Thanks to the Quist app, I was reminded of this week’s 20-year anniversary of the Teletubbies. I remember so clearly breathing a sigh of relief that my kid Harry was already seven when Teletubbies premiered on PBS in 1997. Clearly the gibberish spoken by the four bright-colored creatures with TV screens in their stomachs and different-shaped antennae on their heads was aimed at pre-schoolers. I thanked my lucky stars for Harry’s early years of Sesame Street, and that was that. But two years later, I recall my jaw dropping when Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. dared to warn parents that Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby, was really a “gay role model” for toddlers.
According to Falwell: “He is purple, the gay pride color, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle, the gay-pride symbol.” Falwell Sr. also thought Tinky Winky’s red bag looked too much like a woman’s purse. I was furious then. So what did that make Barney, the purple dinosaur? Or Felix the Cat, with his yellow magic bag of tricks? Maybe he also thought the inverted triangle in algebraic equations was gay math?
We’ve come a long way in LGBTQ+ freedoms and equality since Teletubbies first aired. But now, in addition to using religion as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, there are those on the right who use their religious beliefs to demonize transgender and gender non-conforming children. I’m incensed that some of our most vulnerable kids continue to be caught in their crosshairs of fear and hate. And it’s not hard to find evidence of that.
A few months ago Harry was sitting with his laptop when he asked me if I’d ever heard of “Ask Me First.” I hadn’t, so he patted the seat next to him. “Here’s what you’re up against, Mom,” he said.
Harry clicked on a video of two mothers talking about how upset they’d been when the principal at their kids’ elementary school had wanted to read the children’s picture book My Princess Boy in class because a “gender-confused” student was attending. To these women, and the other mothers who then formed the Ask Me First organization with the help of so-called Christian legal groups, transgender and gender non-conforming kids threatened the “innocence” and “right to privacy” of their gender conforming children.
These very confused mothers viewed the school’s guest psychologist on the topic as a “proponent of gender confusion” and were certain that any staff training by the psychologist would encourage gender confusion within the classroom. “We have the truth the Lord shares with us,” they said, “and we have the courts on our side.” And their boldness in bullying trans and gender nonconforming kids is spreading to other close-minded mothers.
Just this past week, a school system in North Carolina pulled the picture book Jacob’s New Dress from its first-grade lesson plans on anti-bullying after intense criticism from the conservative N.C. Values Coalition. “The purpose of our elementary schools is to teach writing, reading and arithmetic, not to encourage boys to wear dresses,” an official wrote in a statement to The Charlotte Observer. And executive director of the coalition, Tami Fitzgerald, told The New York Times that the book was “a tool of indoctrination to normalize transgender behavior.” She said a lot of parents would be opposed to that.
I’ve got news for all these confused parents and uniformed state Republican legislators: Trans and gender non-conforming children exist and are as “normal” as a left-handed child is when compared to a right-handed child. All this furor and animosity is over picture books that teach children about acceptance, remind parents about the importance of unconditional love, and educate everyone that there is no such thing as gendered clothing, toys, colors or behaviors.
So what do the Falwells, the Ask Me First parents and N.C. Values Coalition families do when one of their own kindergarten boys wants to wear a dress? Or one of their young daughters refuses to put one on? I can only hope they’ll see the true innocence of a child who knows nothing of society’s prescribed gender expectations. Transgender and gender non-conforming kids aren’t confused. Those children know their inner selves and, without interference from clueless parents, love themselves. All we have to do is listen to them, believe them and love them unconditionally.