Rainbows and unicorns: Of Pride, oppression, privilege and parenting

Julie Maclellan

So there we were at New West Pride, strolling down Columbia Street, my small person sporting her own personally chosen rainbow lei.

She was on a mission to find rainbows – which were, happily, in abundant supply. Throw in a few unicorns, and she was pretty much over the moon about “Rainbow Day.” She liked the music at the choir stage, the crowd singing along to True Colors, the bouncy mat at the Royal City Cheer and Tumbling booth.

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I was happy to take her. Happy that, at recently turned four years old, she can walk down the street in a city like ours and see that the whole community is welcome at an event like Pride.

It wasn’t until afterwards that I got to thinking more about the whole thing: about how I can introduce events like Pride to my small person in a kid-friendly way, without watering down what it all means.

My first mission, as with most parents I know, is to raise a child who just thinks of people as people. I want to raise a kid who doesn’t see first and foremost gender or sexual orientation or age or race or skin colour or size or disability or any of the other myriad things that create artificial distinctions between “us” and “them,” but who just accepts that people come in all sorts of different flavours and that all those flavours are pretty great – kinda like rainbow sherbert, to use an analogy my ice-cream-loving kid can appreciate.

Which is cool, insofar as it goes. And, really, it’s easier to do that with kids than it is with adults. Already I can see in my daughter that she’s more open to diversity than I ever was in childhood – not because I didn’t have open-minded parents, but because I grew up in an almost exclusively white, middle-class kind of world. One day at my daughter’s daycare exposes her to more diversity of skin colour, culture and background than I probably experienced in my entire elementary school career. Ask her to describe a classmate and she’ll never mention their race – she’ll talk about the one with the long straight hair or the one with the curls or the one who wears pink sparkly shoes or the one who has a dinosaur shirt. In that way, she’s about as “colour-blind” as they come.

I’m happy that Pride can help to do the same for her – that she can see two men walking down the street holding hands, or two women with their baby, and know that it’s all just part of people being people.

But I don’t want to whitewash it all, either.

In a quest to raise a child who just sees people as people, I don’t want to erase what it all means.

I don’t want to pretend to her that the world doesn’t hate. I need her to understand that the LGBTQ+ community has had to fight long and loudly to get to the point where Pride could become a community event. That Stonewall wasn’t all that very long ago – just a little over a year before I was born, as it happens  - and that, as events like the Pulse shootings in Orlando show, the world hasn’t come far enough yet.

Similarly, I don’t want her to think that colour doesn’t matter. Because, clearly, it has mattered – and still does matter. Being “colour-blind” is great, sort of. But it doesn’t go far enough. I need her to understand that #blacklivesmatter is a movement for a reason. That, throughout history – and, sadly, right here and right now – people have been judged and treated differently for no reason other than the shade of their skin.

And on it goes. While giving her the message that “boys can wear pink” and “girls can drive fire trucks,” she also needs to know that the world has long unfairly pigeonholed people based on their gender. (And that’s not even talking about those who don’t conform to the gender binary.) While telling her that people in wheelchairs, or people who can’t hear, or people who have developmental disabilities, are just as capable and just as much people as she is, I need to help her understand that the world isn’t always kind to those people and that they continue to face struggles in everyday life.

My daughter’s only four. We talk about a lot of things, but it’s going to be awhile before words like “privilege” and “oppression” mean very much to her.

She doesn’t yet know that she lives in a very sheltered world – with two white, straight, middle-aged, middle-class parents who own a house and have professional jobs. She doesn’t know she’s living one particular kind of life (and, yes, a privileged one at that). She just knows her life as, well, life.

So I’m glad I’m raising her where I am. Where there are people with many backgrounds – speaking culturally, racially, socioeconomically – and many skin colours; where there are many kinds of homes and many kinds of families and many kinds of normal lives.

And I’m glad that there are events like Pride. That even though she calls it “Rainbow Day” and has no idea what’s behind it all, she can start to see at least part of the message. To understand that people are people and that love is love; it’s only a start, but it’s an important start.

Yes, the message needs to eventually become more complex than that. The weight of history and politics carries far more nuance than I can hope to explain to a four-year-old.

But I hope that by starting this conversation now, in small ways, she’ll grow up believing in the ideal world that her generation can help to create.

I hope things will be different by the time she’s old enough to learn about Stonewall, to understand the story of Trayvon Martin, to hear and comprehend the tales of the thousands of injustices that have paved the histories of so many people. I hope that, by then, the world has changed so much that she and her friends will look back on that history and wonder how it was the world was so screwed up that it didn’t just accept people as people.

Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. But I hope my daughter always holds on to the part of her that loves them, and that she never loses the idealistic belief that the world can be a better place.

The road to a better future has to start somewhere. It might as well start with a rainbow lei.

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