Although I’m a card-carrying PTA member, I’ve attended only three PTA meetings in my six years as mother to an elementary-school-aged child. Each time I sat through the meeting feeling like the PTA wasn’t the place for me.
But, hell, if they were going to be discussing LGBT and gender issues, maybe I had been wrong.
I walked into the crowded Multipurpose Room and found a seat in the back corner by myself. I listened as the PTA board and its members ran through the agenda. When they started passionately discussing the nutritional value of whole-wheat goldfish crackers versus original goldfish crackers, I tuned out. I will never argue about goldfish crackers; of that you can be sure.
Finally it was LGBT time. To start, the presenter rattled off statistics from GLSEN’s latest National School Climate Survey. I use the same numbers when I present to groups. They are powerful.
- At school, 74 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 55 percent because of their gender expression.
- As a result of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school, 30 percent of LGBT students missed at least one day of school in the past month.
- A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. Grade point averages for these students were between nine and 15 percent lower than for others.
- LGBT students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.
“I don’t believe those numbers,” a mother in my row blurted out, startling me.
“Yeah! Where did you get those numbers from!?” another mom shouted from one row over.
The presenter started to reply.
“They’re actually from a survey GLSEN does…”
“Who?!” a mom questioned.
“I’ve never heard of them!” a mom yelled.
Another mom was skeptically writing down the name so that she could look GLSEN up when she got home.
“Are those numbers for elementary students?! They have to be for only high schoolers and this is an elementary school!”
“They are for all students,” the speaker replied. (The numbers are actually for middle school and high school students.)
“But, not in our area. Those aren’t Orange County numbers!”
For a group that tries to stick strictly to Robert’s Rules of Order, this was an unruly behavior.
The presenter carried on bravely in the face of rudeness and righteousness.
“What do we call girls who like play with boy toys and wear boy things?” he asked.
“Tomboys!” the mom next to me shouted out, proud of herself for knowing the right answer.
“Great. And, what do we call boys who like to play with girl toys and wear girls things?”
“Gay Boys!” she shouted just as assuredly.
My head whipped instinctively in her direction and not for any reason other than I could not believe she would think it was okay to volunteer that answer out loud in public.
She felt me looking at her.
“What?! That’s what they call them!” she said, like I was the stupid one.
The presenter started going through a list of the state and national laws in place to protect LGBTQ and differently gendered kids.
When he got halfway down the list of laws, to AB 1266, the crowd went wild. AB 1266 is a California law stating that a student cannot be discriminated against based on their sex, gender, gender identity or gender expression. Specifically, they can play on the sports teams and use the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.
“The laws are protecting these trans kids but not the normal kids!”
“I’ve talked to several of my attorneys about this law…”
“I don’t want a girl in the boys bathroom looking at my son’s penis!”
“They should build them their own bathroom so they aren’t in there with other kids!”
“There are two of ‘them’ at our school using the girls bathroom! Two!”
Heat took over my entire body. My heart had either stopped beating entirely or was beating so hard that it would explode. I was going to drop dead at the PTA meeting.
They were talking about my gender nonconforming son. Trust me, I know, because this has been an issue for more than a year. People believe that my son uses the girls’ restroom. And, it’s not just people at our school who believe it. It’s a rumor that has spread through the district and all the way to the local mega church, forcing my parents out of a bible study when a fellow Christian berated them through clenched teeth in front of their small group of fellow believers.
By the tone of their voices and looks on their faces, I could tell that these mothers hate my child because of where they think he relieves himself. I wanted to defend my son. I don’t want anybody to hate my child. I wanted to fight for his honor, but I needed to get myself under control first — or who knows what might fly out of my mouth.
As I collected my thoughts, the mob mentality had set in. The moms in the room were influenced and encouraged by the behaviors and opinions of their peers. They couldn’t believe that any person in the room (other than the presenter) might have a differing point of view.
To quiet the crowd, the presenter turned on a 20/20 clip featuring Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen advocate who is nothing short of amazing. I smiled at Jazz, her supportive family, her mermaid swim fin and her happiness.
“Those parents are playing God!” a mother said loudly as she crossed her arms angrily over her chest and shook her head in disgust.
“Yeah, and now that poor thing is sterile!” said another mom. Like a child is broken if it can’t procreate. Like there’s no other way for a family to form.
When the clip was over the meeting was over and I had to rush to get my kids.
Later, I sat with Matt and told him about the meeting.
“We’ve got to pull C.J. out of that school. Those people are fucking crazy,” he insisted.
“No, the school administration is great. I trust them. And his teacher is a dream come true. It’s just the PTA moms who are horrible. And, as much as they would hate to hear it, they are inconsequential. Their opinions don’t matter,” I said.
“You’re not going to another PTA meeting, we don’t need to be around people like that.”
“That will be the last PTA meeting I ever attend, trust me.”