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Wayne Maines Headshot

A School Version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" With a Lady Gaga Twist

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As I continue to try to make the world a safer place for my transgender daughter and her friends it seems like I am destined to say I want to help and need to ask others to help. Asking others to help is not always easy, but doing so is the only way to make real progress. Recently, my family had the honor to talk to some folks in Washington, D.C. about our family story and the Student Non Discrimination Act (SNDA). Each meeting was very emotional. Reliving our family's most painful moments, moving the kids to a new town and reminding everyone that we live hours apart drew many tears. I told them a story about how Lady Gaga and our nation's soldiers reminded Nicole and I that she and many of her LGBT friends live in their own "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" world.

Lady Gaga was the keynote speaker at a rally in Maine. Nicole was very excited to go, but I was worried that someone might recognize her. Nicole's classmates did not know she is transgender. She and her brother were keeping this fact a big secret. It was the only way to safely attend school.

I did not know much about Lady Gaga's music; I am more of a Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Sr., "Cry in your beer" music guy. But I am so happy I attended. I owe Lady Gaga a great deal for teaching an old conservative dad to not be afraid to try new things and to embrace an entire community that needed help. I learned that it was not just about my daughter and her needs; it is about fairness and equality for everyone.

Lady Gaga's speech was amazingly uplifting and personal. It was personal for Nicole because she has been down the same road as our soldiers at age eleven, personal for me because watching Nicole cheer gave me hope for a better future. Nicole was in stealth mode, and no one knew where we lived, my family lives in a new town, providing a new semi-safer start. I do not know how to describe the negative impact that accompanies being stealth at this young age. I wondered how a child who was once open, honest and proud, can truly be at ease carrying such a big secret. I wondered how the men and women in our military dealt with their secrets? There were many similarities between our situations.

As I was listening to the emotional speeches in the park that day, I looked over at Nicole and thought we still have a great deal of work to do. It is not OK to have to go to school in hiding as other kids go about their normal day. It is not OK to worry every day that some one might find out. It is not OK for Nicole and it was not OK for our soldiers.

As Lady Gaga read the military service oath, I remembered the day I took that same oath in Albany, N.Y. some thirty-plus years ago. Twenty-five young men and women lined up to begin their careers in the armed services. I was scared and proud at the same time. Proud that I was volunteering at a time when our military was very unpopular and proud that my family, my town and my friends supported me.

At the end of the oath Lady Gaga added, "Unless you are gay." When she read that last line of the oath, "Unless you're gay," I was slightly ashamed of our military and political leaders. This is not something I write without hesitation. Kelly and I have always taught our children to respect our military and our nation's leaders. We continue to teach them to be respectful, and often express our admiration for our political leaders from Maine, women like Chellie Pingree, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe who when needed showed the strength and commitment to help repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." As we watched Chellie Pingree speak to the crowd that day, I reminded Nicole that these women have the strength, vision and ability to influence others in so many ways. I continue to reminder her that she can follow in their footsteps if she studies hard and works hard to reach her dreams.

On that same day as Lady Gaga and the veterans made their speeches, I attended a Maine Human Rights Commission hearing. The hearing provided recognition that Nicole was victim of discrimination, but our family was still being harmed in a silent and very damaging way. We were still in hiding, still apart and still disappointed. Disappointed that bullying and harassment continues to occur in our nations schools. Disappointed that parents and communities often ignore the problems and do not seek out solutions for real change.

Working together parents and communities can help schools develop workable solutions. Because of work at an amazing new school and its supportive school community my children are safe, happy and thriving. All it took was good leadership, education and commitment. I am so thankful to be able to write this story and thankful that my children again have good dreams and a bright future. With real support all LGBT children can enjoy safe and accepting schools.

My children have learned that it is important to speak out when it is safe to do and that good things do happen when people really listen. I am very proud of our nation for ending DADT for those who protect us all. Please help us eliminate another "Don't ask, don't tell" for children who cannot protect themselves from harm.

My children become more confidence in their abilities everyday; we encourage them to share their joy and to help their school continue to grow. I want all children to have the same opportunities. Please contact your state leaders and ask them to support the Student Non Discrimination Act.