The night Darren Wilson walked away from an indictment in the shooting death of Michael Brown, I was banned from one of my favorite social-media groups, a group for gay dads. It seems that this group was not the place to talk about race, policing and what happened in Ferguson. As the white father of a 4-year-old black son, I am increasingly aware of what race will mean for my kid. I could be raising Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice.
This group, with gay dads from across North America, is a great place for pictures of adorable kids and advice on getting your toddler to bed or soothing your teething baby, as well as occasional postings on more complicated issues such as gender roles or racial identity. It's a group that I have loved and learned a lot from.
Watching the events unfold in the suburbs of St. Louis that night, however, I felt a tremendous anger rise up in me as a father. I decided to post a comment in the group about how angry I was and how scary it feels to raise a black son in this world today. There are thousands of other black and white gay families raising black kids, and on a night like this surely they must also be feeling rage, fear and despair.
While some responses were supportive, a number of dads were angry and hostile. One dad implied that Michael Brown deserved what he got for allegedly being violent toward the police officer; another commented on the lack of respect for property being shown in Ferguson. Things got heated and ugly. I probably should have turned the computer off. But I couldn't. Maybe it was the angry papa bear in me, or maybe it was just rage from the racist stereotyping that I was watching on the TV out of the corner of my eye as I typed away.
A group administrator came on and said they were shutting the thread down. Were they really threatening to block a discussion about race on this page, on this night?
I expressed my anger that they would shut this discussion down and said they should be ashamed of themselves for deleting it. The next day I found myself permanently banned from the page, unable to even locate it. Erased from the conversation.
I've received supportive private messages from other dads in the group, saying they were glad I'd brought Ferguson up and that the conversation had started. My husband asked for an explanation and got a note from the page administrators saying they would let me back in if I apologized and adhered to their guidelines. The administrator told me he was inundated with messages saying that this conversation had no place on their page as it was inappropriate and had nothing to do with gay parenting.
I'm white, and although I'm married to a black man, one's perspective changes when you have a child. I'll never understand what it means to be black in North America, of course, but I understand what it means to love and raise a black child. My son is the world to me. As a gay father, if I can't talk about my rage and fear for my son's life in a group of gay fathers like me, where people should understand bullying and exclusion and violence, then I am not sure I can be a part of that group.
As a longtime gay activist, someone who has worked on LGBTQ issues for my entire adult life, this is also heartbreaking. I respect the men who have created this group as a space to have conversations about their families, but I cannot understand or participate in the silencing of tough or painful issues.
What I learned that night is that many white gay men are no different from other white folks, with whom it's almost impossible to have a conversation about race and privilege. For the fathers who are thinking that what happened in Ferguson is not a gay parenting issue, I ask you this: Does my black child's life really matter? Or are you only accepting of him when he looks adorable in cute pictures? My heart breaks that we cannot have this conversation together.