In 2009, when my eldest was entering kindergarten, a friend warned me that the schools in my area were pretty radical when it came to LGBTQ ideology. Since nothing on the topic appeared on the school website, I withheld judgment but made an appointment to speak to the school counselor. A few days later, she warmly welcomed me into her office. I told her I was a new parent wondering about the school, specifically about how they approach the issue of alternative families. She brightened, clearly assuming (and why shouldn’t she?) that I was there to advocate for my own alternative family structure.
She eagerly described the book series she used to educate the students during her random visits to their classrooms throughout the year. The kindergarten editions included gentle storylines—two daddy penguins, two mommy hens—and the content got more realistic as the children grew older. I smiled politely, and she continued, informing me of how the entire book series was placed on a low bookshelf in the school library so that children of any age could access it without assistance.
I had heard enough to know that my daughter was going to be taught about same-sex coupling and parenting in ways that directly violated our values and beliefs, and I would have never even known it was coming. I asked the counselor why she didn’t inform parents of her agenda. For a moment, she just stared, genuinely perplexed. I explained that my husband and I did not consent to these lessons for our daughter. We believed every child deserved a mother and a father, and that it was not right to celebrate or promote mother-loss or father-loss in this way. It was callous toward the children who were experiencing that loss.
She immediately backpedaled, assuring me that the storytime visits were rare, and the books dealt with these topics infrequently. I wasn’t mollified, however, and things became awkward. She agreed that she would let me know precisely when she would be visiting the kindergarten classroom, and I would come to the school at that time to take my daughter out for ice cream instead. Thus began 1) the only year in which any of our children went to public school and 2) my career as a rebel parent.
Today is not 2009, and we all know things have worsened exponentially: raunchy sex-ed classes; revisionist history lessons featuring men in drag or in same-sex relationships with minors as political pioneers; transgender athletes running circles around our daughters. It’s all reaching new levels of crazy.
Righteous anger is often good and necessary. But not all parents are comfortable with confrontation, and even fewer enjoy the option of placing their children in saner institutions or schooling at home. However, after listening to thousands of parents around the country—participants in our CanaVox reading groups—and through my own trial and error, I’m convinced that parents can be very effective in less noisy, more behind-the-scenes ways. Since I believe those quieter skirmishes are going to be far more important than the nationwide battle plans, I’d like to share some tactics. I dedicate this essay to the rebel parents out there fighting quietly for the good, never wielding a megaphone but shaking up the establishment nonetheless.
- Build Social Capital
Social capital refers to the intangible but invaluable benefits accrued from active involvement in groups. These benefits can include popularity and job connections, but the most valuable currency of social capital is influence. And this begins with relationship-building.
You want to have as many positive interactions as possible with the people in your child’s daily life: schoolteachers, coaches, counselors, vice principals, principals, lunch ladies (and gents), the school nurse, etc. This requires being as involved as you can be. Do they need a room parent? Volunteer. Cupcakes for Teacher Appreciation Day? Send them in (and include a note of appreciation, on your best stationery, while you’re at it). A chaperone for the field trip? Sign up. What you are doing is making deposits of goodwill into relationship bank accounts, Stephen Covey style.
Of course, such good deeds are already ends in themselves. However, if any problems arise in the future, they will take on exceptional importance. You’ll be able to politely disagree or offer criticism more successfully—make withdrawals from the relationship bank accounts—because you will have built up the social capital to do so. They already know you are a nice person who appreciates the school and cares about the students. By contrast, if you wait until something offensive happens to show up, introduce yourself, and complain, your chances of being heard and heeded will be close to nil.
- Apprentice the Next Generation of Rebels
Our kids look to us for how to respond to the challenges they face and the information they receive. Their young minds are always processing, and we can gather intelligence through their field work and teach them to be rebel kids (who grow into rebel parents, too). We need to accustom our kids to debrief with us about their day. Ask them for “the recess report.”
“How was lunch? How about the bus ride home? Oh, the bus driver was playing music? What kind of music?”
Listen calmly and with interest to their stories, and empathize with their feelings. Make time to delight in their discoveries, discuss tricky situations, and encourage them on. The more you befriend them and habituate them to confide in you about everyday kid things, the more natural it will be for them to come to you to ask for advice when an unusual situation develops.
A few years ago, my seventh grader came home and mentioned that during language arts class, the teacher had said that the LGBT movement is “part of the Civil Rights Movement.” Apparently, the teacher had digressed from the textbook lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr. and added some of her own progressive reflections. I dropped what I was doing and asked my daughter to join me in my home office for a heart-to-heart. She told me about her thoughts on the teacher’s take, and we dove into the major differences between the Civil Rights Movement and LGBT(Q+) activism. I showed her a book on my shelf, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor, by Glen Stanton, and I summarized its main theses: As Christians we are called to love our LGBT friends and family, but we cannot go along with their ideology or lifestyle choices because they run deeply contrary to the biology of our bodies and to God’s law.
I wasn’t sure how she was going to take this, but she listened intently—and then asked if she could borrow the book. I was caught a little off guard, but I couldn’t recall any adult-only content in the book, so I handed it over. She read it cover-to-cover in two days.
Later in the week, she casually mentioned a conversation she had initiated with her language arts teacher:
“Oh mom, I spoke to Ms. T about the Loving your LGBT Neighbor book.”
“You did what?” I said, surprised.
“I told her all about the book and its message that as Christians we can’t support the LGBT movement but we can love them still.” I was stunned.
“And how did she take it?”
“Oh, she took it fine! She said it looked very interesting and that she would have to read it.”
Who knows if Ms. T was simply placating my girl or was actually open to a different perspective? But our children are often blissfully unaware of the complexities of the adult world, so they have a freedom of movement we parents don’t often have. They can be the best undercover agents, and we do well not to underestimate their power or courage.
- Respect the Person; Resist the Ideology
No matter how confused or complicit a person is with radical LGBT ideology, it’s important to remember that each person is endowed with majestic, metaphysical dignity. As members of a society that strives to be civil, we must always distinguish between toxic ideologies and the beautiful persons who hold them. Respect the person; resist the ideology should be our mantra. As Justice Scalia would say, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas.”
Unfortunately, many Progressives today personally identify with their ideologies—so much so that an attack on their ideas is interpreted as an attack on their worth as persons. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, but it shouldn’t prevent us from doing what is right. Just gird yourself in a steely serenity for the temper tantrum to come. Wherever possible—without shrinking back or debating—communicate your respect (or even love) of them, even though you firmly disagree with their stance.
Recently, I had the opportunity to teach this lesson to my eleven-year-old. She had just joined a new dive team, and on her second day of practice, she was waiting her turn behind the diving board when a couple of friendly older girls bounced over and asked her name. She told them, and they continued:
Girls: “And what’s your pronoun?”
Girls: “What’s your pronoun?”
Daughter: “What does that mean?”
Girls: “It means, do you want to be a he or a she? Some girls want to be boys, and some boys want to be girls.”
Daughter: (offended and losing her temper) “That is the stupidest question I have ever heard! I have long hair! I have a girl’s bathing suit on! What do you think I am?”
She stormed off to the next diving board in disgust, with the girls following her apologetically, assuring her they didn’t mean any harm.
Later that evening, she recounted the events to me in detail. Trying to hold back a smile, I told her that I was proud of her for speaking the truth and not caving in to peer pressure. However, as a Christian, her thirst for justice had to be balanced with a merciful heart. We spoke about this at length, and I asked her to come up with a new stock response for the next time this happened. She took a deep breath and slowly pieced some words together: “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I don’t believe in that stuff. I’m a girl, and I think all girls should use she/her.” I thought that was a great option, and I told her so—and hugging her, I asked her to memorize it.
The next week of practice, she patched things up with the girls. I am so glad my daughter has opportunities to learn these lessons now, when the costs are low, so that she can build up her endurance for the future day when the costs are high. And I hope those girls think more deeply about the issue after interacting with my daughter.
- Strike Early and Often
Communicate frequently—and directly—with the adults in your child’s daily life.
Did you receive a “Welcome to Second Grade!” letter asking you to “Please tell me any important things I should know about your child”? After you tell the teacher that your son is a star math student but is embarrassed to read out loud, go ahead and report that your family is also pro-life as well as pro-one-man-one-woman marriage, and that you expect the classroom environment to honor these valid stances. Invite the teacher to give you a call with any questions.
Did your fourth-grader come home with a book borrowed from the teacher’s personal library? And you hadn’t heard of it so you looked it up on RatedReads? And you discovered it had a same-sex kissing scene on page fifty-five? Well, send that teacher a polite note, returning the book and explaining why your daughter won’t be reading it. Even if you don’t win the teacher over, you give her the opportunity to examine her negligence (or her intentions), witness an example of kind resistance in action, and practice respect for your family’s values.
In 2018, I received a series of frantic texts from a friend whose daughter had just begun kindergarten. The principal had emailed the parents a flyer promoting LGBTQ spirit day:
“Please join us to support LGBTQ Youth by Wearing Purple this Thursday, October 18th, for Spirit Day!”
My friend didn’t want to be labeled a homophobe, but neither did she want her six-year-old parading in purple for gay pride at school. Should she send an angry e-mail to the superintendent? Keep her kid home from school that day? Sign a petition some other parents in the district had started?
I reminded her that the school staff works for us. They are accountable to us. We pay their salaries with our tax dollars. I advised her to pick up the phone and, with calm and confidence, make an appointment to talk to the principal, which she did. With her natural charm and upbeat personality, she asked these honest questions of the principal:
“Are we welcome at this school? Our family is Christian and we affirm our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in a Christian way. Are we welcome here, or do we have to affirm the LGBTQ community your way?”
“Is there viewpoint diversity here? Or does everyone have to fall in line and support mainstream LGBTQ ideology? My husband and I would love to stay in this school; we love our neighborhood and want to cultivate deep friendships with our neighbors. But we don’t want to come here if we have to be something we are not. We do not expect everyone to agree with our Christian values, but I’m sure you would agree that tolerance is a two-way street.”
“Are there open lines of communication between teachers and parents?” She discussed her and her husband’s desire as parents to be informed every time there would be LGBTQ ideology presented in the curriculum. She asked the principal to communicate this to all the teachers in the school, so that they knew their family by name. “Please keep us informed so we can decide whether or not we will choose to opt out.”
The principal was accommodating. He completely understood, he told her, and apologized for making her uncomfortable. Importantly, he thanked her for coming in person rather than sending an angry e-mail to the superintendent. He promised that the school would downplay the purple Thursday and better communicate the freedom of choice that families had with respect to this day. With a diplomatic and well-mannered approach, she had made a real difference. Purple Thursday was here to stay, but she was able to influence how it would be carried out with respect to dissenters.
- Never Lose Your Hopeful, Victor’s Heart
Yes, you might be called on to organize a league with other parents, or present at a school board meeting, or even picket and march and organize petitions. When that happens, screw your courage to the sticking place, and refuse to be intimidated. But long before an issue gets to that boiling point, do the hard work of being vigilant and watchful, patiently prodding and calling attention to minor infractions with civility and good manners. Together, we will block full-speed incorporation of radical gender ideology in the schools.
Remember, we parents have a huge homecourt advantage. We have quality time with, deep love for, and a specialized understanding of our children that the activists don’t. What’s more, we have truth on our side and, if we know where to look, legions of like-minded parents. As we say at CanaVox, “Chin up and fists up.”
Now, pass the stationery. I’ve got some cupcakes to bake.
Do you have your own “rebel parent” story to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll compile a list of the best ones to share (anonymously) on Public Discourse.