My son Harry and I laughed on the phone following a replay of the conversation I'd just overheard between a toddler and her dad while walking my daily loop around Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
"The little girl said, 'Daddy, I want you to carry me,'" I'd told Harry. "And the dad replied, 'Honey, I am carrying you.'"
"Kids totally made my day today, too," Harry said.
"Really? Tell me," I replied with a grin.
"Well, I was walking down my block when some guys cat-called me from their car."
My legs froze on the path. "You mean they were harassing you?"
"It happens all the time," Harry said. "To women, too, you know, Mom. I don't even notice it half the time."
My stomach tightened as I imagined my 25-year-old with the long curly hair, cropped beard and eccentric style of dress being shouted at from a carload of idiots. I know that queer and trans people are often subjected to harassment on the street, but I like to think of Harry as safe from that abuse.
"It's almost amusing, but mostly just rude," Harry continued. "I just rolled my eyes."
"And how is this a good story?" I asked, taking deep breath.
"I'm getting there. So right after that, I see a two-year-old girl in a stroller coming towards me, and she's petting her black, furry stick-on moustache."
I relaxed into a chuckle. "That's so cute!"
"I know, right?" Harry said. "Then I came up to three kids, about eight or nine years old, standing with their scooters. As soon as I passed by, I heard one of them say, 'I like her dress.' And another one said, "I like her shoes." And the third one said, 'I like her earrings.' So I turned around smiling and blew them all a kiss."
"Oh, Harry, I love that! Kids understand about self-expression, don't they? And gender doesn't seem to matter to them."
"Yeah, they just get it."
I walked home from the park appreciating the hope in Harry's story. The girl with the pretend-play moustache and the kids who saw only Harry's distinctive style made my day better, too. It amazes me that children can understood how one's outfit is simply a reflection of how they feel, while many adults find style and clothing -- especially among boys -- some sort of threat to conventional values. I think those little ones portend the growing openness and acceptance within our culture. And I think it bodes well for humanity.
I'm convinced our society will continue to advance for the betterment of all, because kids are being taught the benefits of diversity and importance of respect. National programs like PFLAG's safe schools initiative in tandem with GLSEN's K-12 educators network help teach inclusiveness and empathy in the classroom. The number of Gay Straight Alliances continues to grow as an extracurricular club at high schools across the country. The free mobile app Quist displays LGBTQ "quistory" in a youth-friend way. And with marriage equality now the law of the land, more children will know classmates with same-sex parents.
Where there is growth, there will also be a pinching off of the old. Those unwilling to accept new ideas -- the intolerant ones who are determined to make everyone the same -- will be steadily fading away and eventually dying off. For me they include the so-called religious leaders who preach fear and hatred, the politicians who don't want to recognize equal rights for all citizens, and those who harass people on the street from their cars.
In the meantime, until those kids with the broad imaginations are leading thought and policy, I'd say there are still many people who have a lot of unlearning to do.