by: Marcia Prichason
This week’s issue of Newsweek contains a heartfelt article written by Sarah Palin. In this column, she discusses how her son, Trig, who was born with Down Syndrome, brightens her life and brings joy to all who encounter him. Trig, now almost four years old, greets each new day with applause. He is so precious to her that she writes, “I often think what would we do without Trig? ‘He’s our “everything that really matters’” (Newsweek February 12, 2012).
I felt that way about my son when he was four…and five…and six…and I feel that way now that he is a grown man. My son too is everything that really matters. But the difference between my son and Sarah Palin’s son, aside from the obvious extra chromosome little Trig has, is that her son is entitled to equal protection under the law, and mine is not.
Even forty years ago, it was not uncommon for doctors to advise parents of “mongoloids” that they institutionalize their babies. Children with disabilities were often kept at home or sent to “special” schools. They were both isolated from society and tormented in public for their differences. All-too-often, the word “retard” still falls off the tongue in a pejorative manner, a vestige of our darker days when we as a society were unenlightened as to the contributions people with disabilities, when given the opportunity, could make to society.
The inclusion of persons with disabilities didn’t happen by itself. Americans didn’t just wake up as open-minded citizens one day and declare, “Hey, I’m going to hire someone with Down syndrome today.” It happened because parents, friends, family members, and advocates lobbied long and hard, fighting intolerance, insensitivity and indifference. They pressed the government into enacting a law that provides “a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination” (ADA, 1990) for persons with physical and/or mental disabilities.
It changed the way we do business in this country. It changed education. In fact, it changed and continues to change the lives of millions of people who, otherwise, might still be considered second class citizens with little recourse against discrimination.
Little Trig is the beneficiary of that law, and I am happy for that. I hope he can grow to his fullest potential and become a valuable member of society. He deserves the rights that others fought so hard for him to have. But so does my son, and so do the millions of LGBT Americans who work hard, pay their taxes, and contribute to society.
Sara Palin writes that her son “will face struggles that few of us will ever have to endure, including people who can be so cruel to those not deemed ‘perfect’ by society” (Newsweek, February 12, 2012). I commend her advocacy on behalf of her child. Yet, she would deny that same protection to my child and the millions who are LGBT in this country.
And I’m extremely pissed off about that.
Sarah also writes that, “When I discovered early in my pregnancy that my baby would be born with Down Syndrome, it frightened me” (Newsweek February 12, 2012). I didn’t discover that my son was gay until long after his birth, but it doesn’t really matter when we “discover” who our children are. What matters is that we love and support them, help them meet life’s challenges in the best way we can, and advocate for them because of who they are, not in spite of it.
It’s a lesson Sarah Palin and others like her get, for themselves, but apparently not for others. Her compassion and understanding only reach as far as her situation and circumstances; to Hell with anyone else who doesn’t get a fair deal.
It’s time to end the discrimination against LGBT people in our country. It’s time to grant equal rights to all. It’s time for all of us to stop having to defend our children for who they are. They deserve better than this.