Raising them with open hearts: What Idaho taught my family about the importance of diversity and acceptence

By Jani Belcoe

Growing up in Idaho, diversity and equality were never regular topics around my house. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was typically the only time I heard about it, the context being “Why the hell are you missing school for that?” Using those words in relation to ethnicity, religion, culture or *gasp* gender or sexual identity and orientation was unfathomable.

Luckily, my family members were not outwardly bigoted, while I was young and we had no definitive beliefs or mores to cling to. I was able to create my own. Many kids I grew up around were not so lucky, terrible and powerful words used to disparage others and propel hateful propaganda were often used in regular day-to-day conversations. I swore to make sure I was a parent who did not adhere to either lifestyle; the silent nor the boisterous bigotry.

Once I was old enough to leave Idaho, I discovered a Technicolor world my childhood had not prepared me for; it was fantastic! The more people I met, the more experienced I became, the more I wanted to share this world with my children. But I, like most adults and especially young parents, felt the pull back to my hometown. So we went. I was shocked at what I found. The ignorance, hate and fear were so apparent everywhere I went. I tried to remember if it had always been that way and I guess it had; I just never noticed because I was so enmeshed in the culture myself. People were refusing to let people be in a parade; for fear that their sexuality would be contagious and spread through the image of a rainbow on a banner. People were up in arms over the possibility that a black man could be president! My children were young at that time, but they too, were appalled at the beliefs of this “Mayberry” I had brought them to.

My daughter, who was 7 at the time, asked my grandmother what she thought of Obama; my grandmother replied, “He seems like a nice negroid.” Is that even a word? My daughter was immediately disenchanted with her grandma. She had never heard that word, but could tell from the way it sounded that it wasn’t a nice word. We talked about it later, explaining that some people are simply ignorant and do not know any better having grown up in an era and an area where those types of thoughts and words are acceptable. We talked about how it is not acceptable to us and that we should share that with others, because ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

My children were and are often around LGBT people, and we have never made it an issue. I want my children to make their own decisions about people based on character, not color, sexuality, gender, etc. I have never introduced my children to people as “This is Joe Blow, my gay friend.” It’s a nondescript. If it comes up later, we talk about it. I have tried very hard as a parent to keep my children’s minds open and allow them to develop their own ideas and opinions about concepts and people alike. True, it often causes me static; raising children you encourage to challenge authority and status quo is a recipe for potential power struggles but it is also the only way to challenge my children to think for themselves and to ask themselves, why do I think this? Do I feel this way or am I simply repeating something I have been told?

My son, came back from his father’s house in the Fall of 2010, with a huge chip on his shoulder parroting some homophobic religious venom he had heard his father say. I sat him down and asked him why he felt that way, what he had to back up those feelings and what he thought it meant to say those things. He gave some background into what he had heard and why his father may feel that way, and I gave him some counters to think about in a microview, personally and also in a macroview, looking at the big picture. Then I left it alone. Over the next few months I began taking him with me to friend’s houses, inviting friends over more often when the kids were home and then taking them to work with me at a.l.p.h.a., (Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS),  I never told the kids if any of the people they were meeting were gay or otherwise.

After a bit, my son was very enamored with some of my friends and very distraught over the fact that some of them couldn’t get married. He gave the most logical argument for equality that I had ever heard, wondering why it was even an issue, why we had to call it gay marriage anyway because it was just PEOPLE who wanted to get married. “Why is it any different from a white person wanting to marry a black person?” he said. I had never been prouder of my 13-year-old son. We talked about interracial marriage, and how at one time, it had been illegal as well. He was floored.

My daughter, 10 at the time, always felt it her duty to correct the injustices of the world. Upon hearing her father’s argument of homosexuality being biblically damnable as sexuality is for procreation only, she countered that using that logic he too, should not be having sexual relations, as he had a vasectomy before she was born. Should I encourage my daughter to speak in such a way to her father? Perhaps not. Should I be proud that she critically thinks and can counter ignorance and is brave enough to stand up to an authority figure for what she believes is right? Damn right I should.

We have left Idaho for a more diverse area. My son now attends the Gay Straight Alliance and Chess club at his High School. My daughter is no longer taunted by homophobic slurs so often heard and tolerated on the playgrounds of Idaho schools. My children have acclimated well, in a land full of everything Idaho seems to be fearful of.  Here, we have men holding hands with men and carrying their children. Here, we have people of every color. Here, we have people of every gender, regardless of DNA and “social” roles and rules. And they don’t bat an eye. And you know why? Because I don’t.

Take heart Idaho, eventually, we will breed the ignorance and bigotry out.

About the author: Jani Belcoe grew up a gypsy anachronism, mostly in Twin Falls and McCall, Idaho. She clawed her way into the real world, eventually obtaining a highly valuable bachelors degree, two children, a husband she likes, six figure student loans and a sarcastic wit, matched by few. She now lives with her husband and two children in Vancouver, Washington where she is finishing her Masters of Social Work at Portland State University and hoping to grow her student loan debt.

You can read more @ janiswings.wordpress.com


4 Responses to Raising them with open hearts: What Idaho taught my family about the importance of diversity and acceptence

  1. A wonderful story. Just proves it doesn’t pay to give up just because the going gets tough at times.

  2. Pingback: On The Agenda: A Look Back and a Look Ahead « The Idaho Agenda

  3. Pingback: On The Agenda: The Idaho Agenda is one Month Old! « The Idaho Agenda

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