I have the absolute privilege of traveling to Nashville, Tennessee later this week to accompany an amazing performing arts program to the Show Choir Nationals competition. These students (including my daughter) get to perform on one of the most coveted stages in country music history, the Grand Ole Opry.
I have watched these students put in endless hours of work perfecting their craft. Show Choir Nationals is the ultimate spotlight for them to perform and shine, yet some of them are walking into a space and a state that feels unwelcoming–even hostile–as a result of the recent laws policing gender expression. Even for members of the group who don’t identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community this is hard. They are friends and allies, and let’s not forget they are also children, who likely are feeling fear and anxiety for their friends.
So let me be clear, the privilege is witnessing the talent and work these incredible students invested to reach Nationals. It’s not visiting a state restricting and policing gender expression.
Their individual group (shoutout North Central Counterpoints!) is incredibly inclusive and I am continually grateful for the intentional work the program directors do to make it a safe and inclusive space.
A recent costume policy allows each individual to choose their style of costume–no longer assuming that female students will wear dresses and male students pants. A move that allows for individual gender expression and physical comfort for ALL students.
That is affirming. That is inclusive. That is love.
I’ve watched the director intentionally use gender inclusive language and consistently affirm and support these kids in numerous ways–yes, here in Indiana, another openly hostile state making the news with the “slate of hate” our legislature proposed.
This program is supporting our children. This program is growing unity and empathy in our community.
I feel angered and saddened that Tennessee profits from hosting Nationals. Show choir (and the performing arts in general) are home to many LGBTQIA+ students–the very people the state legislature in Tennessee is working tirelessly to invalidate while amplifying hostility toward them. And regardless of how they are rationalizing the laws, this isn’t about keeping children safe. If it were, the state would invest in supporting mental health services and safety nets for LGBTQIA+ youth who are statistically far more likely to suffer mental health issues and homelessness all because of the hostility and rejection faced within their communities and families.
These kids, kids, KIDS deserve support. They’re kids like mine. Like yours. Like we were when we were their age. And I for one am ready to be an ally–even in a hostile state like Tennessee.
Thinking about Nationals and my desire to support and affirm all of these students, I’m reminded of a quote from Mr. Rogers that frequently comes up when we experience another school shooting in the US– “Look for the helpers!" This is my inspiration and guidance as I think about how to be a better ally for this community–especially on this upcoming trip.
What does being an ally look like?
For me, it starts with visibly demonstrating allyship. I’ll wear my intentions on my sleeve–or well, lapel. Buttons that say, “Ally,” “Free Mom Hugs,” and my pronouns will travel with me and be on display the entire time we’re in Tennessee. So all people, not just the ones I personally know, know that I’m a safe person where they can be their authentic self.
I’ll also use their correct pronouns. If I don’t know what they are, I’ll ask. It truly is that simple.
And I’ll sit with them and listen to them if they need a kind ear or want to be physically close to another person. My promise is to be a safe space and a soft space to land. A space where they can show up as exactly the person they are and want to be.
Because they are worthy.
They are valued.
And they are loved as exactly the person they are.
Don’t we all deserve that?
Journey well, my friends.