“Family-Friendly” is a Cop Out

Have you noticed how often the word “family” or the term “family-friendly” gets used? And have you given any attention to what it has come to mean?

The newsfeeds have been all a-buzz today with the story of Leisha Hailey getting kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane when she kissed her girlfriend. According to the airline, some people complained that their kiss was excessive and when flight attendants stepped in, Hailey got upset, so they kicked her off the plane. It’s unlikely that Hailey and her girlfriend were doing anything that heterosexual couples haven’t done. And in fact, according to the conversation on The Talk about the event, it seems that when Bruce Jenner & his wife Kris snuck away to the bathroom when they were feeling frisky (thinking that no one noticed), the flight attendant later announced over the intercom, “American Airlines would like to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Jenner to the mile high club!”

But what I find missing from all of the reports is any discussion of the fact that (according to Hailey), the flight attendant told her this:


Hold onto that for a moment, and let’s look at a different situation. It seems that a booth at a farmer’s market in London, Ontario got into some hot water with the market organizers because their employees were transgender. According to the booth owner, the market’s manager said that the event is “a family place, a family market and [having transgender staff] just isn’t right.”

What’s the commonality here? In both situations, “family” is being used as a smokescreen. It’s a great way to shut down dialogue and keep people out, but what it really does is let heterosexual, cisgender people not have to figure out how to talk with their kids about gender and sexual orientation. Rather than engaging in an age-appropriate conversation with children about how the world works, “family” gets used to avoid the whole thing. This isn’t about protecting children from sexuality, even though that’s how it’s framed. It’s about coddling adults’ discomfort with the topic and that needs to change.

Want an easy way to talk with your kids about lesbians? Here’s a script:

Some boys like girls, some boys like boys, some boys like both. Some girls like girls, some girls like boys, some girls like both. Whoever you decide to like, I’ll always love you.

How about talking about gender diversity?

A lot of people are born in  a boy’s or a girl’s body and they feel like the other. Some of them will do things like change the way they look or take medications so they look on the outside more like they feel on the inside. A lot of people treat them differently, but we know to treat them with respect, just like we do with everyone.

And yes, I know that both of these issues are vastly more complex than this, but I’m keeping it simple for the sake of the parents. Older kids are certainly able to understand gender diversity, if it’s explained to them.

If you don’t want to help your child understand the amazing beauty, courage, and love shown by people who have to struggle to be accepted and have fought to carve out a space in the world, what are you really teaching them? How do you think they’ll feel if it turns out that they’re queer or trans, or if someone they love is? In what way does your silence serve them? It’s past time that we stopped letting the word “family” camouflage the real issue here. And it’s time that we finally recognize that queer and gender non-conforming people are also part of someone’s family. Unless, of course, what you mean to teach your children is that if they do turn out queer or transgender, they won’t be part of your family anymore. Is that what you want to tell them?

13 Responses so far.

  1. Thurman Hart says:

    Good piece…but Republicans have been talking “family values” for years without ever having to explain what that means.

  2. Fizz says:

    “A lot of people treat them differently, but we know to treat them with respect, just like we do with everyone.”

    I was doing fine until I got to this line, and then suddenly I felt like crying. I want to live in THAT world.

  3. Charlie says:

    @Fizz- lots of parents who I know tell their kids that. It’s big part of how we can create that world!

  4. Kathy says:

    We tell our kids that whenever the subject arises. They take it pretty matter of fact. People are people. Its the other grownups around who can’t cope… sigh.

  5. Jen W. says:

    As always, you manage to encompass the issue at hand very eloquently. Thank you.

  6. Jay says:

    I think that excessive making out (be it hetero or gay)should not be done in a public place where parents and kids are travelling together.

  7. Charlie says:

    @Jay- I agree, although I also think it’s worth remembering that for many people, the line for what makes it “excessive” is far more flexible for m/f interactions than any other gender combination.

  8. Starky says:

    The two scripts for explaining to your kids are almost word for word what I told my boys when they were old enough to be curious..

  9. Anne says:

    Lovely post! But:

    Unless, of course, what you mean to teach your children is that if they do turn out queer or transgender, they won’t be part of your family anymore. Is that what you want to tell them?

    The thing is, there is a contingent among the “family values” folks who think this, exactly. They think that being queer is a choice, and one that they want to make sure people don’t choose. So anything that makes it more painful or difficult is great for them. They have no problem with punishing people for their choices – even if that “punishment” means something like carrying an unwanted fetus to term. And after all, that’s how we mostly deal with crime – “if you break the law we’ll throw you in prison with even bigger crooks, who will rape you, and when you get out we’ll take away your right to vote and make it hard for you to get a job.” Never mind that it isn’t very effective at reducing crime, what’s important to these folks is that people who break their rules get punished.

  10. Congratulations, I have come to respect you and your words greatly in the last year. This is an important concept. What is my FAMILY?

  11. Charlie says:

    My family is: the people I love, the people I live with, the people whose lives are intertwined with mine, the people who I consult with before making big decisions, and the people who I’d call first if I ended up in the emergency room. Beyond that, I have a tribe of like-minded people who share many of my values and perspective, who I celebrate with, who I’d help move, and who help keep me on an even keel. And then there are the different communities I move through based on shared interests and experiences.

    For me, it’s really a web of relationships, with my family surrounding me most closely.

  12. […] An excellent post, today by Charlie Glickman on what it means when we use the term “Family Values”.  It started over the story of Leisha Hailey getting kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane when she kissed her girlfriend.  Now I do not know the style or intensity of the kiss, but I am sure that far more intense and erotic behavior has been displayed between heterosexual couples on Southwest and probably every other airline in the country.  We do not have the term “Mile High Club” for nothing. […]

  13. Aazhie says:

    Wow, that is just sad. I’m not a huge fan of PDA but giving your significant other a peck on the cheek, no matter who it is or what they look like, shouldn’t be offensive in a free country. There’s a big diff between a dry lip kiss and heavy tonguing to be sure, but really people! The idea of someone (or someones) doing obscene things in the bathroom is far more foul and offensive to me, no matter their gender (s). Bathrooms are already gross, please don’t make it worse for me and your fellow passengers… I’d rather have an entire plane full of messy mouth kissing between happy, consenting couples than one selfish jerk couple that is doing something awful where I can’t see and might not know about.

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