The Future is Kids’ Stuff

NSUC Minister Responds to Recent Anti-Transgender Legislation

Rev. Lucas Hergert

Preached at North Shore Unitarian Church

March 26, 2023


Scripture Reading—Mark 10: 13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.



Little Annie, the waif from Les Mis, Tiny Tim. We might think about the different cultural images of the Child that pop into our heads. Often these represent fragility and a need to be protected. Often they represent a nostalgic portrait, something that adults wish they could return to. They might also represent hope for a future that has yet to arrive, that is only a day away. These are persistent images and ideas of the Child. The investment in the image of the Child as icon of the future is culturally pervasive. So much so that cultural theorist Lee Edelman remarked that we should just make Whitney Houston’s “I Believe the Children Are Our Future” our National Anthem and be done with it.

Cultural representations do not always line up with the lived experiences of actual people. And this is true for childhood. One might simply look at the wide diversity of approaches to parenting that are touted today. These include anything from restrictive measures to keep children in line to what has been called “free range” parenting. Often they have radically different concepts of the needs of children. Sometimes these are grounded in developmental psychology and sometimes they are grounded in the idiosyncratic biases of caretakers. Oftentimes, they are rooted in the fantasies that we have of childhood and what childhood should be. For better or worse, that fantasy of the Child can function to control the lives of actual children.

But the fantasy of the Child has impact beyond the lives of children. Indeed, it has often functioned as a method of social control. LGBTQ people know about this hypothetical fantasy Child well. The legal scholar Anthony Neidwiecki wrote a policy paper called “Save Our Children: Overcoming the Narrative that Gays and Lesbians are Harmful to Children.” In that paper, he writes, “Gay rights opponents were effective, winning almost every ballot initiative from 1970 until recently. They were successful because their political campaigns focused on how gays and lesbians were harmful to children. From equating homosexuality with pedophilia to claiming that schools would be required to teach about and promote homosexuality in elementary schools, they spread false facts and information.”

I will give three quick examples of what he is talking about:

First, when Anita Bryant ran her campaign in the 1970s, she sought to outlaw protections for LGBTQ people. She also sought to ban gays and lesbians from teaching children. And does anybody know what the title of her campaign was? It was the Save Our Children campaign.

Second, when I was growing up in Cincinnati, the city passed an ordinance. It was called Article 12. This ordinance prevented Cincinnati from passing any protections for LGBTQ people. This would have included protections for employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and even hate crimes. To pass this, I remember very well the signs that were posted around Cincinnati. They read, Protect Marriage and Children.

Third, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston sought to prevent same-sex couples from receiving health benefits. His rationale was that recognizing same-sex relationships by giving them benefits would harm families and children. He was willing to harm actual families and children to make his point. This was before he resigned from his post because of parish clergy abusing children under his watch. This list of examples could go on ad nauseum.

But rhetoric about the Child is also not limited to gays and lesbians. When integration was happening, much of the rhetoric was about how white children needed to be protected from the influence of people of color. There was an image of the white Child as being fragile and corruptible, which is why it needed to be protected. It is interesting that this rhetoric rarely comes out when nonwhite children are being considered. For example, immigrant children who face deportation or Iraqi children facing war and starvation rarely muster the energy of a moral crusade—of a “Save Our Children” campaign. Perhaps this is because it is harder for people in power to imagine those children as “ours.”

The recent spate of anti-queer and anti-transgender legislation focuses heavily on children. One arm of this legislation is about education. As we have seen in Florida, the Don’t Say Gay Bill has prohibited conversations about sexuality and gender. And what we often hear in defense of this is that we need to protect the innocence of these children. They are too young to understand that someone might have two parents of the same gender, or that someone might change their gender.

We would do well think about what Child is being protected by such sheltering. Because some of these children are and will grow up to be gay or lesbian or transgender. So it’s clearly not those children that this law is protecting. Instead, it is a hypothetical Child, one that fits into this fantasy of what a Child should be. And on the way to protecting that hypothetical Child, we end up harming actual children. For kids who grow up to be gay, not having any sense that they might belong, that their orientation and identity is sacred and worthy—that’s cruel.

This week we passed Transgender Day of Remembrance. And this same month, Idaho passed the law that outlawed gender-affirming treatment for minors. Now I’m not saying that that conversation is uncomplicated. I think it is one that requires careful consideration from parents, doctors, as well as the young person in question. But one thing that I do know is that when children are not able to affirm their own sense of gender identity, their risk for depression and suicide increases greatly. This is just simple documentable fact. And so not to allow parents to have conversations with doctors, and to allow families to make those kinds of decisions, is also cruel.

The theorist Lee Edelman, in his book No Future, calls the idea of the hypothetical Child of Ponzi scheme. And this is because the idea of the future Child never arrives. Instead, one generation passes the fantasy onto the next. And in the meantime, lots of people get harmed. The rhetoric insists that trans and gay kids don’t matter, that there’s something wrong with them, and that if we just refuse to believe that they exist that they will go away. That’s what will save the future Child who will never arrive.

I say it’s better to call the bluff. To refuse to sign up for the Ponzi scheme. Instead of protecting the future hypothetical Child that will never arrive, I want to protect real children. I want to protect real gay and lesbian kids who can no longer check out books from the library that show them their lives might get better. I want to protect trans kids from draconian legislation. I want to protect immigrant children who are at risk for deportation. I want to protect children from the harms of climate change. I want to protect real children from the epidemic of guns in our country.

I suspect that if Jesus were alive today, he’d probably say something similar. Because he didn’t like people who insisted on purity at the expense of those who were suffering. Instead, he often hung out with the people whom society rejected. And so let’s end with the gospel passage from Mark, edited just a bit.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. This is because the governor had passed a law against assisting trans kids. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the trans children come to me, let the children who feel the sting of racism come to me, let the children scorned by discrimination come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a trans child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

He did this because the children that matter are the ones right here, right now. The future is just kids’ stuff.

Tags: , ,