Thursday, July 26, 2012

Do you want discrimination with that?

This week, there’s been a big hullaballoo over the revelation that Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, opposes same-sex marriage, and his foundation has donated about $3 million to anti-gay groups. Mayor Tom Menino of Boston sent a letter to Cathy that urges him to back out of his plans to open a new Chick-fil-A location in Boston. Menino writes, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” Politicians in Chicago have made similar statements, while some religious conservative politicians have sadly named next Wednesday as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” While I am a big supporter of marriage equality, this letter does bring up some conflicting feelings.

My first reaction when I read the letter was that I wanted to give Mayor Mumbles a big ol’ hug. He is taking a stand against hate. The LGTBQ community needs leaders who will stand up for them like this and unabashedly support them. Some politicians might be too nervous that this sort of a stance will be too controversial and threaten their reelection, but Menino had the chutzpah to come out right away and say that, as one of the only states to allow same-sex marriage, we don’t like it when people work to destroy that, and that hatred is unacceptable.

On the other hand, I recognize that by wanting to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a location here, Menino can also be seen as being guilty of discrimination. Is it really the place for our government to get involved with what businesses can open where based on their beliefs? I believe the answer is no. After all, the Constitution defends your right to be a bigoted asshole, and to express those beliefs out loud. I certainly cannot stand Cathy’s use of religion as an excuse for hatred (that’s a whole other discussion for another day), but in the end, the man has a right to his beliefs. If the company were discriminatory towards its employees or customers, then that would be a problem that would make it essential to ban them here. However, that does not seem to be the case. As a result, we cannot get on this slippery slope of banning companies based on their beliefs and who they donate money to, for letting the government tell people what they can and cannot believe in is a dangerous thing. I will point out though that Menino’s letter wisely did not say that he would take action against banning the company from Boston, only that it urged the company to back out of its plans and said that this is not the place for them. This is fine, so long as he stays away from thwarting their business plans with anything beyond words.

What we can do instead is, as consumers, make informed choices about who we give our money to. When I recently learned that Oreo had thrown its support behind same-sex marriage, I no longer felt quite so guilty about buying and gorging on those delicious cookies. Similarly, I hope that if Chick-fil-A does open a location in Boston, they will do such poor business that they will soon be forced to close. If people ban together and make a decision not to support a business which uses some of its profits for such hateful causes, that action will send a loud and clear message to other people and businesses who think that discrimination is okay. So while I think that the government should not take legal action to bar them from opening here, I still think that Menino’s letter was important for him to write, and his message is wonderful: Boston is no place for hate. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for saying this loud and clear.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

through a kid's eyes

This past Sunday I took my two little cousins, who are 8 and 10 years old, for an adventure in Boston. They’re from California and are in town for part of the summer. I figured that spending all this time away from home would get a little dull for them, and as their big cousin decided it was my duty to help remedy that. I’ve always loved kids; I was always the one playing with toddlers on the floor or talking to the older ones about school and playing games with them. Two years ago, my sister and I took these two cousins to the movies. We figured that would be fun, and a challenge that we could deal with. Since that time they have definitely matured, so I knew I could handle taking them to the city on my own. I absolutely adore spending time in Boston, and thought it would be a lot of fun for me to experience it in a new way.

As it turned out, experiencing Boston through the eyes of kids really was pretty great. I love their sharp eyes and their curiosity about the world. They noticed everything and wanted to talk to me about it, but understood when certain situations called for some discretion and tact. Our adventure began somewhere where there is an abundance of interesting characters: the T (the Red Line, to be specific). We also rode a couple of other trains later on in our travels. The boys were very concerned about people who didn’t follow the rules or etiquette—the woman clipping her fingernails, and the man who leaned against the doors which, as one of them pointed out, specifically said not to do just that. In the station, we walked by a guy with gauges in his ears (the biggest I’ve ever seen), and after we were out of earshot they made faces and commented on it to me. They asked me all about how the T works—what the different lines are, where they go, which one goes the farthest, etc. The older one was quite amused when my prediction that lots of people with suitcases would board at South Station came true, as though I’d just performed a neat little parlor trick. I’ve been riding the T for so long that it usually doesn’t hold too much excitement for me, other than observing some quirky characters and peering at what books people are reading. For them, it held exciting possibilities of destinations unknown, along with a roster of characters equal parts puzzling and fascinating. Later in the day, on the Green Line, the younger one asked me why his seat was a little different. I explained that that’s the spot that people are asked to give up if an elderly or disabled person gets on the train. A couple of stops later, two old and feeble people got on board, and before I could even notice, both boys promptly got out of their seats. Oy, I was so proud at that moment.

Our first stop in town (after the first of many potty breaks, of course), was the Aquarium. Once inside, we first checked out the newish ray and shark touch tank. This was like a dream come true for the boys. After we reviewed the rules for touching the creatures, they quickly plunged their arms into the tank, excited to not be restricted to just looking at everything through glass. The interactive experience with nature was their favorite part of the day. We probably spent a good 10 minutes there, with one of the boys determined not to leave until he finally got to touch one of the sharks. I didn’t mind not touching the animals myself, content to take photos of the kids and watch their joy. As we worked our way through the rest of the exhibits, the younger one commandeered my camera and took pictures of just about everything. He felt compelled to document all of the cool things that we saw. It wouldn’t be good enough to just have me take the pictures—he wanted to preserve the images through his own perspective. The older one enjoyed reading some of the facts about the animals and telling me about them. I of course was so excited to see this love of learning.

The day was filled with lots more great little moments. For example, when we were walking through Boston Common as the boys ate their slush, there was a rehearsal in progress for Shakespeare on the Common. After I explained what it was, the 8-year-old asked if we could watch a little. As an English teacher, I was only too happy to acquiesce. When the director was giving notes to the actors and having them try something again, my little cousin asked me, “Are they doing it wrong?” So I explained that in theater, you often want to try doing scenes in different ways to see what works. I also told him that I do theater. "You do THIS?" he asked incredulously. I laughed and responded that my shows aren't quite this big. After sitting there for probably a little over 5 minutes, I asked the boys if they wanted to go, but the younger one said he wanted to stay a little longer. It was cool to see him experiencing something that is so foreign to him and so outside his usual interests, and actually enjoying it. It’s not as though he could understand what was happening in the scene they were rehearsing, but I think being able to observe the inner workings of the production, plus seeing this stage full of actors in the middle of the park, was just so novel to him.

We then went to the Swan Boats, where the boys noticed that there was an older man working there who was listening to the Red Sox game and updating the score on a little whiteboard. They talked a little baseball with him, and I could see how pleased the man was to chat with these engaging kids. After the boat ride we headed for the Museum of Fine Arts and made a beeline for the mummies. We also wandered around some other galleries of ancient artifacts, which the boys found very interesting, especially the African weapons (but of course). We went through the galleries fairly quickly, children’s attention spans being what they are, but I didn’t mind. I can go to the MFA anytime, so this was their opportunity to see whatever caught their eyes.

It was quite the exhausting day (one of the kids fell asleep on the way home), but very fun. Both kids said thank you at least a dozen times (no joke) throughout the day, which was so so sweet. It was fun to be the cool older cousin for the day, and I managed to resist the urge to act too much like a mom. Yes, I was responsible for them and had to make sure they were safe and stayed in my sight, but mostly I was able to just go with the flow and enjoy hanging out with them. I really liked having the opportunity to have real conversations with them that lasted more than just two minutes, and we talked about all sorts of things: history, science, books, Boston, sports, etc.  And I got to see my city the way a kid sees it—with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm.