again. I think at one point I actually did touch him to keep him back but I didn’t shove him or anything. And in trying to back him up, I was probably also getting closer to the animals than I should’ve been. This went on the ENTIRE animal walk until we got to the ramp at Madison Square Garden. And by the time it was over I was fuming, steaming, pissed off. Now I am not a violent person. I’m a big wimpy creampuff. Physical confrontations scare me. But I was furious and I wanted to kick that guy’s ass.

Ever since then I’ve viewed protests in a different light. I now understand how things can get out of hand. It’s not always about the issue, even. Sometimes it’s just a matter of physical space and aggression. Emotions run high. Some people arrive with the goal of a confrontation. Shit happens.

Knowing all of that, I sent Megan to school anyway.

I checked out the activist group’s Web site first, which says that they are committed to non-violence, but will engage in civil disobedience if certain organizations refuse to have a dialogue with them. In that case, I hope that they are sincere in wanting an actual dialogue and not just making a spectacle. Their press release states: “The organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view—including points of view that affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students.”

So I hope that’s true. I hope the college chooses to hear the protesters, despite all of the extra “No Trespassing” signage that has appeared in the past few days. I hope they invite them right into the chapel so that they can all ask for God’s blessing together. I can’t claim to have a preferred line to the great beyond, but I believe that’s what Jesus would do. My father-in-law, who is an extremely conservative Baptist and one of my favorite people to talk to, has a great philosophy for dealing with people who angrily disagree with him. He says, “First you take the gun out of their hands.” Basically, you do that by listening. By asking. By inviting conversation. By earning respect by showing respect. It’s not always easy and even my mild-mannered father-in-law  has his hot buttons but it’s important to try.

I am sure that today will be a springboard for many, many future conversations with Megan. I’m not sure what I will find when I arrive to pick her up very shortly, but I know this day has already prompted a lot of thought and conversation among the parents.

Must dash now. Hope this isn’t too unintelligible — no time to proof right now!

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2 Comments

  1. Stephen on March 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Good article.

    Your elephant and angry man situation sounded scary!

    I totally agree with your parenting style of question answering; true a kid will stop asking questions when they reach the detail level they are comfortable with and capable of understanding. They know when you are dancing around and subject, and they are going to hear the truth eventually. Then they will know you were not being honest with them (oops). If they don’t hear the truth from you first then they might hear some distorted version from a schoolmate or a biased opinion, watered down version, or supernaturally influenced version of the “truth”. Might as well get it from the people you are programmed genetically to trust.

    And finally: why can’t poeple worry about their own lives and stop worrying about what other people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms? Good grief.

    • Trish on March 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Steve, my mom was always so great about answering our questions — especially during the teenage years. I always knew that if I had a question about something I could go to her and I’d get a straight answer. I only now am starting to appreciate how uncomfortable some of those discussions must have been for her back then. But what a role model…

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New-age smartass.

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