By now I’m sure you’ve heard the story of 9-year-old Grayson Bruce who was bullied at school for bringing in a My Little Pony backpack with Rainbow Dash’s face on it. According to Grayson’s mom, Noreen, one kid actually said, “You should just go home and kill yourself.” It was so bad that Grayson was scared to go to school. So his mom went to the school counselor who suggested that Grayson hide the backpack saying, “If you have something like this, you’re asking for trouble” and then the principal called Noreen and told her to leave the backpack at home because it was a trigger for bullying. Even though a Facebook campaign was started to support Grayson and has over 32,000 likes so far, Grayson is now being homeschooled.
As a mom, this story makes me feel awful. But as the mom of a gender non-conforming kid, this story breaks my heart. I dealt with a situation at the beginning of the school year with my kindergarten daughter that I’m still not quite over: Mattie went to school dressed in her usual all boy attire (including underwear, socks and shoes) and was refused access to the girls’ bathroom because a few other kids thought she was a boy. My daughter told them she was a girl, but they still made her leave. And so she peed her pants. And then she peed her pants the next day. And the next. Because she was scared to go into the bathroom and be harassed.
Now I’m not 100% sure that the other kids were being malicious in this case — I can’t prove it although I have my suspicions that they were — but you better believe I lost my mind a little bit. I demanded immediate action. There were tears. Luckily in our case, the principal took my husband and my concerns very seriously and worked to make sure that the situation didn’t happen again.
But a few weeks later on picture day, my daughter wore a nice dress shirt with a matching bow tie (the same shirt she’s wearing in the picture) to school, and after the kids had their pictures taken, my daughter was asked to take off her bow tie and put it in her backpack because “it was a distraction.” Why? I have no idea, but I suspect that her teacher felt similarly to Grayson’s counselor that the bow tie would give other kids a reason to give her a hard time. Honestly, I never asked because I didn’t want to be that mom. It hadn’t overly bothered my daughter, and since she was no longer getting teased, I figured I’d just let that one go so that I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable. Now I wish I hadn’t.
Things need to change.
Remember in the 70’s when Free to Be You and Me came out? People loved that one song, “William Wants a Doll”. But when you really listen to the words, even that didn’t go all the way. Basically everyone in the song doesn’t want William playing with a doll until wise grandma lets them know that it’s okay because someday William will be a daddy and then he’ll know how to change a diaper and hold his baby. So as long as William doesn’t just, you know, want to play with dolls for the sake of playing with dolls, it’s okay?
As a country, we are making progress, but we’re still a long way from accepting differences. The fact that gay marriage is still not legal in every state is insane to me. The fact that Uganda passed a hate bill making it a crime to be homosexual makes me want to crawl in a hole. That’s how far it can go when we make it okay to bully a kid for bringing a My Little Pony backpack to school. Is that what I have to look forward to? I sincerely hope not. All I can say is we need to keep talking about this stuff. We need to be brave and stick up for our kids even when it’s uncomfortable. So thank you to Noreen for refusing to just “fly under the radar.” Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for inspiring me to be part of the solution today.
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