Teaching voting

On Being a Gay Parent

by Brett Webb-Mitchell    
Published: May 12, 2012 in On Being a Gay Parent

I was riding in the back seat of my parents’ white Buick Le Sabre, as my mom pulled into the large fairgrounds in New Jersey, leaving my dad at a rally for Lyndon B. Johnson for president. In 1964 I was nine years old and to this day I remember the tension in the car between my parents riding in the front seat of the car. My mom was and is a “cloth coat Republican” just like Pat Nixon; a regular “Rockefeller Republican,” even though I hasten to share the information that that branch of the modern GOP is, well, a relic of its collective past. She was going to vote for Sen. Goldwater for president and she was furious with my dad because he was going to vote for Johnson. If memory serves me correctly, that was the last time my mom and dad voted against each other. Since then, my brother and I canceled out my parents’ vote, voting solidly the Democratic Party line.

Politics was and is part of my family discussion topics at dinnertime when I was growing up, as was religion and other current events of the day. “The McLoughlin Group” and later “Washington Week” were part of our television viewing habit. While my parents usually lean to the Republican right on talking points — with my mom fixed to Fox newscasts — it nonetheless gave my brother and I something to hone our skills as debaters and intellectuals. If we weren’t going to follow their political thinking, then we (like generations of children before us) would have to think logically about where we either agreed or diverged from what our parents thought. Separately, but around the same time, my brother and I came “out” to my parents and told them that we were Democrats. Frankly, this may have upset my mom more than telling her I was gay.

Habits and interests in our adult lives are formed early in our childhood. Knowing this, I watched carefully and with tenderness as I worked at an early voting election site in early May. I observed a mom pushing an infant in a stroller with one hand, while holding the hand of a slightly older child with the other hand, and a dad precariously balancing a child on their shoulders into the voting booth. What soon turned out to be the hot ticket item at our table was a round blue teal sticker that said “I Voted Against Amendment 1!”

All morning long, children and adults alike began to wear stickers against Amendment One. For anyone reading this outside of N.C., Amendment One will amend our Constitution declaring that the only legally recognized union is only marriage between one man and one woman. One child put the sticker in the middle of the “S” of his Superman T-shirt, while a little girl simply placed the sticker on her arm, complementing the sticker on the other arm that she got from Trader Joe’s. Moms and dads also wore the stickers on their clothes as they walked into the voting area, showing others that they were going to vote against Amendment One. In this classroom of life, parents were teaching their children that politics matter, can be fun and is important enough that a mom or dad would interrupt one’s daily schedule of fun activities to practice a civil right: the right to vote. Parents are teaching children that voting matters in our collective life and is important for the greater good of the diverse community in which we live.

Later in the day, my 19-year-old son texted me, telling me that he voted. My daughter had already voted too. Regardless of the outcome of this election, a lesson has been learned: vote. And, where did they learn to vote? From their parents, who learned in from their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before us. : :