After heated debate, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott allowed fifth grader Kameron Slade to give his controversial speech on gay marriage at a special assembly at PS 195 in Rosedale Queens on Monday. Just days before, after Kameron won his classroom’s speech contest, principal Beryl Bailey had banned the speech from the larger competition, saying the content wasn’t appropriate for this age group (although next year the same students will be given condoms in Sex Ed class). Kameron was forced to give a speech on a different topic in order to participate. By allowing the speech at a separate assembly, it gave Principal Bailey the needed time to reach out to parents of the fifth graders to “warn” them of the controversial topic, giving them the option of pulling their kids from the day’s event.
I find this tragic on many levels. First, the assignment was to write a speech on “any topic” and Kameron chose an issue about which he felt passionately, and delivered, in my opinion, an absolutely amazing speech. Second, although giving the speech at a separate assembly is better than not at all, this “separate but equal” approach is not an adequate solution to the problem. Kameron did not get to deliver his first choice speech for the competition and thus was discriminated against and put at a disadvantage for the contest. Lastly, if any parents did (and I really hope they didn’t) pull their child from the assembly, not only did they ostracize their child and set him up for teasing by the other kids, but also denied him the opportunity to hear an honest and sincere account of a child’s view of love and commitment.
At an age where kids are exposed to so much negativity, name calling, and subtle and not so subtle exhibits of hate, hearing a peer explain why “same gender marriage should be accepted world wide and that parents and teachers should start to discuss these issues without shame to their children” is a beautiful way to add a new perspective to the minds and lives of children who wouldn’t be exposed to such discussions in their home. Also, because research shows that people trust their peers and close friends when making decisions, it is even more important that a respected peer deliver this positive message to his classmates.
As a parent myself, I have so much respect for Kameron’s mother and her realistic approach to parenting. She is the one who explained her friends’ same-sex relationship to Kameron in an open and honest way, raising a child who is informed enough about social issues to come to his own conclusions. (“Like President Obama, I believe that all people should have the right to marry whoever they want.”) When she heard that her son’s speech was banned, she told news agencies that the NYC Department of Education needs to “open up:” a more polite choice of words than I would’ve used.
Finally, as a gay parent, watching Kameron speak so eloquently about gay marriage fills me with optimism about the next generation and hope that my baby girl will grow up in a better world than we are living in now.