Introducing COLAGE

My apologies for doing yet another queer politics post, but I’m assuming that there will be a fair few LGBT folks and their allies popping in as a result of the “Phone Arnie” post and the various follow-ups and this seemed like a good opportunity to plug some people who I think are rather important.

One of the things that have always worried me about the current state of LGBT politics is that it is very much focused on legislation. Way too many people seem to think that you can stop homophobia (and indeed racism and sexism and ageism, etc.) simply by passing laws. Sadly it doesn’t work like that. Laws are only the first step on the path, albeit a very positive one.

This particular decade is marked by significant shifts in attitudes to LGBT people. All sorts of useful laws are being passed. The media is much more receptive to showing LGBT people as normal folks as opposed to freaks. Major celebrities, and even some politicians, can be openly gay without fear of losing their jobs. But these victories are hard-won and by no means yet fully entrenched. There’s a war going on out there, and it is being fought in the media, in churches, in politics and in schools. And in much the same way as there was never going to be peace in Northern Ireland until the gunmen and their supporters grew old and died, so there will never be an end to homophobia while people with long-entrenched bigotries are still around. Progress on social issues is a generational thing, and to a large extent whether we win depends on whether we win over the coming generations.

There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that social attitudes towards gay people are softening (see here for example – the chart is very encouraging). From a general standpoint, things appear to be moving our way. But in any war there is collateral damage — people who suffer because they happen to get in the way of the conflict. And in many cases, in this particular war, those people are kids.

I’m not talking here about people like Lawrence King, dreadful though such cases are. I’m talking about kids who become victims of homophobia or transphobia simply because of who they are related to. It is great that gay and lesbian couples can, in some parts of the world, adopt kids, or even have kids by IVF, but what happens to those children when they go to school? It is great that trans people are finally starting to get treated civilly by some governments, if not by the bulk of society and much of the media, but what happens to a child whose school friends find that his mom or dad is a “tranny”? These kids are our collateral damage, and no matter how hard we try to protect them, some of them are going to suffer.

As today’s kids grow up, those of them who are actually LGBT are obviously going to be on our side. And there is a good chance that we can rely on most of those who are not LGBT themselves and have no direct connection to LGBT people. But we don’t want to be breeding a generation of kids who are bitterly resentful of having been turned into front line soldiers in their parents’ war.

There are two ways of dealing with this. One is the old-fashioned route of “not in front of the children”, which is to say that if you have kids then you can’t be LGBT, or if you are then you are likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a restraining order because society thinks that your kids need to be protected from your harmful influence. Those days are gradually disappearing, though many people still have to go down that route. (Here’s an interesting story that illustrates some of the issues.) But if kids are going to stick with their LGBT parents then they need help: they need counseling, and support groups. They need to know that they are just as deserving of rights and sympathy as their parents.

Which is where COLAGE comes in. The acronym stands for Children Of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere, although these days the expansion doesn’t get used much and there is also a thriving Kids of Trans group. It is basically an organization run by and for people whose parents are LGBT. Much of the management is by adults, but they are adults who have gone through exactly the same heartache as the kids that they are trying to help. And thankfully they have a very positive attitude.

Why do I think these people are so important? Well firstly because they are our collateral damage. We owe them our support for sticking with us when lesser people would have turned away. But also, in years to come, they will be very valuable support. Look into any campaign against LGBT people and you’ll see a few things crop up time and time again. Obviously there’s the old “because the Bible says so” attitude. There’s nothing you can do about that. But along with that you will also find “because they will corrupt our kids.” That’s a very powerful argument. Everyone wants to protect their kids, and if LGBT people can be portrayed as a danger to kids then they are in trouble. However, if society is full of straight people who not only have LGBT friends, but have LGBT parents who they love, well, that whole argument comes crumbling down.

So I’m really happy that an organization like COLAGE exists, and I’m going to be doing what I can to support it. Hopefully some of you will too. And even if you can’t, I hope you will remember this article next time you encounter a kid who might benefit from their help.

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