When our 11-year-old daughter came out last year to us, her friends, and (most importantly) TikTok, she rallied parental support in the form of a wardrobe makeover. With characteristic tenacity, our kid scoured Etsy for sunset flag-themed T-shirts, rainbow Vans, and pride necklaces she wore proudly through the California summer. But only a few weeks of junior high quickly convinced her to never wear her new clothes out of the house.
“Do you want me to get beat up?” she asked impatiently when we questioned why her new rainbow wear was gathering dust.
Some parents’ hearts sink when their children come out; ours sank when our Black queer child reigned herself in so quickly. After all, we’ve been out and proud Black queer (both of us) and trans (one of us) writers and scholars for over 20 years. We taught her that it’s OK to kiss girls. We displayed trailblazing writer, director, and activist Janet Mock’s books. We introduced her to uncles’ husbands. These were the easy parts of Black LGBTQ parenting.
Teaching our daughter that she’s perfect and powerful just because she is, opening spaces for her to be all she can imagine, mirroring back how she matters when the news pronounces her future dead — this is the hardest part of parenting a Black LGBTQ child.
As this summer pushes toward fall and heats up in every way, we ask ourselves: What do you tell a Black queer/trans child as they walk out the door? How can you prepare them to meet the world as it is and still return home intact?
The answer to this question has gotten more complex as the rise of the right-wing drums up hate-mongering and fear across the nation. School has never been a safe place for Black children. However, the twin plagues of anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ legislation are criminalizing the teaching of Black queer existence and history in public schools in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Ohio.
In these states, bills that prevent schools from discussing queerness or transness with young children have passed or are working their way through legislatures. At the same time, anti-CRT (critical race theory or culturally responsive teaching) legislation aims at sheltering White children from the discomfort of just hearing about the violence endured by Black people from slavery to the present. These so-called “parental choice” bills go directly against the choices of many parents who want their children to be aware of the plurality of the world around them, allowing them to live with many different kinds of people. People like our Black, queer, disabled, athletic, gregarious, funny, razor-smart, beautiful daughter.
As a rise in racial and anti-LGBTQ violence accompanies the rise of “parental choice” bills, we have to think about the multiple ways our Black daughter is vulnerable to police violence, racial violence, and gender violence as she goes back to school. Despite moving our family from Texas to California, and transitioning from Trump’s presidency to Biden’s, we’re increasingly concerned about how much our daughter has to protect herself.
So what do we tell her? Maybe we start with this:
- Know YOU are never what’s broken in this crazy world; who you are can NEVER be wrong, period. Textbooks, TikToks, attitudes, assumptions all around you may be pathological; your Black queerness never will be.
- Assess what makes YOU feel safe, always and everywhere. Don’t do anything that seems like it will buy you more trouble than you want to handle that day. Waving rainbow flags and calling out teachers’ transphobia isn’t the most queer-positive thing you can do: Whatever protects and empowers YOU as a young Black queer person whose life matters is.
- Know that we have your back and other adults do, too. If you decide to express your Black queerness in a way your peers, principal, or school police don’t know how to handle, it’s our job as your parents to advocate for you. Your parents and grandparents, biological and gay aunties, coaches and cousins, will take on the brunt of those schoolboard, parent-teacher, and community fights so you can focus on the important work of growing up.
- Whenever and wherever you can, have fun! Racists, homophobes, and transphobes hate Black LGBTQ joy. So, create your happiness wherever you can, knowing it’s your secret weapon for survival.
Vidya Krishnan The ‘model minority’ in the middle no more?
Curtis Chin For Chinese American families, young people are taught to self-police lest they offend
Nick Martin The Talk: A dual reality for Native kids
Rebecca Cokley Pointing out meaningful representation for children with disabilities
Amber Payne and Deborah D. Douglas The Talk: How identity shapes the way we keep our children safe
Omise’eke Tinsley is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her next book is “The Color Pynk: Black Femme Art for Survival,” forthcoming from The University of Texas Press.
Matt Richardson is an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his new novel, “Black Canvas: A Campus Haunting,” is forthcoming from Transgress Press.