[Content Note: description of rape, references to rape]
Recently, during a public debate over sexual health education in Omaha Public Schools, Kathryn Russell, a Catholic grandmother and former school employee claimed that teaching respect for different sexualities and gender identities “rapes children of their innocence.”
I hate open letters, too. But I can’t help it here. It’s the only that feels appropriate. It’s the only thing I can say now.
I grew up not too far from Omaha, in a likewise conservative public school district. I learn about periods, about puberty, and about how heterosexual sexual activity works in the barest essentials. We talked ever so briefly about condoms, but I never knew what a condom even looked like until I was in my 20s.
I’m also a member of the church. I consider myself a Christian, though your Catholicism may deem my Baptist upbringing and current United Church of Christ affiliation too liberal. Regardless, I know I am a child of God, I praise Jesus as savior, and I care about what we teach our children.
I am also bisexual. I know you disapprove of my “lifestyle,” but I ask that you hear me out. I grew up thinking I was destined for heterosexual marriage, that I had no other option or possible identity. I adamantly condemned LGBT friends as sinful. I refused to learn about any of the different ideas that come from LGBT sources, convinced, utterly, that they were biased and not of God. When my best friend came out as bisexual, I condemned her and ruined our friendship. When my other best friend tried to come out to me as gay, I told him to pray about it and that I would pray for him.
I didn’t know how to treat the people who had been my best friends for years. I didn’t know how to respond to the people who had driven me home from school, every day, for four years. I had no basis for respecting the identities of my friends because I’d been so isolated from such identities that lashing out and hurting them was the only reaction I knew how to perform. I profoundly regret these actions, to this day. I have patched up things in some respects, but it will never be the same, even as I came out of the closet myself.
I am also a survivor of sexual assault. When I was 26, I invited a boy into my room with what I thought were clear boundaries, only to watch, as though from a distance, as he crossed those boundaries and pushed me to do things I did not want to do. I told myself it couldn’t have been assault because I’d managed to make him stop, not realizing – because I was not educated in this way – that a coerced yes is not actually a yes.
Mrs. Russell, you said that teaching children – middle schoolers, pre-teens – about how to respect minority sexual and gender identities would “rape them of their innocence.” To imply that teaching respect is anything like a person ignoring boundaries and penetrating your physical being without consent is to insult and demean not only survivors of rape but LGBT people everywhere. What’s more is that LGBT people are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and rape, meaning that you think teaching children to respect the most marginalized of society is equivalent to the abuse these marginalized people undergo at the hands of those students who sit in those classrooms.
Mrs. Russell, you say you wish to bring people to heaven. You consider yourself a child of God.
Please remember that God’s creations are everyone and everywhere. We are all beloved by God above and Jesus didn’t just die for a special segment of the population. He died for me, too, this fucked up bisexual survivor of assault. And He cares so deeply about the innocence of the children in that class – the innocence that can and should be protected through education about who they are and who can touch them and what all these weird pre-teen feelings might be. Innocence can be protected through education. No one is raping your child through teaching them respect. No one is raping the student who is taught that they shouldn’t bully someone for being different. No one is raping a classroom of children who now have access to better understandings of themselves and others, which may prevent violence in the future.
Your word choice is unfortunate. Your beliefs even more so. I believe, as Christians, together, we can be better than this. We can do better than this. And we can know that our children are so much smarter and so much more capable and resilient than you and I can even imagine. They can understand that other people deserve respect. It’s time for us to show them that respect.