A couple of weeks ago Equality Utah invited my 7 year old son to give a speech about his family at the Capitol as part of their Family Rally. Riley was excited to participate. His first response was, “How big will my stage be and how many people will be watching me?” He’s a ham. He’s an extrovert. But he is only 7. I wasn’t sure he could pull it off.
He started practicing his speech right away. I saw him in the walk-in closet the next day standing in front of the mirror hollering, “Freedom. Freedom! We live in America and we’re supposed to have freedom!” That night he told me and his Mama Kim that he was going to need our help typing his speech because he kept forgetting what he wanted to say. So after dinner, Kim and Riley went downstairs and Riley dictated his speech to Kim while she typed out his words. He practiced every night. He edited his words. He put the right emphasis on the right syllable and each night he wowed me in my living room.
We were running late the day of the rally. So by the time we walked into the rotunda at the Capitol, the rally had already started. There were a couple of hundred people there. Suddenly Riley looked terrified. We took our spot at the side of the room and that’s when Riley noticed them.
The camera crews.
He beamed. He whispered in my ear, “I wore this sweater because I knew the news was going to be here. Mom! I am going to be on the news. I know it.” His anticipation and excitement returned and the fear seemed to subside.
Equality Utah introduced Riley as “a man I have known since 2004. A man who has been a life-long activist.” Riley beamed and stumbled to the front because he insisted on carrying a music stand to hold his speech on. He seemed awkward as he fumbled with the microphone. And then he began.
Hi. My name is Riley.
I am 7 years old, and I have a little brother named Casey.
We have two moms. We are a family.
We take care of each other.
We hug each other.
We play together.
We do chores together.
We eat together.
And we love each other no matter what!
At school I am learning about freedom.
I am learning that in the United States we have freedom.
But sometimes I don’t feel like we do.
I think that freedom means we can have the family we have and people shouldn’t say mean things about us just because we have two moms or two dads.
I think that in families like mine, two moms or two dads should be free to take care of their children.
That would make those families feel more safe.
I am lucky because I was born in Massachusetts so both of my moms are my legal moms.
I am thankful that they can always protect and take care of me.
I wish that all of the children in families like mine could feel safe like I do.
This would help me believe in freedom more.
Thank you for coming tonight and please don’t stop working to change the adoption laws so there can be freedom in Utah and Liberty and Justice for ALL!
It was perfect. He was perfect. Pride dripped down my cheeks and I quickly wiped them away. And sure enough, his first speech was captured on several news channels. One channel even asked if they could get a comment from him. I wasn’t sure at first but Riley was bouncing with excitement. “I have to do it Mom.” He said. And we let him.
He couldn’t wait to get home and see himself on television. He called relatives to remind them to watch the news and he told each one. “Have you ever known anyone who has been on tv? Well now you do.” We let him stay up to see the 9 O’clock news and then tried to get him to sleep despite his excitement. We assured him we’d record the news at 10.
As we tucked him into bed he told me, “Tonight someone told me I should run for President. And you know what Mom, I’m thinking about it.” I gave him a squeeze and stepped aside for Kim to get her snuggles. “I’m changing the world.” He told her. “You sure are.” She replied.
As we stepped away from the bed to turn off the lights, Riley sat up. Suddenly he looked concerned, even scared. “Do you know what I am a little bit worried about?” He asked us.
“What?” Kim replied.
“I’m afraid that I might be assassinated.”
“You mean, if you became President?”
“No. I mean, what if someone saw me on the news and they weren’t a free thinker. A lot of people who tried to change the world were killed. Like Martin Luther King Junior. And John F. Kennedy.”
I had hoped he was expressing a regular age-appropriate fear. You know, like the fear of the boogie-man. Only the boogie-man to him was embodied in hateful homophobia. But as we talked, I came to understand that he really just got it. He gets the impact of oppression, even more than I realized at first. So while we assured him that most people would be respectful to him and wouldn’t hurt him. We talked about how most people who don’t support his family are still good people. Then we told him we’d do everything we could to keep him safe. And we reviewed safety rules just to assuage his anxiety.
But really what do you say to a 7-year old who asks you that? Especially after you run out of things to say, and he says, “I wonder if you could ask Martin Luther King Junior if all he did was worth dying for, what would he say?”
I told him it was a good question, one to be pondered while he slept. As we shut off the light, he said just one more thing. “I think he would say it was worth it.”
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