To those of you who live part time in Florida or have relatives down there, I ask you to to continue resisting the “Don’t Say Gay” law and those who passed it. Many Ashevilleans are connected to Floridians; what happens down there affects us and vice versa. This type of law appears to be spreading to other states governed by Republican legislatures.
The battle over the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, as well as over banning critical race theory from schools, is about denying whole swaths of people their identities and truths. Kids’ hearts and minds are at stake, and it is not just the gay and brown ones; the richness of truth, the beauty of a diverse world is denied to every single child when gag orders are placed on shared histories and ways of being.
But yes, more direct harm will come to queer and BIPOC kids who won’t understand a big part of themselves and why the world looks at them in a certain way. There need to be positive, affirming conversations that tell them: You are OK; you are beautiful miracles just the way you are — and by the way — the people looking at you in that way are doing so because of a long, compounding history, and here is how you can cope with it in a healthy way.
I grew up in Asheville in the ’90s, and people in school didn’t talk much about queerness, unless it was in the schoolyard and it was a slur. The lack of adult conversation about queerness, in a curriculum or otherwise, left gaps for kids to fill with whispers or make derogatory remarks. Think about that for a minute. Think about if there was some integral part of you that nobody, not even your parents, knew about, that even you only had an inkling of understanding about, and nobody talked about it, except to ridicule. Would you wear that thing on your chest like a superhero “S,” or would you try to kill it, kill a part of yourself?
Growing up, I didn’t understand that I was a queer kid, but I did know that I was different. I yearned to fit in but just felt like an oddball. If I did start to suspect why I was different, I shoved it down, not wanting to be whispered about or bullied. I was depressed. It took me a long time to understand and love who I am. To be clear, I don’t consider myself a victim of pointed homophobia; I am describing what an absence of clear social acceptance feels like and how it affected my development. I consider myself lucky to have a loving, open-minded family and to live in a relatively safe community, but even still, I struggled. I think about how hard it is for people in less supportive environments all the time.
I hope that more kids will have a precocious enough knowledge of themselves to choose to wear a superhero “S” on their chest instead of killing a part of themselves. In fact, I am counting on this next generation to lead the way and to make these legislated silences backfire on social conservatives. But adults, please help — you are supposed to be the adults in the room. Also, if you are queer, now is a good time to tell someone your coming-out story and why it is important to be yourself.
Social conservatives are spreading a fearful conspiracy that liberals are somehow brainwashing kids in school; sending angry mobs to school board meetings; and modeling anger and fearful behavior to kids. They have decided to try to bleach out nonconformity to heteronormative, white supremacy by enforcing a weird and creepy silence in schools. This robs kids of a normal development of self that might otherwise take place in safe, curious learning environments. Hardworking historians and scientists, artists and dedicated teachers are the ones who should craft curriculums.
— Sarah Carter
Sarah Carter is a business owner, gardener and writer who lives in Oakley with her wife and dog. If you, too, have a personal story to share that connects with a community issue, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.