Last week over breakfast, our foreign exchange student announced that, on BART, she saw her first gay person.

I snickered a bit privately, since she’s seen way, way, way more than that. But I wanted to hear her story.

She said that, in her country, being gay is bad. That two women kissing on the train is not okay.

I braced myself for what came next and held my breath because the kids were listening. We have a friend who is transgendered and my children think such humans are just another kind of friend to have. In fact, the youngest doesn’t know and assumes, as he should, that our friend is a man because he’s a man. Of course, Butter’s three and thinks most of the trucks on Bob the Builder are female. So he’s clearly not attuned to conventional gender clues yet. But I didn’t know for the first few months of my friendship, either, and learned about Adam’s apples the interesting way.

We haven’t talked to our kids about what it means to be gay or lesbian, in part because gender is something children notice early, but discussing homosexuality involves ideas about attraction and marriage and being more than friends, which are by nature more mature than my children are. They know every family is different, and that some families have kids but some don’t; some have two adults in the family, some don’t; and that the families with two parents might consist of a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. They know that we really like that different types of people bring different ideas and the more ideas you hear, the better you can choose what you believe.

So when Rosí announced that in her country bring gay is bad, I was prepared to stop her so we could continue later. Her opinions and experiences are valid, but they’re not always appropriate for small children.

“Yes,” she continued. “In my country this is very bad. But I think killing is bad. This? Kiss? Do you say ‘kiss’ in this way? [Yes, but you can say ‘kissing’, too.] This is love, right? And love is good. So I don’t like what they do, and I don’t think it’s right. But it’s not wrong.”

I have to say, I was impressed. I asked my eldest if he understood what we were talking about.

“Do you know the word ‘gay’?” I asked. “You know the families we know with two dads or two moms? The word for having a partner who is the same gender as you is ‘gay’.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“So she’s saying that, in her country, people believe wanting to be a family with someone who’s the same is bad. But she thinks hurting is bad, and that loving is good. What do you think?”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “Kissing is only bad if the other person says ‘stop’.”

Well, damn, readers. He just covered equality and respect in one answer.

These are good, open-minded kids I have. The two I raised and the one who just arrived three weeks ago. May they always kiss people who say “yes.”

[I haven’t talked with our guest yet about the Supreme Court decisions of last week. But when the boys and I heard on the radio, on the way to school, that the justices said the federal government can’t invalidate a legal marriage by withholding spousal benefits, and that the people in California who don’t like gay marriage have no legal standing on which to contest it, I sobbed as I explained to my children how important it is for a country to say that all people are legally the same. Of course we’re not the same. But legally, all people have the same rights. I told them how important it is to know that not liking something is not the same as being hurt by it. And that not understanding something is a reason to find out more, not to pass laws. It’s never too early to train the next generation of legislators, executives, and justices.]

Reason number 572 I will never live in the South

A friend posted this article on facebook, and I was shocked when I read it. They still have segregated proms in Georgia, Mississippi, and other Southern states. One night is the white prom (exclusively), and one night is the black prom. Students responded overwhelmingly to Morgan Freeman’s offer to fund an integrated prom, but white parents submarined it. Schools don’t sponsor the proms; student groups plan them with parents. And efforts by some students to combine the proms always fail because the white parents say they won’t pay for a prom where there are black students.

Are you freaking kidding me? You think we’re gonna have thoughtful, engaged citizens when parts of this country still act as though people are different just because of their color, gender, religion, orientation, politics, learning style? Geez, Georgia, what the hell is wrong with you? America, what the hell is wrong with us?

Segregated proms are a symptom, but a pretty big symptom, of intolerance and fear and hatred and ignorance.  People who believe you can’t marry someone you love. People who don’t “believe” in evolution. Beating other people because of who they love. Government sponsored killing. Government sponsored torture. Wiretapping Americans. Disenfranchising citizens.  Blaming other people for our failures. Corporal punishment. Death penalty. Body by McDonald’s. And AgroBusinessChemicalUSA. Picking and choosing who we help and who we leave on the side of the road. Concentrating wealth in the hands of, like, four hundred people while the rest of the world starves to death.*

Could we, as a nation, be more backward and uncivilized? Didn’t we used to stand for something? Like, maybe, equality and democracy and secular morality? Why do we now seem to stand for narrow-mindedness and hatred?

*no claim of moral equivalence in this list of terrifyingly unAmerican realities in America.