By Sara Hurley
Sara Hurley is a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation research focuses, in part, on the motivations of LGBT adults participating in the It Gets Better Project.
Those who promote limiting the rights of LGBT citizens often use children as fear motivators in political campaigns. Whether it's the Minnesota marriage amendment campaign, the addition of LGBT people to nondiscrimination acts or Gay Straight Alliances in schools, casting LGBT people and their lives as menaces to the innocence of children has been a very effective political tool over time.
The impact of the marriage amendment on LGBT families is something that health-oriented organizations like the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics are already focusing on. But the marriage amendment advocates don't harm just LGBT families; these campaigns create problems for children who will be struggling with their sexual orientations or who will come out as LGBT as they enter their teenage years.
For the last year, as part of my dissertation, I have been talking with LGBT adults who participated in the It Gets Better Project. The people I have talked to come from around the country and are diverse in many ways: age, income, race, location, etc. They are also similar in a number of specific ways. One of the most consistent refrains in regard to why they decided to make a video for the It Gets Better Project was that when they were young, they had no role models to turn to. There was no positive discussion of LGBT people in their schools. And they felt isolated as a result. That isolation affected their relationships with their communities, peers and their own families in various ways.
While advocates for the amendment claim to be seeking some sort of reasonable discussion, their views are grounded in a language that debases the love between two men or two women and a perception that these relationships and commitments are "less than." This affects more than LGBT adults and their desire for marriage. It also affects children who are, might be or will be LGBT. When the adults in my study reflected on their youth experiences, they clearly tied the absence of positive discussion, or the resistance to treating LGBT people equally, to the isolation they experienced when they were young.
With every new generation, we don't know where LGBT people will come from — and yet we do. We don't know which children in small towns will wind up gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, but we do know there will be children in every kind of town and every kind of community who will be. Those children need positive role models. They need to know that they are not alone, that they are loved, that they deserve love.
The organizers of campaigns against LGBT rights, including marriage, have used children as a political weapon long enough. It's not just the children of LGBT adults who suffer when marriage amendment advocates denigrate their families and the relationships of their parents. Also hurt are the children in every town, suburb and city who hear that they are less than their straight peers, that they have no chance at "real" love because of who they are; and their straight peers, who learn to punish the children in their schools who are or even appear to be LGBT; and their relationships with their parents, who they might otherwise go to for advice, but who they instead choose to block out of important parts of their lives for fear of rejection.
The question to debate: What effect is the amendment campaign likely to have on kids who are gay or lesbian?
Find complete coverage of the marriage amendment issue on our Campaign 2012 page.