Two of a Kind

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In June of last year, City Paper published its annual “Queer Issue,” in conjunction with the Baltimore Pride festivities. The first since the historic passage of Question 6, the issue’s cover featured two women kissing while holding celebratory sparklers, a nod to a mass same-sex wedding being held in Druid Hill Park that weekend.

My friend Evan’s then 6-year-old son Jack pointed to the picture and said, ‘What’s that?’

Evan says he “took a deep breath” and launched into an explanation. It was a picture of two women in love who were getting married, he began.

Jack interrupted. “No, Daddy. Not that, THAT,” he said.

He was asking about the sparklers.

It’s a scene familiar to many modern parents, who are raising kids completely nonplussed by nontraditional families. Unencumbered by prejudice or cultural expectations, our kids see families as just that: families, paying little attention to the particular constellation of genders therein.

A few years ago, my oldest son asked me if our beloved neighbors, two men with children, were married.

I answered that I honestly didn’t know if they were married, because in many states it wasn’t allowed. Ethan was absolutely scandalized.

“How could they not be married?” he asked, wide-eyed. “They do everything together!”

As the sister of two gay men, I’ve always had a vested interest in raising children who respect the fundamental equality of all people and who embrace all kinds of families. But as a card-carrying Generation Xer, I find the civil rights sea change currently unfolding in America—from the Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor decision to the coming out of Missouri All-American football player Michael Sam—especially electrifying.

I was born in 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American history. It was “The Year That Rocked The World,” as the title of one book puts it, the year of the riots at the Democratic National Convention and the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. It was the year of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the heyday of the Black Panthers.

But by the time I was old enough to pay attention to the world around me, all that turmoil seemed a thing of the past, especially from my vantage point in a generic Long Island split-level with a station wagon parked in the driveway. There were no sit-ins or marches or riots on my agenda. It was the era of “Free to Be You and Me” and Title IX. Women entered the work force in record numbers. America certainly wasn’t perfect, by any stretch, but it felt as though the heyday of toppling discriminatory barriers was largely over, as was the exhilaration that came with it.

I was always curious what it might have felt like to witness a revolution firsthand, to have experienced groundbreaking social changes like those of the era I was born in. For many of my peers, the AIDS and apartheid activism of the ’80s was a first taste.

Now we do have that chance, one made all the more powerful by the fact that we are also witnessing it through our children’s eyes. The ironic thing is it’s almost too difficult for today’s kids to grasp the profundity of what’s happening. The legislative and social barriers being broken through by gay people seem as puzzling and backward to our kids as the antiquated and repulsive “Whites Only” drinking fountains seemed to us—something you might see in a history museum.

“That’s just like segregation,” my friend Krista’s 7-year-old daughter Soren marveled after they discussed why NFL prospect Michael Sam was making headlines.

The gay rights movement has provided an opportunity to teach our kids the power of social protest, sometimes with a wholly contemporary twist. In January, after “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson made racist and homophobic remarks, pop star Liam Payne of One Direction tweeted his support to Robertson’s son. Payne and his fans subsequently got into a Twitter war with a popular YouTube sensation named Tyler Oakley, who is gay. My friend Kirsten’s 11-year-old daughter Sarah, once an enthusiastic One Direction fan, was so upset she unfollowed everyone having to do with the band on Instagram and took down all of their posters from her room.

Similarly, when it came to light that Chick-fil-A—one of our kids’ favorite restaurants—had been donating money to virulently anti-gay causes, we told our boys we had no choice but to stop eating there.

And I know they got the message. Well, sort of. Because the morning after President Obama finally voiced support for marriage equality during an interview with ABC, I explained to my boys as we drove to school why this was such a big deal.

There was a moment of silence as Ethan pondered the news. Then he piped up from the back seat.

“Does this mean we can go back to Chick-fil-A now?” he asked eagerly.

It was an important reminder that in the end, kids are just kids­ and view the world the way kids do. But it makes me happy that it’s kids like Jack and Ethan and Soren and Sarah who will be the parents of tomorrow, the members of Congress of tomorrow, the business owners of tomorrow. I feel safe knowing that when it comes to this last ugly vestige of bigotry in our country, the future is in enlightened hands. 9

Jennifer Mendelsohn lives in Mount Washington with her husband and their two boys. Her work has appeared inThe New York Times, People, Slate and,USA Weekend. She also serves as one of Us Weekly’s Fashion Police “Top Cops.”

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