Monday, December 4, 2017

Be a Light and Shelter for LGBTQIA Children in a Season of Darkness

When I was an elementary school Librarian, I chose winter to teach Hans Christian Andersen as a long author study. We started with his winter stories: The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Snow Queen, The Little Match Girl. Andersen's tales, as he originally wrote them, and not pre-digested into a Disney remix, are not well known among kids today. That's one of the reasons I taught them. Other reasons are the ambrosial language, the celebration and elevation of the underdog, how Andersen's stories build empathy, sensitivity, and an awareness of others, as well as context and culture, and how they speak to children as if they are real people-- that is, they often express the world as it really is.

The Little Match Girl is a story that does that. A little girl, abused and unloved by her father, is set out in the streets to sell matches. It is freezing, but she knows if she doesn't sell her quota, she'll be beaten and turned out again. She stays in the snow, forlorn, one over-sized slipper lost, as happy Christmas shoppers rush past her. She looks in the windows of the bakeries she passes and remembers dinners with a Grandmother her loved her. She passes homes, in which happy families decorate trees. Finally, she sits and tries to warm herself, and watches the stars. In the morning, the townspeople find her, frozen, and they realize that as they celebrated Christ's birth, among them, a child they despised died because of their neglect.

For gay and trans kids, acceptance at home and school is a matter of life and death. That's what I learned when Project Silk, an advocacy group for young people of color who are gay or transgender, came as guest speakers to Perry Library's Student-Staff Book Club last week. We were wrapping up our second book choice of the year, The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater. The 57 Bus is a book about an agender teen who is critically burned by another teen on a bus ride home.

Richard and Michael, our Project Silk presenters, told us about a cycle that can too often drag young gay and trans kids of color into a life of crime, sex work and death. It can start in school, and it can work like this: 

Thrown out at home for being gay or trans, harassed and bullied at school for being who they are, kids often have no alternative but to live in the streets. Doubly discriminated against, they can't get hired for a job. This can lead to young people turning to sex work to survive-- some as young as thirteen or fourteen. Picked up by police for doing sex work, they go to jail, where they are often harassed, assaulted, and sometimes even raped.

 Richard said that when fighting to protect themselves, young gay or trans people have a tendency sometimes to "do the most." Who could blame a person who had been subject to so much for so long? Unfortunately, this can place the young person on an additional terrible cycle: discriminated against within the criminal justice system, gay and trans youngsters sometimes are blamed for defending themselves. Without a place to live, transportation or money, it is hard to make it to court dates reliably, on time, dressed presentably, with adequate legal representation, and pay legal fines and fees on time, or at all. This can place a young, now offender, even deeper within the cycle. 

I asked Richard and Michael how we interrupt this cycle. Their response? Do everything you can to make school a safe place. Make it a haven, where kids who are unloved and unrespected at home find a shelter. Teachers, students, and administrators alike: this is our calling within this season of darkness and light. We are called upon to be sheltering place for the unwanted child. We are called upon to light up the dark. No matter what one's religious or ethical training, we are responsible for all of us, most especially children. Love and light to all of us-- especially our LGBTQIA children.

NYT Magazine: The 57 Bus

Project Silk

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