Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ted Cruz Needs Some Schooling

Yesterday, I read an article about Ted Cruz talking to homeschoolers.

Ted Cruz wants the parents of these homeschooled kids to be afraid of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. He seems to think it's going to take parenting decisions away from Americans.

What this REALLY is about is governments of countries around the world coming together to put together kind of a Bill of Rights for kids. It's an opportunity for governments to pledge things like:

"The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice."

"States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

"States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse."

Those are just a few things in there. Take the time to read it all, please. There's a lot of good stuff in there that can help improve the lives and guarantee the rights of kids all over the world. Guess which country has NOT yet ratified this document? That's right...'Murica! Land of liberty! You know, the place where it's a free country unless you're LBGT, a woman, not a Christian, an immigrant, black, some middle and lower class white dudes, or a child.

Ted Cruz actually said this, "Nothing in international law, nothing in any treaty should be used as a backdoor vehicle to undermine the rights of every parent here to raise your children consistent with your faith, with your good judgement and the love you have for your children."

What he's really saying is that he doesn't believe kids should have the right to decide for themselves what they believe. There is nothing in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child that says parents shouldn't raise their children in a manner consistent with their faith. What it does say is that governments pledge to do things like protect the rights of kids to decide for themselves what they believe, put in place policies that guarantee our right to things like education and healthcare, and protect us from abuse and neglect. Oh, and it also says that governments "will respect the rights, responsibilities, and duties of parents."

In addition to his remarks against the rights of children, Ted Cruz also decided to make some hateful remarks about atheists.

"You know, last year, there was a chaplain in the Air Force up in Alaska who wrote in a blog post the phrase ‘There are no atheists in fox holes.’ He was ordered by his supervising officer to take it down. I guess it was deemed insensitive to atheists. I kind of thought it was the job of a chaplain to be insensitive to atheists."

Apparently not only does Ted Cruz not believe in a Bill of Rights for children, he doesn't believe in the one for adults either. You know, the one that guarantees us that our government will respect our religious freedom. I guess he doesn't see the need for those who serve our country to respect the others who serve, putting their lives on the line, who happen to be atheists.

I've got some news Cruz can use. I'm a homeschooler. I'm also an atheist. Even though I'm an atheist, I stand 100% behind the freedoms of others to worship how they choose. I have a lot of friends who are Christians and a few who are members of other religions. I will do whatever I can do defend their right to their beliefs. I understand that the same freedom that gives them the right to practice their religion is the freedom that protects me from being forced to practice a religion.

My parents aren't atheists but they have enough respect for my rights that they allow me to decide for myself what I believe. This doesn't mean that my parents don't raise me in a manner consistent with their faith.

One of the ways my parents teach me about their faith is to share with me things they read or hear about that are consistent with their faith. Some time ago, my mom shared with me something written by a pastor about using the Bible to bully and deny rights to the LBGT community. This was at a time when I had some very negative feelings about Christianity. Reading it made me realize that it wasn't Christians who were bad. It was the actions of some Christians who were bad.

Since that time, I've gotten to know the pastor who wrote that article and I've read many other things  he's written. His name is Mark Sandlin and I'm afraid to disappoint Ted Cruz, but he's extremely sensitive to atheists. He is so sensitive to them that he recently spoke out against the fact a girl who tried to start a secular club at her school was being bullied and threatened. As an atheist, I don't utilize the services of a chaplain the way most people think about that term. But one day, when I was trying to find a word that wasn't offensive to either Christians or atheists, he helped me by sharing his perspective as a Christian who was understanding of my perspective as a non-Christian. Mark, in a way, is a chaplain to all, regardless of their beliefs.

I find it very sad that Ted Cruz, someone who wants to continue to serve in the government of the United States of America, is afraid of ideas like freedom and people like my friend who are sensitive to those with different beliefs. I find it even more sad that he would speak to a group of kids and parents in an effort to make them afraid of these things too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess

Today, I read a blog post written by Glennon Doyle Melton on the blog Momastery. The post is entitled, "Every Child Is Gifted and Talented. Every Single One."

Ms. Melton doesn't get it. Even though I'm what is classified as Profoundly Gifted, the word "genius" doesn't apply to me, yet she keeps throwing it around and showing her ignorance of special needs children. Ms. Melton says that everything she's ever written on her blog is open for argument except this. The argument she has now started is "a tough break" for poor little her I guess, although I don't believe for a second she wrote what she did not realizing the response (blog hits) she would receive.

Ms. Melton and I believe many of the same things. I believe that every kid has gifts and talents they can use to make our world a better place. I believe that success in a classroom doesn't define personal success. I believe all young people are capable. I believe these things so strongly that I am trying to convince the people who represent us in Government that all young people are capable, have gifts and talents, and should have as many opportunities as possible to engage in the political process.

I'm afraid though that Ms. Melton doesn't know how hurtful her statement is to a kid like me. I'm not angry with Ms. Melton. She just doesn't understand. I've been dealing with people who don't understand my entire life.

Ever since I can remember, adults I encountered would comment after talking to me, "You're so smart." Really? I was just talking to you normally. I wasn't trying to get you to notice anything special or different about me. I learned to say as little as possible so I wouldn't draw attention to myself.

When I was little, I would try to start playing with the other kids. They would imagine all kinds of things and I would want to imagine too. Pretty soon, they would all look at me funny. Sometimes, I would want to play a game and would soon realize the other kids I was trying to play with weren't able to play the game with me. It wasn't their fault, but it made me sad. I learned to just go along with what the other kids did or play by myself.

I don't remember learning to read because I was so little when I started. To me, it was something I could always just do.  I remember bringing books with me places where I was going to have to wait and keep myself occupied. I remember people saying things like, "Wow! Are you reading THAT?" I learned to not bring my books places with me anymore.

I've always been interested in lots of things. I've been interested in political figures from an early age. I was once obsessed with the Titanic. Other kids would talk about the things they were interested in and adults would talk about some of the same things I was interested in, but when I talked about those things, the other kids either didn't understand or thought I was weird and the adults would do the "WOW" thing. I learned to not talk about some of the things I was interested in and talk about the more normal things instead.

I just started this blog last year, but I've been writing for a very long time. It's something I've always liked to do. I never wanted anyone to read the things I wrote though. To me, they weren't good enough. Lots of things I did weren't good enough. I knew in my head how things were "supposed to be" and if I couldn't make them as good as they were "supposed to be" what I did wasn't any good at all. I learned if I just stuck to the easy things, I could do them the way they were "supposed to be" and I stayed away from the hard things so I wouldn't feel like a failure.

Something happened when I was about Kindergarten age. My mom started introducing me to kids that could play my games with me. These kids had new games too that were so much fun! Their parents would talk to me and not treat me all weird. They talked to me like an actual human being. These people gave me presents for my birthday that I didn't have to just pretend to like!

I also started being homeschooled around that time. I didn't have to spend time on the things that I already knew how to do. I could spend my time learning things I didn't know. I could spend more time learning about my interests. Sometimes I had to do hard things that made me really think and try in order to complete my work. Instead of memorizing lists and facts, I could think more about ideas. I could go as fast or slow as I wanted and wasn't limited by any kinds of grade levels.

I've come a long way from that little girl I was. A lot of that is because I've had a lot of support from my parents, friends of my parents, having peers, having understanding and qualified teachers, and amazing support from the Davidson Young Scholars program. I also discovered the world of theater not too long ago and that world is a sanctuary for me. Not only am I encouraged to be creative and have the opportunity to use the things I'm really talented at, I'm in a world where people push me to improve and not just settle for what I think my best is or what their already formed idea of what a kid my age "should" do is. It's a place I can develop my gifts.

Despite the fact I am extremely lucky to have all the support I do and places where I fit in, that little girl is still part of me. I think she always will be.

I'm not a really good student. I get distracted a lot and I have an easier time with complex things than I do simple ones. Sometimes I put off assignments until the last minute either because I'm afraid to try them or because they seem boring to me. I start a lot of assignments and projects that I don't finish. I'm really lucky to be homeschooled because if I had to go to a regular school I would probably be a "problem" student.

I can't watch SPCA commercials on TV and other things about animal abuse because I will be upset for a long time afterwards. I'm not talking about getting just a little upset, but upset to the point I don't want to talk to my friends or leave my room for awhile. When I get angry, I get REALLY angry and sometimes it's hard to calm down even though I recognize that's what I need to do. When I don't feel like things are fair, it makes me very uncomfortable and I feel guilty if I don't speak up or do something about it.

I still have a hard time interacting with kids my age sometimes. It often takes a lot of patience and a lot more effort than it does interacting with my gifted age-peers. It's hard to participate in a lot of activities designed to separate kids in groups by age. I find things move too slow, the activities are over before it feels to me like we've even started, and the other kids are often very immature and distracting.

I still don't like attention. I know that sounds weird from someone who has put themselves out there the way I have, but I don't. I hate watching videos and interviews of myself. I always find something wrong, something I could have done better, something that wasn't the way it's "supposed to be."

I get a lot of criticism from people who do things like call me a prop and think adults are pushing me. Some ignorant people seem to think I should just "be a kid" and "stay home and play with my dolls." Ms. Melton is no different with her denial of who and what my peers and I really are and her statements that encourage gifted children and their families to face similar attacks.

She makes it easier for people to belittle our abilities, deny our accomplishments, and ignore our needs. Yes, I am "advanced" in many ways and some things come very easy to me. But being gifted is not always a gift. It comes with a lot of dark things, things Ms. Melton obviously didn't take the time to truly understand before she proceeded to contribute to a stereotype that hurts me and other kids like me. It's a stereotype that can prevent other kids from getting the kind of support that has helped me and helped many of my friends. We don't need anyone's chosen deity to suddenly miraculously help unwrap us like presents. We need real solutions both inside and outside the classroom to help us reach our individual potential, better understand ourselves, and find our place in the world around us.

Some people say I'm a beautiful person with a beautiful mind. Really, I'm a beautiful mess.

Monday, March 17, 2014

None of Your Business

I'm going to be an adult pretty soon. That's pretty scary, especially considering that I'm a woman living in these times. When I grow up, will I be able to afford birth control? Will my health insurance cover that? What if I need to access abortion services? Will I be able to find services in my area?

All of these "what if" questions wouldn't exist if the American public would just declare an end to the war on sex. Really, that's what this all boils down to. Abortion restrictions are meant to punish women who have sex that's not intended to produce a child, although unwanted pregnancy is not the only reason women need access to safe, affordable services. Limiting access to birth control is an attempt to deter women from having sex that's not intended to produce a child, even though a recent study found that giving women access to free birth control did not increase the number of sexual partners they had.

The war on sex also extends to the desire to demoralize and discriminate against the LBGT community. I'm all about marriage equality but the fact is some of my gay friends don't want to get married. Some of them just want to have casual relationships. Some of them even want to have lots and lots of sex. Oh the horror.

The war on sex sometimes leads to dress codes that many times affect girls more than boys. No tank tops, ladies. Showing those arms and shoulders could lead to rape! If your shorts or skirt are too short, it could be distracting and that's YOUR fault for making boys think about sex.

Chances are, if a kid asks her parents about sex, she'll get some version of, "Well dear, when two people really love each other..."

Well kids, here is your new and improved birds and bees talk. Sex is something people do for various reasons. Sometimes, people have sex to have a baby. Sometimes they do it because it feels good. Most people think of sex as something involving a penis and a vagina, but there are other types of sex too like oral sex and anal sex. There are a lot of feelings that come along with having sex, and those feelings are different for everybody. Before you have sex, you should make sure you really understand your feelings and know that having sex might lead to you having very different feelings after you have sex than you thought you would beforehand. You should also ask yourself how sex and the potential consequences of sex fit with your own personal religious beliefs. Make sure that whoever you choose as a partner is comfortable discussing sex and your feelings with you before you go through with it. Also make sure that you're both protected from diseases and an unwanted pregnancy. And- this is the most important part- other people's sex and the decisions they make surrounding that sex are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

There's quite a bit more to it than this, I realize, but this is a lot better than what many kids get and there are a lot of adults who need a refresher course.

Want to be pro-life? That's awesome! It doesn't mean you have to be anti-choice. As a matter of fact, not being anti-choice means we won't be wasting money on sending women into unsafe places to have unsafe procedures but will be investing more money on actual pro-life values like helping women with medical care and childcare.

Are you afraid that your employees might do things that go against your religious beliefs? If you could put cameras on every person that worked for you and followed them all the time, you would probably fire everybody anyway. What happens between a patient and their doctor is really the least of your worries.

Do you think that if your children see gay people it's going to turn them gay? Take comfort in the fact that if your kid was born that way, there's nothing you can do to change your kid's sexuality. You can try to shame your kid and do other things that can lead to your kid possibly committing suicide, but you can't make your kid a heterosexual if she's not.

Making other people's sex none of your business is liberating! You don't have to constantly worry about other people's sex. And when you don't constantly worry about other people's sex, you're not only providing more freedom for them, but for you too! Think of all the other things you can do with your mind when you clear out all those thoughts about other people's sex. You could help world hunger or improve the environment. If you have deeply held religious beliefs, you could devote more time to worship instead of thinking about other people's sex. You could even think about your own sex!

Friday, March 14, 2014

I Like Pie

It's as American as apple pie. Yum. Pie. I like pie.

If you really appreciate pie, when you get a really good piece, you want other people around you who like pie to taste it.

Some people, when they get a taste of pie, want it all for themselves. They might share a tiny bite of their pie, but only with certain people they feel deserve it. Others might think only one flavor of pie should be served. Chocolate peanut butter caramel M&M pie? No, that's too weird for them and they complain, saying bakers should stick to traditional types like cherry or blueberry. You know, like it was in the good old days.

Well, back in the good old days, pie crusts were several inches thick, inedible, and pies were filled with stuff like pigeons.

We've made a lot of improvements in the world of pie. But some people want to go back to that thick, inedible crust.

I don't know about you but I don't want these crusty people who don't even seem to like pie writing all the recipes. We have more than enough pie to go around, regardless of how many people out there are trying to scare people into thinking there's a shortage. We also have plenty of people who want to focus on making sure that there are enough flavors available so that everyone can have something they like.

I'm tired of watching people sit with an entire pie in front of them and whine for another piece. I'm tired of seeing people crying out for just one small slice and being ignored while huge slices are given to those who already have enough pie to fill them up. I'm tired of some people being given smaller slices based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I'm tired of watching people be denied a chance to even choose from the menu.

The apple pie we consider oh so American actually came from England. We've made it quite a bit sweeter over the years. When we truly love something, we don't just keep it all to ourselves. When we truly love something, we want to share it with as many people as possible. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Power to the People

We had a major ice storm here in my area last week. We were without power at our house all day Friday and most of Saturday. We got our power back late Saturday night and there was a message waiting for me, an invitation to speak at the Forward Together/Saving OurSelves rally for voting rights.

I had two days to prepare. I knew what an honor it was for them to ask me and I knew this was an amazing opportunity to talk about pre-registration, an issue that often gets lost among the other huge issues that have come about due to the recent voting law changes here in our state. I pieced together some words and hoped my message was worthy of the invitation to represent the young people of NC.

I got to Raleigh and I went to watch the buses arrive with all the people who had come from Alabama and were making their way to DC. There were quite a few kids getting off the buses. That made me happy. I always love seeing kids, especially little kids, at these events. It gives me hope for the future.

The rally began. It was surreal standing on that stage with so many great people. Many of those people have known struggles I will never know. That's why restoring the voting rights act is something I feel strongly about. I want our nation to make a promise that people will never struggle in that way again. We've overcome so much to get where we are and we still have a long way to go to promote equality in America. We shouldn't be going backwards and we shouldn't be sending a message that the blood that was shed to get us where we are today was shed in vain.

It felt like all of ten seconds passed before Reverend Barber was announcing me. I got up to the podium and started talking. Then, just as I was ready to go into my speech, the wind blew my speech away. I got it back and kept talking. Then, I noticed Reverend Barber was helping me hold my speech down so it wouldn't blow away again. That should have made me incredibly nervous but it didn't. I had one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our generation standing behind me and I heard his voice saying, "That's right" along with the crowd as I was speaking. I cannot put in words what that feels like. In that moment, I felt the true meaning of leadership. It's more than just words or deeds. It's an energy that radiates out of someone and empowers others. I should have felt so small in that moment, but I didn't.

My generation has a great responsibility. We've been given so much by those who came before us and we must carry that legacy forward. That's why I hope as many people as possible will stand with me in encouraging young people to participate in the voting process and help make the kinds of decisions that will provide us with more true leaders. We can build a beautiful future if we move forward together.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Open Windows in a World of Closing Doors

All over America, women are facing attacks on our rights, our access to birth control and safe abortion procedures. Certain elected representatives want to waste taxpayer dollars in an attempt to force women to make the choices they want them to make, instead of investing in things that can make a difference in preventing unwanted pregnancies and helping women who want to get pregnant to have healthier pregnancies and better lives for their children. One of those things that can help accomplish these truly pro-life goals, goals that I myself believe in, is education and opportunities for teens like myself to talk about sex in very frank and very real ways.

I know far too many teenage girls who are clueless when it comes to sex. It's not their fault really. Their parents live in a false reality where telling them to "wait until marriage" and not trusting them around members of the opposite sex is going to keep them from making "bad choices." I know more than one girl who has gotten pregnant despite living in a very strict, very conservative household. There are many more girls I'm really worried about. And the really sad thing is, many of these girls are having sex and not even enjoying it.

Even teens like myself, who can talk to their mothers and even their fathers about any topic they want to discuss and come away from the discussion without feeling judged or having bars put on their windows sometimes want to keep their thoughts and questions private. Sometimes, before we approach adults in our lives to have discussions about sex, we want to make sure we're going into those discussions well-informed. Sometimes, we also want to hear what other young people are thinking and get their opinions.

Enter Scarleteen. This website provides comprehensive information about sex and a place teens and young adults can go to ask questions. Some examples of current questions and topics: I'm 14 and want a baby. Is that weird or slutty? , Body and sexuality disconnects with disability, I like fantasizing about it, would I like it for real?, His religious beliefs are no condoms, but I need them, what do I do?, and An Infection getting worse and worse, can I just wait it out?

In order to keep doing what they are doing, Scarleteen needs funds. From their Tumblr blog:

"With no radical change in giving and support immediately — and a change that is permanent, not just reactionary — Scarleteen as we know it, and as our users use it, may just be over."

For me, personally, having access to this website has made me more conscientious about decisions regarding dating and sex. Having access to information like this has made me realize I don't want or need a "boyfriend" at a young age and can enjoy dating and having relationships focused on enjoying life and built on mutual respect. It's reinforced the idea that sex is not something I want to rush into, be pressured into, or something I do just to satisfy my own curiosity. Having access to information like this has taught me a lot about my body, about my feelings and how normal they are, and has made me think about topics I never would have thought about otherwise. Most importantly, it's given me a way to help other teenagers, teens who can't talk to their parents or are too ashamed to go to other adults in their lives.

I hope Scarleteen is able to continue to do all the good work they do. I hope anyone who is in the position to donate will consider doing so. With all of the scary things happening right now in regards to access to birth control and clinics, I feel it's more important than ever that one thing that's not limited is access to information.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

We Support Kalei Wilson

On Friday, I got a message from my friend Mark about Kalei Wilson, who gave up her dream of starting a Secular Student Alliance at her school because she and her family were being bullied and threatened.

Mark and I got together and made a video that we released on Saturday, along with an open letter to Kalei. We are asking everybody to make videos or blog posts to support Kalei and title or tag them "We Support Kalei Wilson".

I have friends who have been bullied. One of my friends just left her school because the school would not help keep her safe. In Kalei's case, her school is continuing the bullying by not acknowledging that Kalei feels hurt. Instead of trying to help or comfort Kalei, they are joining in with the bullies and trying to hurt her even more.

This is about equality. It's about helping people when they need it. It's about asking yourself, "What can I do to help make this person happy or, at least, less sad?" It's about choosing at the very least not to inflict more pain on someone who is already in pain.

Kalei should be able to depend on the adults at her school to show support for her. She can't count on that. Let's show her she can count on each one of us to do something, one small thing. Kalei should be able to walk into school and know she isn't going to be teased, tormented, and threatened by the other students. She can't count on that so let's show her she can count on us.

I know what a difference it can make to get a message of support and how much of a difference just one message can make. Imagine for a moment what could happen when Kalei goes online, Googles "We Support Kalei Wilson" and sees an outpouring of love and support. Imagine the difference that can make. Imagine the difference you can make.

This song is for you, Kalei. I love you.