I am appalled by the disgusting hypocrisy of the Toronto Public School Board. They have banned a phrase that my late mother, Harriet, would have used if she were still alive.
She used it over and over in her lectures in college and in her countless newspaper columns: The only way to change this social and political system that is destroying us is through education and creativity. She would have understood why the TPS had to drop the phrase from the newsletter they send out to their teachers and parents because it has a connotation that could have referred to sexual orientation. I would have loved to have heard from her that they dropped it, but she passed away before she could say it.
The wording was changed to include all of the amazing and accomplished women in our society. There is no word more appropriate or meaningful than “all.” I’m almost sorry they changed it to “ladies.” The word “ladies” just doesn’t cut it for anyone who is gay or lesbian or any person who doesn’t want to be defined by their sexuality. Because that’s not who they are.
Even Madonna just changed her personal pronoun in pictures to “my.” The problem I have with this latest outrage over gayness is that it perpetuates the fear and ignorance that lies beneath the agenda that surrounds trying to block same-sex marriage.
My mother was only gay in her past, her past in Toronto, the past that she couldn’t fully make her life with my father for years because that wasn’t acceptable to society at the time. Even in modern times, it’s very hard to say gay is the norm, or that we should be open and honest about who we are. That’s why people make assumptions, and that’s why they hide. My mother never chose to stay closeted, though.
In her voice mail messages, she promised my father that she would stop if he left her. That’s why the story about her once hearing a man bragging about sleeping with an ex-girlfriend never made it into her column. She didn’t write a column on it, because it just wasn’t a big deal. She was too busy doing what she did best. She was teaching literature at a local high school and teaching her students to believe in themselves and in their dreams and in the possibility of happiness.
My father and I met when I was only nine. She didn’t pick the best song to play in the car when she brought me home from the playground, but she knew just the songs and stories to tell me. She knew how to bring me into her world, because she wanted that for me. In her wisdom, she knew my value and my talents were more important than her wallet.
That’s why I fight to let kids in our society know they matter, and that the people in power should trust them enough to put their confidence in their capabilities.
What these people in power should do is pay more attention to the great women of our history, not the fools.
I’ve seen great women in leadership roles. I’ve seen girls today who remind me so much of my mother and of amazing women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, and Cheri Honkala. These women were not expected to be activists and fearless heroes. They did it for the right reasons, and their influence changed the world in immeasurable ways.
I refuse to let ignorance and fear keep me quiet. I demand that our government respect the humanity of every person, no matter what their sexual orientation, regardless of their ability, regardless of what their beliefs are.
I hope the Toronto Public School Board will look to their former history teachers and go back to using its English course credits to teach kids about these great and accomplished women in their lives.
So I’m standing with My Mother’s List. We need more good women than bad women. It’s up to us to change the world, one woman at a time.
Rebecca Cammisa, Ph.D., is the Global Social Change Strategist for American Security Project in Washington, D.C. She is the former director of national security issues for the Progressive Policy Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccacammisa.