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Short Tales
Fifth-Grade Homophobia
Not quite elementary, Watson

From the old files: Here’s a letter parents we know sent their daughter’s fifth-grade teacher some time back. Some of the names have been changed because they weren’t interesting as given.

Dear Mrs. Brunhill,

It’s embarrassing for us to have to write you on this matter, as I’m sure you’ve wasted enough time on it and have far more pressing things to waste time on, like FCAT testing. But these things do need to be dealt with honestly. Forgive the soap-opera prose, but here goes: Leila tells us that she reported to you that Chastity told Hester that Leila was a lesbian. Leila, apparently, was bothered by the alleged outing, to the point of bringing the matter to your attention. In other words, tattling.

We’ve raised Leila to not only be tolerant of such differences, mere tolerance being rather wimpy, but to be proud of their existence the way she should be of any other form of diversity, to champion them and to defend them when need be, without being worried of necessarily becoming what she defends (not that, as I remember my Seinfeld, there’s anything wrong with that). As parents we not only respect anything gay, lesbian, transgender or anything else that doesn’t conform with our homophobic culture; we prize it: the more non-conformists, the better. So we imagined that Leila would take someone calling her a lesbian as something like an ordinary honor — something along the lines of being called, say, a liberal, or the daughter of an Arab. We were stunned to learn that she had actually reported it as some form of offense. We were doubly stunned by the manner in which she reported it: rather than speak to Chastity directly, rather than check Chastity’s claim for herself, Leila took it on herself to accuse Chastity of a perceived offense based on hearsay. We thought we had taught her the many wrongs of that approach, too (using our political age so rich in such wrongs as examples). It seems we still have a lot to teach her along those lines. Regardless of what Chastity did say or did not say, we very much hope that she did not get in trouble over Leila’s hearsay. If she did, we owe her an apology, and so does Leila.

But tattling on hearsay is only half the issue. Tattling as a result of some homophobic reaction is the other, equally serious half. We realize that kids like nothing better than to throw around words they barely have a clue about, like gay and lesbian, in hopes of scoring dartish hits. That, unfortunately, is the result of a social climate where certain bigotries are accepted and even encouraged. (Our dourly undeparted president has something to do with that, given his strange and somewhat Freudian desire to make homophobia constitutional.) It isn’t clear to us from Leila how you handled the matter. We’re pretty sure you kept it in its proper perspective (as one of the idiotic things our most beloved children are wont to do from time to time). But my wife and I, being phobic about being perceived phobic about anything, also wanted you to know that we’ve talked about this at home with Leila for a very long time, openly and compassionately, I’ve made it the subject of countless columns and editorials (most recently about Florida’s barbaric law against gay adoption), and talked about it again tonight, with Leila, this time shaking our heads a lot and wondering what we could possibly have done wrong that our daughter is speaking in reactionary tongues. We’re hoping that next time she sees a boy wearing pink she won’t call the cops.

Sincerely,
Mr. & Mrs. Harvey Firestein

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