In an op-ed for The Keystone, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom, Pennsylvania Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan gave a heartwarming tribute to her daughter in honor of Pride month-along with a warning regarding the types of hateful legislation that could damage national unity and hurt the most vulnerable among us.
She reflects on raising her daughter Molly in the 90s, a time when gender stereotypes were strong and rarely questioned.
Houlahan herself had grown up in defiance of gender stereotypes, serving in the military as an engineer and running a successful sports apparel business before running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
For this reason, she was somewhat conflicted when her daughter chose to wear 'outrageous hair bows' and 'obscene amounts of pink.'
'She simply loved every princess imaginable and all fairytales. In Molly's world, everything that glittered was good!'
Houlahan admits that Molly was very much a 'girly' girl. She sometimes struggled with this as a mom, as she wanted to raise an empowered girl who didn't feel restricted by gender stereotypes. But in the end, she decided to let Molly be Molly.
'I tried to set my own biases and plans for her aside and let her be the author of her own story,' said Houlahan in The Keystone, a Courier Newsroom publication.
'A Divisive Reckoning'
Today, Molly is 30 and thriving as a professional theater director-making all of those fairytales come to life. Her pursuit of the dramatic arts did not surprise her mother following a childhood filled with princesses and glitter. But Houlahan was surprised when 'girly girl' Molly came out as gay.
Molly was able to be the author of her own story as a child, and that grew into something beautiful. Molly is soon to marry her fiancee, and the couple hopes to start a family of their own.
But will their children and others be able to author their own stories as Molly did?
As a member of Congress, Houlahan is on the front lines of what she calls a 'divisive reckoning' regarding gender norms. The targets of this reckoning now encompass teachers and children along with the LGBTQ community.
'This reckoning has translated into some alarming, troublesome, and hateful legislation. State legislatures are passing restrictive laws to tell educators that they cannot engage in some of the conversations that are likely to arise in a classroom,' said Houlahan to Courier Newsroom's The Keystone.
She fears that children will no longer be able to discuss their families and home lives with teachers. She also worries that teachers will face difficult decisions when students ask questions regarding their gender identity or express themselves in a way that doesn't conform to traditional gender stereotypes.
Children often spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. Teachers play a vital role in helping children make sense of the world around them-and this includes family and gender issues.
'The theory behind this legislation is that somehow teachers could be 'indoctrinating' or 'grooming' our children into non-conforming gender norms if they talk about these issues. Why did we lose trust in our educators to responsibly partner with us in teaching our kids?'
Listening to Children
In May, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan spent a few weeks visiting Pennsylvania schools and having conversations with children. She realized that gender-related questions and comments are common in the classroom, noting a few instances in particular.
In one instance, she witnessed preschool boys and girls playing with Barbie and Ken dolls. When a boy dressed a Ken doll in a glittery gown, one of the girls interrupted him saying, 'Boys don't wear dresses.' Houlahan wondered, in a Florida school, how the teacher might respond to this...or if the teacher would respond at all, preferring to stay silent for fear of repercussions.
A week later, Houlahan was reading a story to a classroom of 5-year-olds. One of the pictures in the book depicted a boy wearing pink. One student erupted, 'Boys don't wear pink!' One of the male parents in the back replied that boys did indeed wear pink. The children turned to see the man donning the color in question.
Innocent situations such as this can become valuable lessons for children as they learn about acceptance and diversity. But in the face of restrictive legislation, children may be deprived of these important lessons. And for many children who may not behave according to gender stereotypes, the lack of these lessons may deprive them of their ability to feel self-confident and be the authors of their own stories.
Choosing a Path of Love
'As we recognize Pride Month, I think of those children and of my Molly,' said Houlahan to The Keystone, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom.
Chrissy Houlahan is excited to stand with Molly as she starts a new family and brings children into this world. But she also wonders what will happen 'when my Molly and her wife come to class with their children one day and a classmate perhaps chirps: 'Where is the dad?'
Houlahan hopes to curb the divisive gender reckoning and stop further hateful legislation that harms teachers and students. In the end, the Congresswomen reminds us that the story of America is a love story and that our diversity is what unites us.
'This Pride Month, I ask my fellow parents, educators, and lawmakers to simply love one another and embrace our diversity and differences. My family, and so many families across our great country, are clearly stronger for it.'
This op-ed originally appeared in The Keystone, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom.