Explaining DADT & Gays In The Military To A Seven-Year-Old

As the father of 2 1/2 year old and soon-to-be 1 year old boys, I know that there are going to be a lot of questions to be answered in the future on a wide range of subjects. Those questions need good answers, because there’s a big thing out there called “reality” and a lot of it can be bewildering to a child. Some questions will be easy, and some will be hard. One of those questions that will probably be easier than I expect will be the day that my kids start asking about a couple that are very good friends of ours — Manny and Chuck.

That might be an awkward day, but it’s a great chance to teach my kids about respect, and to treat people as individuals rather than by some “group identity”. In some ways, I think they’ve got an advantage. Growing up in a very sheltered environment as I did, I met them (through my wife) as “gay Manny & Chuck” instead of “Manny & Chuck, who happen to be gay”. It took me time to learn to treat them as individuals first and as members of a “group” second. My kids will be lucky enough to know them as individuals first, and then as they become old enough to understand a little bit more about the world can put the rest of the pieces together.

But Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri would prefer that his constituents and their children grow up in a world of ostracizing those who are different. Here’s why he’s going to push against the repeal of DADT:

“What do mommas and daddies say to a seven-year-old child about this issue? I don’t know,” Skelton said. “I think it would be a family issue that would concern me the most … What they might see in their discussions among the kids.”

Really? That’s why you’re going to block DADT?

First things first. The whole argument is a red herring. I can’t imagine that some 7 year old is going to ask their parents question about some hypothetical gay soldier. They’re probably going to ask questions about some classmate who’s getting teased every day because he’s got two daddies who hopped the border to Iowa to get married, or because he overheard someone singing Katy Perry’s song, “I kissed a girl”. DADT is going to be a non-starter.

The truth is that it’s not going to be possible for Skelton to shelter all the parents of Missouri from these questions. The only way for Skelton to be sure that parents don’t have to have these discussions with their children is for gays to not exist at all. That’s may be his ideal world, but it’s certainly not reality.

But let’s say the question comes up. Let’s say that some politically astute 7 year old asks his parents whether gay people should be allowed to serve in the army. And just for the sake of argument, I’m going to try to put myself in the character of a typical conservative, red-blooded, patriotic Christian parent from Missouri. This certainly isn’t the answer that I would give, but I think it’s an answer that would allow them to teach their kids true American values without impinging on the morality they’re trying to instill.

Kid: Daddy, why is it that they let gays in the Army? Doesn’t Jesus say it’s wrong?

MO Parent: Yes, son, that’s correct. But this is America. It’s a free country, and even though it’s not something we approve of, it’s not something that we can or should make illegal. Soldiers exist to protect freedoms, even some freedoms that we don’t approve of. There’s no reason that we should discriminate to stop gays from joining in the fight to protect those freedoms, is there? They may have to answer to God someday, but they shouldn’t have to answer to Washington.

Was that so hard?

Hat Tip: Kevin Drum

  • Michael O. Powell

    Like you said, you didn’t become sensitive to the issue until you were really exposed to gay people. When you live in the rural Midwest and never actually meet gay people, it’s really easy to write off their rights.

    I talked to a conservative once about San Francisco. I told him the city was really dirty, and right before I could say it was dirty because of the homeless, he asked, “Is it dirty because of all the gay people?” I had to just laugh that off, since the gay district, Castro, in SF is one of the nicer areas.

  • Gay Airman

    I agree. Conservatives like to say that children should be shielded from reality to protect their inocence. If you explain something to a child when their young though, and in simple language, they’re less likely to be judgmental about it later on, than when they discover something that they find to be abnormal.
    In 20 years Skelton won’t admit to opposing repeal.
    Oh and BTW Kudos to Sen. Levin and Nancy Pelosy! If repeal passes with this bill, then they will be my heroes forever! I refuse to reenlist under this policy that has broken me down so baddly! DADT is wrong and it needs to end! DOMA too!

  • Chris Vogel

    Why is it that Americans are so determined to keep themselves and their children stupid?

  • Glen

    Maybe in Missouri the parents need guidance about how to address the fact that there are gay people. But where I live, in the liberal Northeast, Skeleton’s wanting to preserve DADT is more likely to spur the question: What do mommies and daddies say to a seven-year-old child who asks why our country doesn’t treat everybody the same?

    Kids are natural detectors of fairness. They know when one child gets treated better or worse than another is isn’t fair. They may not have the higher concept and language of civil rights, but they know “fair” when they see it.

    So how do I explain to my kids that some people are less equal?

  • http://lezgetreal.com/2010/06/ike-skelton-worried-about-what-dadt-repeal-will-mean-to-the-children/ Paula Brooks

    Skelton would probably be very upset to know… my twins … (you know the ones with a very openly lesbian mom)… go to a daycare center… run by the military… and you know how 3-year-olds to share their experiences with others.

  • mindy

    God forbid you teach your kids some tolerance of those who are different.

    And just in case your kid happens to turn out gay, it might not be a bad idea to let them know sooner rather than too late that they don’t have to hate themselves for it.