Shhhh, listen. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a million mothers, making history.

by Janelle Hanchett

Recently, my family has become bombarded with the reality of homophobia and prejudice in our schools, a place we hear about as a cesspool of ignorance, but hate to admit it as such.

I’m going to tell you about it in vague terms, for the sake of my kids’ safety, and privacy: a dear young friend of ours was recently the victim of bullying, harassment and alienation at school because some kids decided she was gay.

My own daughter was terrified and shell-shocked by the verbal brutality and back-stabbing she witnessed, directed at her dearest friend. My kid wasn’t the one getting bullied, but she heard the hatred. She found herself witness to cruelty. She shed tears for her friend. She saw the ugliness and was forced to face it, head-on.

You want the best part? This terror was justified by some of the parents involved. Eventually, despite the ignorant defense of the behavior, it was handled.

But what about the child who had to face it? What about her little soul?

What about my kid, who had to watch it, and deal with it? Somehow.

Why the hell should they be dealing with this crap?

And why aren’t more parents freaking the fuck out?

The next time I saw this child, I hugged her a little too long. As she sat curled up with Ava on the bed, giggling and looking at books, playing Barbies, lost in their fantasy land, I wanted to move my family to an abandoned island. I wanted to pull all kids of all people I know out of school and homeschool them (you know, cause that went so well last time I tried it).

But my feelings were not all so gushy.

To put it bluntly, I was also fucking pissed.


A certain sentence keeps coming to mind: “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

I see the truth of those words everywhere:

If you aren’t doing something to change it, you’re doing something to maintain it.

And people, that is where we are right now.

Our kids are going to school with the offspring of the ignorant. They are hanging out with kids raised with bigotry and hatred. They are going to school with children indoctrinated with beliefs and approaches we would rather not believe even exist in 2012.

But they do.

And the thing is, it isn’t enough to just not be bigoted ourselves. It isn’t enough to teach love and acceptance of others and figure our kids will know what to do when they are confronted with some kid getting bullied. We all want to think our kid won’t be the follower of the bully, but it isn’t enough to think, or hope, or assume. We must face these things directly.

It isn’t enough to send our kid to school each day figuring they’ll stand strong when the homophobia of American society stares them in their young faces.

It isn’t enough to figure “We live in a liberal community. Everybody is open here.”

Bullshit. They aren’t.

If we aren’t part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

If we aren’t explaining to our children the injustices of society, we’re part of the problem.

If we aren’t empowering our kids to act, we’re part of the problem.

If we aren’t making it VERY CLEAR what we’re up against in holding the belief that all people deserve equal access to civil liberties, we’re part of the problem.

This isn’t about marriage equality (though seriously, how do we not have it yet?!). I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about basic respect for humans, whether or not they live like you do.

My friend came out when he was 15 years old. He immediately faced harassment. He approached his teachers and they did nothing. One day at lunch he walked up to a table to sit down with the kids who used to be his friends, and none of them would sit by him. He turned around and walked out of school, and never went back.

[Incidentally, he moved to San Francisco and joined the circus, which clearly makes him the coolest human being to ever walk the earth, but that’s another story.]

The fact is that someday our child will be the one standing next to the kid who just came out.

Our child will be at that lunch table, deciding, watching.

Our child will watch a girl’s face fall as it turns toward the hatred of her bullies.

Our child will be the one who will make the decision, to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

What are we doing to help determine the outcome of that moment?

Or, our child will be the one who just came out.

There is so much power in the home. There is so much power in motherhood. WE are the ones creating the new wave of citizens. Often we think of power as prestige and control in a high-powered position. As a spot in government. As a place “above” a bunch of people…

But I believe a bigger power lies in the words and hands of mothers and fathers, in the way we speak to our kids about what’s going on in the world, in the books we choose to read, in the version of history we share. In the tools we place in our children’s hands: awareness, perspective, a sense of justice and morality, a sense of what’s right.

And a passionate desire to defend it.

When I was around 5 years old, my babysitter was a lesbian. One night I spent the night at her and her girlfriend/wife’s house (not sure which). The next morning, when I got in the car with my mom, I asked “How come they are both women but they sleep in the same bed?”

She responded, “Because sometimes women love men, and sometimes women love other women.”

And I remember thinking to myself “Oh, okay.”

And I never questioned it again. Such is the power of a mother, to form the foundation upon which a lifetime is built.

Yeah, this is a call to arms: for you, for me, for us. Why now? Because I’ve been shocked by the proximity of ignorance and hatred to my own children.

And it ain’t funny.

Once again I see that I can’t protect them fully, block them from the assholes, shield them from what I’d like to ignore.

And so I must choose. To back down, to turn away, to let it go. OR NOT.

These are our kids. This is our future. And we’ve got some say in that.

Because we’re mothers.

And such is our power.


17 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | October 31, 2012
  • Stefanie

    Ah, live and let live – because I agree, we need to be respectful of human beings, whether we agree or not!

  • Erin

    Brought tears to my eyes. The way your mom explained to you about homosexuality is exactly how I explained it to my kids…no big deal. Thank you for being my voice when I’m too afraid to speak. Love you.

  • kate

    Janelle, you are such a wonderful person and mother. <3

  • Debbie

    My 17 year old son and I were just having a conversation yesterday along these lines. I pulled him and his sister from school several years ago to homeschool. There were several reasons, but the most important one was that these years of their lives are for growing character and exploring and growing into who they are…and not so much the forced academics (disclaimer – I know I’m a rebel in this way..this is not a judgement, just my own philosophy). We spent the first difficult homeschooling years just letting go of “school” and all the expectations (from other people about who we should be) that it had brought into our lives. Don’t get me wrong, my children still learn…it’s just so different now…totally self directed and tailored to who they each are. My son chose too attend high school last year to attempt to find other like-minded kids who love life, have a general love and respect for all other people and love to learn and share and talk about all kinds of things. He was so horrified at what he found…the meanness, the ignorance, the cruelty towards others, the disrespect of the adults working there, the complete lack of interest in learning anything. No individuality at all, but most people abandoning their real selves to become one of the crowd…at any cost. I think that’s why bullying thrives (my son was bullied and labeled by kids who didn’t even know him and didn’t bother or seem interested in trying). We were discussing what the possible answers could be and we said the very same thing…all kids should be homeschooled. I know this is very idealist and wouldn’t work for some families and some kids actually need to escape their homes. I think it’s a deeply layered problem…many causes and one answer won’t change it. My only answer is how I live my life. It is more important to me that my kids are happy, healthy, free-thinking, intelligent people than it is to be a part of a system that seems to stand against those things for so many kids. If my kids don’t learn geometry, I’m ok with that as long as they prize and value themselves and others.

  • Katie Vyktoriah

    My heart bleeds reading this. I went through something very similar in 6th grade, and it has stayed with me ever since.

    My best friend at the time was quite a shy girl, while I was never really shy. When we walked down the crowded corridors of school, she would grab the belt loop on the back of my jeans and hold on tight, allowing me to navigate the halls for her. Somehow, this became a source of gossip to our classmates, and it went around that we were lesbians. I honestly didn’t really know what that was, and I ignored it for the most part.

    Then one day the class was watching a news segment on Channel 1 and it was dealing with teenage lesbians and such. As I watched with growing horror, I realised what it was that everyone was thinking, and I saw every head in the room turning around and staring pointedly at me, making me feel like I was dying inside. For the rest of the day, various people made pointed comments at me, muttering rude things under their breaths and someone shouted out DYKE at me in the lunch room.

    I ran to a pay phone and called my mother, sobbing, telling her I wanted to die. She called the school immediately and told them to hold me in the office until she got there, which they did. A long discussion was had with the school counsellors, with them asking me directly if I WAS a lesbian. I said that I didn’t think I was, and they simply said that I should ignore the other kids in that case. One woman said, “What if they called you a bird? You’re not a bird, and you know that. So it can’t hurt you. Why does this?” I spent nearly a week at home before getting the nerve to go back.

    When I eventually returned, my teacher made a big speech about it and told everyone to apologise (mortifying in itself!), which they did. But then between lessons, she called me over and told me that I should NEVER ever have told my mother that things like this were going on, and I should have come to HER instead. She actually said, “I could have helped. You don’t HAVE to be a lesbian, and you need someone to talk some sense into you, and lead you away from the wrong path.” She went on to tell me that I needed to fight against my instincts and try harder to fit in.

    I started to feel like I really WAS a lesbian and that this was a bad thing. I had no idea what to do and ended up switching schools at the end of the year.

    The funny thing is that years later, I realised that I DO like girls. I am completely comfortable describing myself as bisexual, though most of my relationships have been with men. The truth is that love is so difficult to find and hold on to, and I don’t discriminate when it comes my way. I have loved women and I’ve loved men, and I feel lucky that I have an open enough mind to allow myself the possibility of happiness with either sex.

    Bah. I should probably have just written my own blog post on this rather than clogging up your comments! Sorry about that. I guess I just really wanted to say that I sympathise hugely with your daughter’s friend, and I genuinely hope she doesn’t let it get to her as much as my experience got to me. No one should be bullied into switching schools or having to run away for fear of what others think.

  • Megan

    Beautifully said. This brought me to tears. Thank you for the reminder!

  • jackie

    thanks for the comment above too. so reminiscent of bullying me/we all went through too. be close, have best friends, but don’t get too close. In our school it was the thing to do to write “your top 5” meaning the top 5 boys you liked in the class and share with your group. a new girl started and immediately was asked to put it out there. i was with her when she wrote it, writing the names of the girl clique on that paper. i tried explaining it to her before the others would see. not sure if this was just one of many incidents but i can tell you, that was grade 5. in grade 8 she started smoking and having boy/girl parties when her mom was away. became on of my own bullies but never the leader of the pact. In grade 11 she ran away to jamaica and worked as a prostitute. she came back at age 21 and waitressed in bars downtown. Sad.

  • Shan

    Love you.

  • Eddie - The Usual Mayhem

    I don’t give a crap who somebody’s sleeping with, as long as it’s consentual. I do care whether or not they are caring, thoughtful human beings who try to make their little pocket of the world a better place.

  • Michael Ann

    Right on Target as usual, Janelle. The way we treat others is learned in the home. And I love what you said about REAL power lies with the mother (and father).

  • Dawn

    I’m not sure it matters WHY the girl was being bullied, just that she was. And the fact that adults that are supposed to be in charge condoned or helped it to happen is inexcusable. It is happening at unprecedented rates in schools all over the place. And the sick thing is, that some of the schools with the worst bullying problems don’t particpate in anti-bullying week activities and they don’t teach tolerance. It’s a horrible feeling to be between that rock and a hard place; when you know you are teaching your children the value of themselves and others; when you’ve carted yourself to the school with a briefcase of research and anti-bullying propaganda, volunteered to be the head of a club for kids, submitted complaints through all the proper chains all the way to the top, short of writing to a State Senator, only to have the adults in charge toss them in the trash and disregard the violence under their very noses. That’s when you contemplate homeschool, and rather than help all the kids at the school, you start with your own and find them a safer place to learn, and hope and pray for the kids you left behind at that school. You talk to other parents and let them know what’s going on and help them get their kids out of there or speak up with you to make a difference. So, yeah, been there, done that, fought and fought for the safety of kids and the right things until I was so darn tired. I know I didn’t get any district policies changed or anthing, but I know my kids saw me fight for a safer education, and I know other parents that started paying attention and eventually moved their kids out of there. Damn, it’s tiring having all this super power…..

  • missy

    I don’t have anything to say about bigoted, asshat parents who mock gay guys and fat ladies in front of their kids. But,

    The power of the bystander has been shown over and over again. And most of us are parents of the bystanders. We are the parents of the kids who know what is right, but watch a bully do something mean and don’t do anything about it. Our kids might even giggle along with the bully and other bystanders. I know I did as a kid, *because I didn’t know what else to do.* Peer pressure is magical. So we have to make sure it’s used for the power of good. There are specific things we can do to support our kids in derailing the cycle of bullying:

    1. **and this is key** Teach your kiddo that if they think something someone else is doing is wrong, all the other kids who are watching probably do, too. This is the big reason no one steps up.
    2.Bullies like an audience. If you tell them they’re not being cool, and then walk away, they will probably stop.
    3. There are other things kids can try besides telling the bully to stop. You can tell an adult, without even naming names. You can distract the bully somehow, for example, by inviting her or the victim to play a game. If a kid always gets picked on during lunch by a bully, you and your friends can sit with her at lunch for the next few days to prevent the bully from doing it again.

    I pray that maybe, just maybe, those bullies will learn a thing or two from our empowered kids, and maybe, they can fix their ignoramus parents.

    Sorry your kiddo had to be involved in that sort of thing. It’s crushing.

    And sorry to soapbox, but this issue is near and dear to my heart.

  • lis

    Sorry to hear about your loved ones being harrassed.
    I’ve experienced very horrible and beautiful things and I can honestly say that love is the key to live by. We are living in a VERY intense time period as a human race. Our focus has been deterred away from what REALLY matters and we must be strong NOW more than ever to heal ourselves and our planet. Culture is a cult…..there is no logic in culture. Yet we feel we need to continue following it….continue kneeling before it….continue harassing those who don’t follow it… Do you see the visious cycle? I once ran into a documentary about a tribe in south america called the Pirahã people. Here is a link:

    They live peacfully with nature and have NO belife system..NO god….They live in the moment and caring for eachother. They even de-converted a missionary who was trying to “save” them from themselves.

    Life is NOT user friendly.

    Life is black white and gray. Life is LOVE, COMPROMISE (listening to everyones opinion and finding a middle ground), or when that doesn’t work…. TO EACH HIS OWN ( walk away and let each person walk their own path…even if it makes no sense or is creul or is impossible…let it be).

    Its that simple to understand….but hard to enact…but isn’t it worth it???

    The internet is the largest library on earth. There WAS a library just like the internet long ago called The Library of Alexandria (Alexander the great created it)….but it was burned down by people/group who didn’T want the rest of the population to heal and enlighten themselves.

    NOW….we have it again…THE internet. The largest library on earth. WE must use it as a tool to heal, discover/evolve ourseles, help our planet and further our lives for the better of future generations.

    Its NOT a political, religious, cultural problem…its a fight for our consciousness….its a fight to free our minds and hearts.

    Jesus was a hippie. He had long hair, helped his community, healed the sick/suffering….and he was killed because the romans didn’t want that.

    The romans then said we will use jesus as a martyr and use him to control the masses….pay your taxes… Sex is a sin ( sex ACUTALLY..reduces stress and hikes up your seretonin levels…its GOOD FOR YOU!!)beleive in the church (government) or ELSE!!

    Hello catholic church….a cesspool of greed, crime, ignorance still towering over our heads. Then the church became a governing body and now its tied to corporations…who are still instilling fear, ignorance to the masses. Visious cycle???? I rest my case.

    Heal, love, compromise…or to each his own.

    Peace to YOU and your loved ones!=)


  • lis

  • The Gym B***h

    You are one of my favorite human beings. I love your passion. You are beyond good at this, at writing, at parenting, etc.


  • Working Momma with a Baby

    Such a great post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ignorance and hatred my kid is going to face in some way when he is old enough to go to school and it makes me hurt for him. I hope that our kids can learn to be part of the solution and stop the hate cycle.

  • carlisle

    this gave me shivers. very powerful.

    I didn’t get mistaken for a lesbian until high school, and lucky me I didn’t give a fuck. I played it up. but people really didn’t ‘bully’ me. I was the only chick who wore a leather jacket and combat boots, so…they assumed I could beat the shit out of them. but had I been younger? that young? shit, it might’ve crushed me… that poor girl. my heart goes out to her.