Let’s Talk Pro-Life – Jill Lehmann-Bauer

(without a gay agenda)

I am 41. I grew up in a time where speaking about LGBTQ pain wasn’t a thing. Yet, the wounds were visible and easily recognizable even in my recollection of experiences in 1992. It should have been talked about. It needed to be addressed. It wasn’t. Kids suffered. I saw it, and I dread that I didn’t say anything, and I also had inner turmoil about it growing within me, too.

With research regarding shame and the impacts of this on our youth, we have a responsibility to do better. The bills being introduced are not representing pro-life and a right to exist peacefully. Instead, we are contributing to toxic shame and, as adults, have a moral responsibility to address this root cause for the most vulnerable kids.

In 7th grade, I remember the kid who wore a pair of shoes that weren’t considered masculine enough and watched the bullying and humiliation of him in our music class. This bullying had been brewing for years right in front of me. No adult stopped it, and I’m sure they had to have known it was happening. I feel sorry for that kid now and upset towards myself that I didn’t step in to fight for him. I also give myself a little grace that I didn’t because at that age, nobody wants to be the subject of a tornado coming right at you.

I reflected on him and made a promise to fight for my own children in the way I didn’t stand up for him. I was him. He was me. We both didn’t see each other because I could hide under the disguise when his sexuality was targeted, and mine could be repressed. I wasn’t the one sticking out until I did. I was one of the lucky kids who flew under the radar and minimally subjected to the hostility of perceived difference when I turned 17 when others started to notice the differences in sexuality within me. The rumors started. By age 20, the whole world had known without me telling anyone. I was out, and there was no going back. I was robbed of sharing part of who I was without my consent. This is shame in action.

Yet, it wasn’t my responsibility to protect that boy in 7th grade. It was the adults. It was the teachers. They certainly knew the constant harassment of him and how the bullies in the school target kids who are different and can’t cover up their sexuality as easily as I could. We have a responsibility now to protect kids like him, and denying the differences in our kids and celebrating differences in schools will lead to the continued erosion of our society. I deal with this pain daily in my mental health therapy practice and now deal with it at home.

There is currently a bill in Iowa (HF 2201) which attempts any discussion, education, or inclusions in the curriculum of familial difference, gender identity, or sexual orientation in schools. While this bill might die in the process (as it should) — the disturbing nature of the law considered should make us all consider humanity in the first place and how we got here. Are we really naïve enough to ignore suicide rates aren’t higher in the LGBTQ population? Do we care? Do we believe science and statistics still matter? That by ignoring the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity exist and create shame and further closeting and denying inclusiveness will serve for the greater good of society? Do we care children kill themselves or become addicted to cope with the differences alone? It is about us — as adults, having a moral responsibility to stand by them when they can’t protect themselves.

I recognized when deciding to have children, we would face bullying and diversity issues that would be hard on our kids. Much has changed since 2015 when my wife and I decided we would have children. We were blessed with fun-loving twins, adored by their teachers, have friends, and are doing quite well in the school system we chose. We have observed no bullying or any different treatment of our children than any of the others. We trust their teachers implicitly to stand up to any differences and explain that “Mack and Hart have two moms and some families look different than yours.” I do not doubt they gently explain the difference in family structure and stand up for our kids. Thank you to the Granger pre-school teachers who are doing incredible work with our boys. It makes me worry less. Yet, I still worry and think of navigating this every single day.

At age 3, our children celebrate our family. Yes, there are questions already about our family, and I answer them as honestly as possible. We also help them celebrate the difference our family carries and the strength of having two moms who love them. I trust that they will know that love and attachment is greater than the diversity they will encounter. What I can’t tolerate is having a law that prevents this tenuous dance from further isolating what is already tricky to navigate.

We search for simple books showing the difference in families to include various races, genders, sexual orientations, and adoption to show them how a family can be defined. I have, however, considered asking the teachers during storytime to read one of the few books that discuss this. I would like to avoid my children feeling the impact of the difference between them and the family structure that is most common in the neighborhood we reside in.

With HF2201, parents would need to be able to have access to this “curriculum” and have the right to remove their children from any exposure to it from the class. I started to wonder how my sweet children might feel if their little friend was removed from a simple book describing their own family they are proud of at 3 and how early shame can start.

Shame is a public health crisis. As a mental health clinician, much of the work I do surrounds shame and the implicit or explicit messages these adult clients were wounded by. I often wonder about the incessant bullying of the kid in 7th grade who wasn’t protected and how he’s doing in his adult years. I also remember a dear friend who was humiliated for his lack of masculinity in our high school yearbook because of the perceived difference that was allowed to be published. Adults failed him.

If we are serious about tackling addiction, mental health, crime, and our collective good, we must look at the shame that contributes to these conditions. In my 15 years of clinical work, I have not come across an addicted or traumatized individual that did not feel some sense of shame in their early experiences in life. The story they continued to tell themselves about their worth still lives in their adult minds.

In therapy, we work to look at the messages and write a new and different story of hope and bravery. Some even go on to do life work in this area, helping our system transform from the shame that nearly took their own lives. Some of this work is successful, and some have been painful. I have spread ashes of those who couldn’t survive their personal hatred of themselves and lost hope in the process. I grieve this. I couldn’t stop the shame, and the team around me couldn’t, either.

All adults have the responsibility to protect kids and reduce the shame they might be experiencing. This is you, and this is me.

HF2201 and similar bills that are fear-based and mistakenly believe there is a “gay agenda” behind what we are doing to have our kids exist peacefully. In reality, we are attempting to reduce the amount of inherent shame for being different. It’s personal. It’s painful.

I feel for anyone who has a difference in their skin color or sexual orientation or gender. I know the underlying hostility has been around far longer than I have existed in this world. I was able to cover up my “gayness” and know my kids will not be able to broadly cover up having two moms.

Do my kids deserve to be subjected to have their family structure be denied simply because they are alive? I suppose one could blame me for having them and the argument that I should have thought this dynamic out more thoroughly before conceiving them. Yet, when you meet them, you’ll know they are a gift from the universe and will be people who contribute tremendous love to this world. We are all better for having Mack and Hart in our society. Meet them, and you’ll know what gifts and the spirits they really are to more than just the biased mom writing this. They light up the world.

In 2015, I thought progress was being made and that we could navigate these waters given how far we had come with LGBTQ rights and civil liberties. I didn’t know we would be where we are now — in an even more polarized and hostile environment that results in shaming kids who didn’t choose this for themselves. Regardless of your possible hatred of our decision to have them, they exist and deserve to have their family recognized. We have a moral and social responsibility to introduce difference in our schools, and this isn’t from our family trying to impede on others. It’s for our children to be able to experience the least amount of shame as possible, given the inherent difference they will eventually know and to reduce the impact and celebrate diversity. Different doesn’t mean bad. Different means diverse, and we must deal with the roots of shame and elimination of it.

If you’re pro-life, can you hear my plea? Can you understand that these twins are a gift from God and deserve to be protected and for one minute — imagine what it might feel like as a simple book of diverse families is read to their friends and have several of their sweet friends removed when the book is started? Can you imagine that feeling of shame that will result after years and years of these experiences?

My heart hopes you can. I beg you to see how the shame that builds and destroys people and communities exist, and if we ignore it, the problem gets even bigger.

My heart also knows you might change your mind once you meet my family and our innocent and loving kids who don’t know anything but to love their friends, teachers, parents, and extended family. I hope you meet them in the world.

Hold space for difference — we might save some lives in the process. Selfishly, I hope you can help save my children if you see it ever happening to them. I yearn for to hold space to tolerate differences so that my kids have a fair chance as yours might living in a complex and challenging world. This world is full of suffering and hard enough without some level of acceptance.

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