We're like a lot of people. We're progressive, liberal people who live in a not-so-progressive, not-so-liberal state. Our state might be red, but we live in a blue city and an even bluer neighborhood. We live here on purpose: We wanted to be close to our families, but without the stereotypical small-town values that I experienced growing up. And we're happy here... for the most part. But as our children grow, we look around and wonder, "Is this the right place for us to be? Is this where we want our children to grow up? What is the environment we've chosen teaching them?"
All these questions were heightened after our oldest son started identifying as gay at a young age, and they intensified through the last election cycle. It's not fun or comfortable to be fighting for civil rights when the majority of those outside our liberal bubble vehemently disagree with us or think that we're making a big deal out of nothing. It's not fun to live in a place where "family values" don't include my family. When the election fuss calmed down, reality was still there to remind us exactly where we've chosen to make our home: the Midwest.
It's a place where my kid could be denied the right to attend his own prom, as almost happened to gay students at a high school in Indiana where a group of parents, students and a teacher fought to have a separate, "traditional" prom that would not have allowed gay couples, or as happens to gay students at a high school in Missouri whose handbook denies them the right to bring a same-sex date to prom.
It's a place where a church can be so rooted in hatred that its name becomes synonymous with it, like the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.
It's a place where teachers could be fired for standing up for my son's rights, as happened to an assistant principal in Ohio who dared to write a pro-marriage-equality blog post.
It's a place where legislators are trying to take away the mere mention of my son's orientation, as is happening in Missouri, where a "don't say 'gay'" bill is currently moving through the legislature.
None of these facts corresponds with the life I want for my child. None represents a value system we want to live in or with.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles. I was happily surprised by what I saw. Men holding hands with each other (and during the day, no less!) and families with gay parents were commonplace. Even in my blue neighborhood in my blue city, I'm not used to that. Where I live, I only expect to see men holding hands around the gay clubs, under the cover of nightfall. It isn't safe, and everyone knows it. Gay men are especially careful not to show affection around children. They have been taught to always be careful. It makes me so sad.
When I got home, my husband and I had yet another conversation about whether we should move, and if so, where. It's a hard question. In any move, there's extended family, employment, money, etc., etc., to consider. And then there's the question of what a move would teach our kids. Would we be teaching them to run away? But is that worth it if we're talking about safety and quality of life?
And there's something to be said about staying here and fighting the good fight. Where would we be as a country if every liberal person up and left the Midwest? What would that do to all the progress made in the last election? Would it create an even bigger sense of "us vs. them" than already exists in this country? I don't think any of those is a good outcome. I want our entire country to have equal civil rights for all citizens, not just those living in a few states here and there.
There are just too many questions that don't have any good answers.
Then, last week, I went to the parent/teacher conferences at my sons' elementary school. Some parents don't appreciate the ritual, but I love it. I love getting some one-on-one time with my kids' teachers and getting insight into their school lives. My older son's class is currently doing a unit on civil rights, and he's eating it up. He comes home these days talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, which has led to some great discussions at home. I told all this to my son's teacher (whom I love, and who fully supports our son's right to be himself). She got quiet for a moment and then said, "Our last assignment for this unit will be for each student to write an essay on a particular civil rights leader. With your permission, I'd like to add Harvey Milk to the list. Would that be OK?"
I was stunned. "OK?" I said. "That would be amazing!"
"Your son won't have to write about him, and I won't single him out," she assured me, "but I wanted him to have the option of writing about someone he can identify with."
It's good to remind myself that things like this happen in the Midwest too. My son's school exists here. It's a place where his principal and teachers have offered nothing but support for him. It's a place where a group of second graders is now going to learn about Harvey Milk.
Are we going to move? I don't know. Today we're here, and we'll continue to work to make here the sort of place we want to be. Tomorrow? I don't know. Ask me then.
After the parent-teacher conference, my husband talked to my son about Harvey Milk, who he was and what he fought for.
"Like Martin Luther King for gay people?" my son asked.
"Yeah," my husband said. "A lot like that."
"Did someone shoot him too?"
My husband looked into my son's eyes and said, "Yeah, buddy, he was shot too."
No matter where we live, parenting can be hard.