Mar 26, 2013

An Interaction I Will Never Forget: Lessons from a Student

On a day which could (and hopefully will) forever change the way our country acknowledges marriage and gives equal opportunity to anyone who chooses to  participate, I want to share a story which will forever remain with me.

A few years ago I was working with a student on an assignment for their English 101 class.  This assignment required them to read several short stories about families and then write a paper on this topic.  I don't remember the context of many of the stories but I do remember one in great detail.  The story highlighted a couple raising two children and about to give birth to another child.  They (couple) talked candidly about their love for their children, the rules of their household and most importantly the love they have for each other.  They shared their daily routines, the million of after school appointments, the shuffle of schedules to get everyone where they need to be and their favorite weekend activities.  This story profiled what seemed like the 'All American Family:'   It was a same-sex 'All American Family.'

Throughout the story the couple referenced the ways in which they are not entitled to the same access of health care that those in a heterosexual marriage would have. Although they were married in Vermont they are living in a state which does not recognize their union as legal.  Therefore, (I cannot remember which state they were living in) they did not have the benefits from each others health care (amongst many other things.)  Both worked full time outside of the home but one had better health care than the other; for this reason the one with the better health care choose to be the one to have the baby.  This left the other woman devastated because that (being pregnant) had always been something that she wanted (the other two children were adopted.)  When the time came for the birth of the baby, the partner of the woman having the baby was told she was not able to be in the delivery room because she was not a related family member.  It was only after the child was delivered was she allowed to come in and visit with her partner and newborn son.  I cannot remember when this story was written but at the time this was standard procedure in this hospital.

As we finished the story my student had a lot of initial thoughts about the idea of same-sex marriage.  He did not believe in it and thought that marriage was meant for 'straight people.'  As a Learning Specialist my role was to strictly provide academic support and not guide or change his beliefs.  My job was to only guide his thoughts to help him decide on what he may want to write about after reading all of these stories.  Although my view on marriage was vastly different than his, I allowed for him to have his opinions and I keep mine to myself, which for anyone who knows me, knows this is hard!  Because I needed him to understand the main points of the article in order to do his paper, we talked in great detail about this article and I posed open ended questions which allowed him to think critically about what he had just read.  During this discussion it was evident that what really seemed to resonate with him was the inequality; that being married as a man and women gives them access to different resources (i.e. health care.)  He was really upset that the other women was not allowed in the room while her child was born.  I asked him what defined that child being her child since by DNA standards that child was not 'actually'  hers but only the women who gave birth (I obviously do not believe this but I was trying to open a dialogue with the student.)   He thought about this for a few minutes and eventually said, (this is paraphrased because I can't remember his exact words) "A family is about love.  I consider my friends family.  I also think my teammates are family.  I would do anything for them.  This couple is a family."  As I fought back tears I simply stated that, "I think you have your thesis for your next paper."  He left and I cried.

I will never forget this powerful meeting with this student.  It has forever change me because it was at that moment I felt he really understood that it's not about the gender, sexual orientation or sex of a person but it's about the love they share for one another.  That is the foundation for any relationship or marriage.  Although I feel like this student was just scratching the surface as it regards to his thoughts on  this topic, I felt so lucky to have been there as he had this revelation.  It was beautiful.  And just to make the story even more compelling, at the end of the semester in this class he was able to choose any topic to write about within the context of what had been discussed throughout the semester.  He needed to write a 5-7 page reseach paper on something related to family.  His topic: Marriage Equality.  As an educator, and a firm believer in this topic, I don't think that I could have asked for anything more.

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