I was 24-years-old and I had just bought my first house when I was invited over to a neighbor’s house for lunch.
I climbed up the steep steps onto the front porch. As I knocked, the door was opened by a very small boy, maybe 3- or 4-years-old. He had dark brown hair and long eyelashes most women would die for. The boy grinned with his chubby cheeks as I said hello.
“Did you know that some kids have two mommies or two daddies,” the boy asked.
“Well, yes, I did know that,” I replied, partly a little stunned, also trying not to giggle at the abrupt welcoming. The boy smiled back, shrugged his shoulders and ran away as his mom came to the door.
Thirteen years later, I’m not sure why that interaction has stuck in my mind, but it has. The innocent explanation, that some kids have two mommies or two daddies, that some people are attracted to people of the same sex - was a simple explanation that I’ve used for my own three kids as they’ve gotten older.
There are a few same-sex couples in our neighborhood, and kids in their my kids’ classrooms who have gay or lesbian parents. For my children, I want them to know that these couples exist, that it might not be the way that our family is structured, but I don’t want my children to think anything different or unusual about it. Kids in general experience enough teasing or social stress in life. I want my children to be accepting as possible of other people.
Which is one reason I was shocked last week when Alabama Public Television decided to scrap an episode of “Arthur” called “Mr. Ratburn and the Someone Special,” where Arthur’s third-grade teacher, Mr. Ratburn, marries another man, Patrick. The episode was supposed to air May 13, but instead APT decided to air a re-run of “Arthur” instead, voicing concern over the content of the episode and the young age of the average viewership. Once again, Alabama made the national news.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” Mike McKenzie, director of programming at APT, said in a statement to al.com and NBC News. “More importantly - although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards - parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for ‘Arthur’ also watch the program.”
If APT aired the episode, parents who felt the subject matter inappropriate may not have known about the episode beforehand, McKenzie said, ultimately taking away their choice.
But I’d argue that pulling the episode does more damage than it does good. We are not a homogeneous world of one race, not a strictly heterosexual world where every child is raised in a married household with a mom and a dad. Children today are growing up in diverse households and have friends who may not have the same religion, socioeconomic background or sexual orientation as them. And that is OK. We should teach our kids acceptance and empathy to care for people who are unlike them, just as much as people who are like them.
A cartoon episode about a gay teacher who gets married may be offensive to some parents, and they have every right not to show it to their kids. Parents should be filtering what their children watch anyway. APT could have advertised a warning for families ahead of time or put a text warning on the screen before the episode started, so parents could decide to change the channel, if needed.
But if you think about the good that episode could do - how inspirational it could be for children of gay parents to see characters on TV who reflect a little of their own family structure. It could also be educational for so many children, to see what a different kind of marriage looks like for thousands of people across the U.S., and perhaps teach them to be more accepting of kids who have gay parents or kids who are LGBTQ themselves.
Because as Americans we are not all one race, one religion, one gender or one sexual orientation. It’s important to recognize our differences, and to accept each other for who we are - as people.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.