Big words. Bigger meaning. “Destigmatizing significance” has been a concept I’ve been mulling over since Sally Jenkins used it on February 10, 2014, in her piece in The Washington Post about Michael Sam coming out as the (likely) first gay NFL player. The piece is called “Michael Sam’s courageous decision to come out resonates from the NFL to Sochi.” She said that his “watershed act” has “enormous destigmatizing significance.” I could not agree more.
A definition of “destigmatize” keeps it simple in that it “removes disgraceful characterization” from something. Does this concept bring anything else to mind? I immediately thought of the Vote No and marriage equality campaigns that preceded the legalization of same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Remember those conversations we had with anyone who would listen (and some that wouldn’t)? They were a grand effort of destigmatizing significance. By putting faces to the people and relationships of the topics of same-sex marriage and equal rights, the conversations about why love matters to people who love people of the same sex removed disgraceful characterization of the GLBT community, one conversation at a time. But, with so many people out there having these conversations, the results were great and the ripple effect caused a sea change in Minnesota. Can we say that same-sex marriage is destigmatized in Minnesota? That the GLBT community is without disgraceful characterization? No, not entirely, but–like it or not–the legalization of it sure helps in legitimizing not only the relationships of this community, but the existence of the community, itself.
It seems that destigmatizing same-sex marriage perhaps had to come before we covered rainbow families more broadly. I don’t agree with marriage affecting the “legitimacy” or “illegitimacy” of children or families or bonds, but there’s a definite “horse” and “cart” in terms of the bigger picture in our culture. Marriage is what our culture tends to look to before it recognizes children as being part of a family unit, despite single-parent households and same-sex adoptive parents and surrogacy; despite the fact that so many families existed before same-sex marriage was–and is–legal. And now, after the legalization of same-sex marriage, we look to the increased cultural legitimization of same-sex marriage…and to the broader legitimization of same-sex parent families. That legitimization requires destigmatization: we must make these families more culturally significant by removing disgraceful characterization of them. And, to do that, we must continue to remove the disgraceful characterization of the GLBT community. It is probably more of an ongoing and circular issue than simply one of putting the horse before the cart.
Being a free magazine that is out on stands in hundreds and hundreds of locations as well as online, our audience could be anyone. I think about that as I plan content: what role does Lavender play as it is seen out in the wild? Does Lavender have “destigmatizing significance?” Can Lavender be a part of removing the disgraceful characterization of the GLBT community? Of same-sex couples? Of same-sex parent families?
When we were working on this first Children & Family Quarterly and I was considering the Rainbow Resources spread, I had a thought that we should incorporate some more child-like designs. You know, for all the kids reading Lavender. RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS AND GLITTER AND SCRAWLY HANDWRITING. And then I remembered that kids aren’t really our audience. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can be something to everyone who knows kids. I include some very adult topics in our issues and we throw in some swear words, so we couldn’t give ourselves a resounding kid-friendly rating. So, I kept my Backseat Art Director mouth shut and let the design fall how it may and it’s very “adult” and mature. I approve. It suits the audience.
And who is our audience?
There’s a difference between writing for an audience and recognizing who the audience actually is.
While we don’t write for kids, I hope that kids do pick up Lavender and see all of the examples of how to be part of the GLBT community that we present. Sure, there might not be rainbows or unicorns to signify what they should pay attention to, but they’re savvy. They can figure out what applies to them and what doesn’t. It may be in an obvious way, or an abstract way, or both. If they find a children’s book in this issue catches their eye, great. If their families look like Our Lavender Family in this issue, wonderful. But, if they read Nell’s piece about how ridiculous Putin’s anti-gay posturing is in Russia, even better. If they see themselves in any pages, in any way, that’s the best.
If kids feel less disgrace because of seeing themselves in our pages, we have truly achieved something of “destigmatizing significance” that will have lasting, cross-generational impact. If being a media platform of “destigmatizing significance” makes Lavender into the “gay propaganda” that Putin fears as having detrimental and negative impact on the children of Russia, then we are succeeding. If a kid sees in these pages that “It Gets Better,” we are succeeding.
Thank you for being part of the content that we package and re-present to the community, because the community–our wide audience–needs to see itself. It needs to see how the stigmas are loosening and being left behind. And it needs to continue this work to ensure that they stay left behind.
With you (and without disgrace),