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Op-Ed | The price of freedom

Flame
A drag queen who goes by the name Flame reads stories to children and their caretakers during a Drag Story Hour at a public library in New York, Friday, June 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Summer is a time Americans associate with freedom and independence, yet how free are we really?

There are still more gun crimes – whether mass shootings or the day-to-day violence impacting neighborhoods across New York – which strip us of our freedom to live our lives. We have a Supreme Court who ended a constitutional right for people to make decisions about their own bodies and families, something that will disproportionately impact people who don’t have the means to travel to another state, let alone support a child. There is a longstanding undercurrent of hate and oppression that continues to seep out of the wounds in this country, in turn, leading to the devaluing of freedom and the individualistic nature of the human experience.

As a queer woman and mother, I deeply worry about this wanton disregard and what my son’s life will look like as a result. My wife and I want our son to grow up in a world that cherishes life, celebrates our differences and allows us to disagree without discounting someone’s value or taking a life. It is why we choose to live in my native New York because, in theory, New Yorkers tend to be a more open minded and tolerant sort.

Except when we are not.

Earlier this summer, the local library board in Smithtown, NY voted to remove all Pride Month decorations from its public spaces and remove all children’s books related to LGBTQ+ issues. Governor Hochul has now opened a state investigation.

A client of mine – Drag Story Hour NYC – teaches children across New York City about gender diversity and exposes them to different sexual and gender identities – exposure that in turn makes these identities less taboo. Yet when the New York City Council allocated more than $80,000 to their work, Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino called the program a form of “child grooming and sexualization.”

These are not coincidences: LGBTQ+ identity is once again a target for the conservative movement and instead of cultivating understanding, irresponsible organizations and elected officials, they are churning up confrontations at events, violent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community including drag performers, hate-filled inboxes and fanning the embers of hate into a full blown five alarm fire.

Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council were right to provide financial support to Drag Story Hour NYC in the budget, and they are right to condemn Councilwoman Paladino’s hateful remarks. The Governor should investigate a library that bans books and understanding. It is our responsibility as a city to teach and support a new generation of New Yorkers that respect and uplift those different from themselves, my son included. Lessons on diversity and emotional intelligence are just as important as any math or science lesson taught to our children, and more must be done by the city and state to make these investments.

The solution to the devolving conversation around LGBTQ+ education is not to cede ground to reactionaries but to throw the full might of the great people of New York behind it. Let’s get to work.

Rose Christ is a former president of Stonewall Democrats and current co-Chair of Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies’ New York practice.

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