“No more tears”
Since 1954, this has been the promise of Johnson’s baby shampoo — a brand and a phrase synonymous with childhood. Johnson & Johnson is committed to that same promise when it comes to bullying and its prevalence towards LGBT youth.
Long known for supplying the staples of parenting and family life, Johnson & Johnson extends this support to LGBT families with their CARE WITH PRIDE campaign. For the third year, J&J has partnered with charities to promote, support and protect LGBT parents and students. This year the beneficiaries include PFLAG, The Trevor Project and Family Equality Council, and by the end of 2014, it’s projected that CARE WITH PRIDE will have raised more than $500K since the program began in 2012.
Central to the campaign is the issue of bullying. Nearly one in three students report being bullied during the school year. For LGBT youth (or those believed to be), the figure rises to eight out of 10 who are verbally harassed, and four out of 10 are physically harassed at school. This doesn’t account for abuse that takes place outside the school, or the countless occurrences that go unreported. And it probably goes without saying (but it won’t) that bullied students are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and poor school adjustment. And most tragically, LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. One quarter of transgendered youth attempt to take their lives. And each episode of LGBT bullying or abuse increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
PFLAG, The Trevor Project and Family Equality Council play a vital role in the fight against bullying by providing education, raising awareness and promoting equality for LGBT families.
For the last few weeks I’ve been lending my Dad-wisdom (limited as it is) to The Madness of Mommyhood Facebook page. Wednesdays are “Dear Dad Day” where readers from among the page’s 55k followers ask questions of myself and the other sage dad bloggers in our group. On occasion I’ll be posting my Q&A’s here. This first one’s a doozy, and garnered quite a few comments – not all of them supportive.
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There is a male-to-female transgender kid in the high school where I live, who is allowed to use the female restroom for safety. Some fathers are outraged that a boy is allowed in the girls restroom. There are NO complaints on him, for harassment, sexual advances or anything like that. In fact the girls don’t seem to mind. I’ve read in a parenting group that some fathers are prepared to “beat his ass straight.”
My question for you is: Would you be so offended that you would demand this kid be thrown out of school or demand him not be allowed to use the girls’ restroom? Once again, I stress that he hasn’t hurt anyone, he hasn’t peeked over stalls to look at them, he hasn’t asked for or offered sexual favors. He urinates and goes on with his day. I’m so deeply saddened over the treatment of this kid.
– A Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom:
I’m pretty sure I can speak for all of us in the Dads Day crew that we would NOT be offended by this student using the girls’ restroom. We would, however, be happy to talk with any of these ignorant d-bags you encountered online. Or “beat their asses smart,” if necessary. These stupid, scared men have nothing to fear — not for their daughters, their sons, or themselves. I imagine this kid is trying to just survive high school — or at the very least, do her “business” like everyone else, and get to class. And if he’s truly identifying as a female, then she’s sitting down to use the bathroom, so no peeking, and nothing to peek at.
So to answer your question, no, I would not be offended or concerned over this, other than for the student’s continued safety. Yet I AM concerned for what harm these dads may be doing to their own kids, passing down such dumbfuckery.
But I’ve got a couple of questions for you. This parenting group where you read the violent comments — is it officially associated with the school? If so, this kind of hate speech should be monitored and dealt with immediately.
Does the school have an anti-bullying policy, and counselors and/or administrators trained to deal with issues relating to gender identity? Letting her use the correct restroom is a good start, but there’s more to it than that.
My advice to YOU is to keep being open-minded and concerned. Share these views with your kids and their friends. Be as vocal (or more so) than the ones spreading the lies and stupidity.
Keep fighting the good fight! We in the LGBT community need and appreciate each and every one of you, our awesome straight allies!
– Designer Daddy
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So I have a kid in school now. Whoever thought I’d be saying (or writing) those words? I guess up until now I’d never thought much about it. With the exception of a few months my sophomore year, I loved school, and my early school memories are full of color and letters and art and really nice, really tall teachers. But leading up to JJ starting preschool, I hadn’t had time to think about those memories. All my time and energy was spent worrying about how and where to find the right school. Private, public, magnet, charter. The only ones we could definitively rule out were of the conservative religious variety. So when we finally found one, the frenzy then migrated to figuring out work schedules, pick up/drop off coordination, and a mortgage-sized stack of paperwork. And the getting of all the stuff: new shoes, backpack, lunch bag, little Tupperware containers. Not that I didn’t love it. Because A) Daddy loves to shop, and B) kids have the coolest stuff.
But in between the searching and the deciding, we visited the school that would eventually be The One. As Papa, JJ and I walked into the brick building, down the hall covered in bulletin boards, and into what would be JJ’s classroom, all those early school memories came flooding back. So much color, so many letters, artwork everywhere; bins and jars and shelves overflowing with untold treasures.
Papa was busy asking the administrator all sorts of responsible, adult questions about money and hours of operation, while I kept an eye on JJ, who was keeping an eye on the class on the other side of the room having story time. I then watched as he walked over to a munchkin-sized table and started taking apart and putting together a group of puzzles that had been laid out, around six or so. As he was finishing the last one, I bent down to watch him more closely. It was wooden, painted in bright colors, and had ten pieces consisting of numbers zero through nine. It didn’t play a song or light up or have any buttons to push, and it didn’t teach any lessons about sharing or the environment or how to speak Chinese. Wood, paint and numbers — that was it. While the numbers weren’t perfectly formed, they also weren’t done in an annoying “child’s handwriting” font. Someone’s hands had obviously been involved at some point in the creation of this.
JJ made quick work of it and moved back to the first puzzle to re-start his process while Papa continued to gather vital information about our son’s education. I leaned in closer to the numbers puzzle and saw this in the bottom right corner:
Wait… what? 1975?!? If I hadn’t already been awash in nostalgia I might have been concerned this school had such outdated toys for my son to play with. Back to school? More like WAY back to school. We’re talking decades… DECADES of germs. And not to mention such an antiquated teaching approach. There weren’t even any robots or multiracial children or Disney properties on it!
Yet deep in remembrance as I was, what immediately came to mind was that I could have played with this very puzzle at JJ’s age. Granted, I would have been six, and a little old to be learning to count. But it was definitely of my era. It gave comfort to this old dad. As a father that’s grayer than most toddler dads, it’s something that weighs on me from time-to-time, both physically and emotionally. So to see something from my early school days making its way into my son’s made me feel connected to him on his new adventure. And it was reassuring — a sign, if you will — that we’d found the right place for him to embark.
The simplest tools — paint, wood, numbers, letters, paper, glue, paint, water, music, glitter, hand-raising, story time, lining up, recess, tiny tables and really nice, really tall teachers. These are what stand the test of time and truly leave their mark on young minds.
I jumped out of a cab and into the sweltering DC heat. I jogged across the street and joined the other 100 or so men in red polo shirts standing across the sidewalk from the US Supreme Court Building. It was June 26th, and less than two hours before, DOMA and Prop8 had been struck down, giving significant momentum to same-sex marriage, and LGBT rights overall. This was more momentum — and public, official support — than gay America had ever experienced.
The guys in red were my friends family and fellow members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. We had been on call for a couple of weeks, awaiting word for when SCOTUS would read their rulings on these closely watched cases. The call had come, the rulings had been read, and we were there to sing — thankfully not in protest, but in celebration.
It was our time — so like a big, sweaty amoeba, we squeezed through the crowd of camera crews, ralliers and a grumpy passer-by or two. As we neared our designated spot, a cheer rippled through the group and I spotted Barney Frank trying to make his way in the opposite direction. I snapped a quick photo, then leaned in for an overly eager hug and a too loud “Thank you for all you’ve done!” in his ear. I may have even kissed his cheek.
We finished forming our rows in front of the steps; our director raised her hands to lead us in the first of our two songs — “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime. Written from the perspective of African-Americans at the turn of the 20th Century, the lyrics are universal in their admonishment of maligned people to protest peacefully, yet loudly. We reached the final verse…“Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons,” and I thought of my own son and the ever more tolerant world he’s growing up in.
We then began to sing the national anthem. I’m amazed at how incredible it feels — both musically and emotionally — to sing this. It’s a powerful thing to hear a host of men’s voices blending together, marginalized citizens showing pride and passion about the country slow to embrace them fully. I’ve had the privilege to perform it with GMCW several times at Washington Nationals’ games. Being behind home plate, hearing our voices echo up into the cavernous stadium full of fans, catching a glimpse of myself on the jumbotron — the experience is always exhilarating.
But that day in front of those steps, it was different. More momentous, yet more intimate. A shift had occurred, and we’d been brought one step closer to equal with our heterosexual neighbors, families and fellow citizens.
If you haven’t thought about the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a while, take a moment to do so:
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
We all know the anthem is about our flag, surviving a brutal battle during the War of 1812. It remained intact, waving proudly amidst the turmoil, giving hope and speaking of bravery and endurance.
And that’s how I felt as we sang in the hot, midday sun. That we as a community had endured so much turmoil and discrimination, merely because of who we love. Yet we had only grown stronger, given greater visibility and resolve by the glaring rockets and bursting bombs all around us: Stonewall. Harvey Milk. AIDS. Matthew Shepard. Westboro Baptist Church. The countless victims of rejection, bullying, excommunication, suicide and murder.
As we neared the end, I choked up, unable to sing. My heart filled with pride for my country, my community, my chorus brothers, my family. My thoughts filled with anticipation and relief and immense patriotism. My eyes filled with a mixture of sweat and tears.
We finished the song, and I hugged several of the guys and took a few more pictures to capture the day. But it was a swampy summer afternoon in Washington, and I’d had enough. I walked back across the street to hail another taxi for an impromptu trip to my husband’s office. I wanted to share and celebrate the moment with him before heading back to work myself.
As I cooled down in the air-conditioned cab, my thoughts went to the pile of work I had waiting for me, and the fatherly work after that feeding, bathing and putting my son to bed. I thought to myself how much time it had taken out of my day, traveling by subway and cab and on foot, the time it was going to take me to get home and the unavoidable stress… but then I stopped myself. I had experienced the struggle of gay Americans in a microcosm that day. Working so hard, traveling far, enduring the searing heat, then one moment of communal triumph… then back to work.
Time to get back to work and family, and all the day-to-day things that make up my life. The only difference was that my relationship and my family were now just as protected and supported as every other American… and that made all the difference.
The reception of our performance has been pretty astounding. It has been featured on PBS NewsHour, The Washington Post, Business Insider, NPR, MSNBC and most local news stations. Oh yeah, and even Glenn Beck’s web site. If you saw/heard it anywhere else, send me the link and I’ll add it to this list.
If you’re on Facebook, you can view my photo album from the performances here.
(P.S. That’s me in the yellow Superman visor, far left.)
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When I heard the Boy Scouts of America might lift its ban on gay and lesbian scouts and leaders, I was pleasantly surprised. I was hopeful. I even had a funny, positive spin to put on it. But once again (at least for the foreseeable future) the BSA has given LGBT Americans the salute they think we deserve:
Following in the footsteps of the “It Gets Better” campaign is a new documentary called Bully. Though not due for release until March 30, it’s already garnered lots of press, due largely in part to the efforts of a bullied high school student.
The MPAA has given Bully an R rating for language. But the filmmakers (and a whole lot of other folks) are lobbying the ratings board to change it to PG-13. They fear the R rating will prevent the film from being played in schools or allowing kids to see it without adults, thus limiting its reach and effectiveness. Based on the trailer, Bully isn’t about a bunch of adults telling teens to stick it out till they graduate. It’s about kids helping kids, rallying together to make outsiders feel in, reaching their troubled peers where they are. The message being – while it does get better after high school, it should be better now.
Speaking of kids helping kids, high schooler Katy Butler (herself a victim of bullying) launched a petition for the PG-13 rating that has already garnered over 190,000 signatures in less than a week. While it’s often unclear how much difference petitions like these make, it’s clearly getting Katy, the film, and the subject of bullying extensive coverage — so it certainly couldn’t hurt.
I’d also like to echo Lee Hirsch, the director of Bully, who admonishes on the film’s web site: “Everyone has a story when it comes to bullying, what’s yours?”
My sophomore year of high school I was the target of several months of bullying by a guy named Ken, a senior on the football team. We lived and went to school on an Air Force base on the small island of Okinawa, Japan, so there was no escaping the torment. I was punched and pushed out of the way walking the halls at school; cornered and yelled at in the bowling alley; hit and called “faggot” when I went to the movies. He also came to my house a couple of times — one terrifying night when I was alone, but even scarier was the time he cursed out my Mom who had gone to the door to tell him to leave. I even skipped the cast party of a play I was in, on the off chance my tormenter might show up.
The most painful and isolating part was feeling like none of my friends really saw or understood what was going on. And I was ashamed to tell them how scared I was. Because Ken had come to my house, my parents knew — but like most teenagers, I was embarrassed and tried to keep them out of it as much as possible.
I became so lonely and frightened to go to school (or anywhere, really) that one night I searched the house for pills, thoughts of suicide floating around the back of my mind. Luckily my search proved fruitless, and I managed to brave another day.
I don’t remember exactly how the bullying ended, but Ken eventually moved on to other conflicts. Not long after, he got kicked off the football team for fighting. He then proceeded to get kicked off the basketball team, out of high school, and eventually off the island and back to the States. Later I heard he’d enlisted in the Air Force, but had then been discharged and ended up in jail. Clearly this was a troubled individual, and I’ve sometimes wondered how many other victims of his hostility there were along the way.
While the subject of bullying has obvious connections to my role as a father, you might be asking “What does this have to do with design?” Well, it has everything to do with everything. From my earliest memories I’ve been drawing and wanting to be an artist when I grew up. And by surviving those few months in high school, I got to grow up and live out my dream. As a bonus, I have gotten to work for many companies and organizations that help children. And I got to be a dad, and to teach my son all about color and drawing and super heroes and music and helping others. My hope is to also teach JJ to not only stand up for himself when he can, but to ask for help when he can’t.
In addition to signing the petition and supporting the film, I encourage you to share your story, whether it’s here, in the petition’s comments, or with family and friends.