Bigotry, in all of its forms, is a learned behavior.
This thought weighs heavy on my mind today in thinking about *Jenny, a person who worked with the Kid’s Orchestra program last year at the K-8 public magnet school my children attend.
Jenny looked like she may have been transitioning from male to female, and I liked her immediately. She was the one to call me one evening when my youngest, then 5 years old, got sick with a stomach virus during Orchestra practice. At first I was taken aback when I met her, mostly because this is the Deep South and the LGTBQIA (I hope I did that right … I’m awkwardly stumbling through educating myself on these issues, so that I can hopefully educate my children and show them how to be an ally) communities are seriously underrepresented in these parts.
I noticed Jenny mostly because she was different, but I didn’t say anything about her until one evening at Orchestra pick up when all three of my kids piled into the car laughing about something.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
They were laughing about Jenny. The children in their Orchestra classes couldn’t figure out what gender she was, and it sounded like they were making fun of her.
It was mid-winter, and the sun dipped below the horizon. And while the thermometer told me that it was only 57 degrees, I could feel my body heating up, smoldering with an emotion I couldn’t immediately identify. I slowed down, pulled over onto the shoulder, and rotated my entire self so that my children had a clear view of my face.
I kept my voice low and even.
I asked how they would feel if Jenny heard them talking about her right now.
I asked how they would feel if they felt different inside like Jenny, and overheard their friends referring to her or her appearance in a negative manner. What would it feel like, I wondered out loud, to know that you are different but to be told by everyone around you that “different” is bad or shameful?
My kids looked at me with wide eyes.
I wasn’t mad at them. I wasn’t mad at the other kids from school who were talking about Jenny. I was mad at the lack of education these kid’s PARENTS have experienced. Ideas about other people — color, sexual identity, religion, even political affiliation — are largely based on nothing more than asinine assumptions and a significant lack of education.
So thank you, East Baton Rouge Parish School System, for fostering a diverse learning environment for my three children.
Thank you, Target, for hiring LGBTQIA employees.
Thank you, Kid’s Orchestra of Baton Rouge, for hiring Jenny. Having her in my kid’s lives opened up an extremely valuable, powerful conversation in the car during our drive home. Because when you know better, you do better.
* Not her real name.