Readers here — specifically, students — came to my defense over the weekend in a strong and thoughtful-to-the-last article. I was deeply disappointed to see that one of the headlines I was quoted in on Saturday was republished by CTV later the same day, inaccurately implying that I had been told by my teacher that I shouldn’t ever come back to South Africa. In fact, I asked my teacher if I could come back to the program, as I wanted to explore my issues and plan ahead, but he said I was not allowed to do so. If the CTV headline made anyone feel this way, I apologize for the incorrect information.
I disagree with my teacher, but I agree with the importance of making sure any sensitive issues are treated with great care. However, this is just one person’s view on a specific circumstance. It is easy to see why there might be concern when people learn that this teacher said women were not allowed to be in their country, one of my favorite countries, and people could be expelled if they tried to visit the country. However, that is a red herring for a much more simple — yet importantly true — lesson we should be learning.
The fact is, anywhere in the world, it’s a risk when you are traveling, and any woman of any age could be told that what you do and who you love must be kept private — even if that’s your right as a woman and citizen of the United States. Of course, we are all free to make our own choices and do what we want, but when you are in a very specific situation, like a pregnancy or a child, and you face a time you don’t feel safe returning home, it’s important to think carefully about how to protect the children you have at home.
There are a few ways we can help to shield children in our country from discrimination. First, we need to make clear that being gay or being transgender isn’t a choice. We should protect all people against all kinds of discrimination and violence, whether it is based on class, race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. When laws are up for reauthorization, Congress should make it clear that discrimination on the basis of any characteristic is prohibited. We need to make it clear that the LGBTQ community and its loved ones are not an exception to the rule.
Second, we should ensure that there are protections for children living in situations where they face a terrible threat. While there is no law that guarantees all children will be safe, we do need to take care that our laws create a community for kids where they feel safe from potential harm. Although we need to take care when an elected official says something that seems extreme, we also need to take care of the most vulnerable children in our country.
Lastly, we need to help parents educate themselves. When we go back to South Africa, we should take care to educate ourselves as well. This is more important than ever, as new gun control legislation has the potential to hurt children. No one can undo the bad decisions parents make about guns, but we can take steps to help, even if it means questioning preconceived ideas about guns and gun control.
Travel is a time for the joyful discovery of other cultures and new ways of life. This is also a time for doing our best to share the most information we have about these two things, as other cultures are different and tools to help children navigate this world are important. We do this as a society all the time, and the only difference is that it’s rare to receive international criticism, which is why taking care of our children as well as protecting them from harm is a great thing.