How the Minions Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights

This is a picture of my 5-year-old son Bennett wearing his favorite hoodie. It was a gift somebody bought for him, so I’m not sure where it came from, but it does appear to be an officially licensed product.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

He loves this hoodie because it has the Minions on it, of course, and because of that, he doesn’t really care what the words say. If it said, “I love naps”, he would still wear it. Or “Feed the boy wearing this shirt broccoli”. Yup, he’d put that on, too, because it’s the Minions, and anything associated with them must automatically be cool.

But it doesn’t say those things. It says, “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it.” My 5-year-old son wears a shirt that features a rewriting of a chant used by so-called radical gay rights activists in the early 1990’s. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” In 2015, somebody thought the slogan was a) well-known enough and b) child-friendly enough to use on an article of children’s clothing.

Just think about that.

Queer Nation, the group that originated the slogan, was formed in 1990 in New York City. They were tired of gay bashings and of people ignoring AIDS because they thought it only affected some deviant subculture. There were no “straight allies” back then, no TV news coverage for gay rights. In those days, you could be a loveable mainstream person in the public eye and openly say things like, “Those people got that disease as a punishment from God.” Say that, and you’d still have a career. But if you said, simply, “I’m gay,” you were finished.

The people in Queer Nation weren’t just saying it, they were shouting it, and they were letting you know the problem was yours, not theirs.

In 1990, I was a college student in New York City, and I remember what it was like for battalions of angry gay men to march through the streets yelling, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” It scared the shit out of people.

Of course, my kid doesn’t know his shirt features an (admittedly not very clever) play on a confrontational gay chant. He just likes the colorful corporate property depicted in the graphic.

Last night, my daughter was reading the words on his shirt, over and over, and cracking herself up. “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it!” She thought it was hilarious, but I knew she didn’t really get the joke. And it’s not like I could explain it to her.

Could I?

Then I thought about when one of their African-American friends came over for a playdate. I was going to turn the TV on for them, when this sweet little preschool-age girl informed me that she wasn’t allowed to watch a certain network because they don’t have any African-American characters on it. My kids didn’t know what she was talking about, so I explained it to them. “It just doesn’t seem fair that there are so many different kinds of people in the world, but they don’t always get shown on TV. We know lots of people who look different from us. Don’t you think there should be TV characters who look like them?” I kind of loved that this girl’s mom was so frank with her about racism even at her age, and that, as a result, my kids got a lesson in it, too.

So why not gay rights?

We’re gay dads, after all. It’s not like this issue isn’t going to come up at some point. I’ve resisted discussing homophobia with my kids for a while because, among other things, I didn’t think they would believe me. We really don’t get treated badly because our family is non-traditional, at least not that I think my kids would have noticed. Sure, sometimes, people are confused by our family. Kids tell them that two men can’t get married, and even grown-ups sometimes think my children are lying when they say they don’t have a mom. But as far as I know, they’ve never actually witnessed homophobia. Everyone we know and deal with regularly treats us just like every other family.

I also thought about something else my daughter had said at dinner. “A boy in my class today did this with his hand.” She held up her middle finger. Some kid in her kindergarten class had apparently flipped the teacher off. We had a talk about how that wasn’t a nice gesture to make, something she had already figured out when the boy got sent to the principal’s office. So my kid now knew how to flip the bird… and I was worried about her hearing the word “queer”?

Then I realized this didn’t need to be some big angry rant about The Man keeping us down. It could just be a history lesson. It’s a topic that’s all over TV. Why shouldn’t my children hear about it from their own parents?

“Do you know what Bennett’s shirt means?” I asked them at dinner. They shook their heads. “You know how some men are like me and Daddy and they fall in love with other men? And some women fall in love with other women? Well, there’s a word for that, ‘gay’. And some people don’t like that. They don’t think people should be gay. They think men should only marry women and women should only marry men. So they made up a mean word so they could be mean to people like us, and that word was ‘queer’. Well, a long time ago, some gay people got tired of people being mean to them, so they made up a chant that went, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’ It was like saying, ‘If you want to call us names, go ahead, but we are who we are, and we’re not going to let you be mean to us anymore.'”

I think that’s about as far as I got before they started asking what was for dessert. I felt better, though, because, if nothing else, I had shared something truly amazing with my kids. In just 25 years, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” has gone from a defiant middle finger to the mainstream to something alluded to on a sweatshirt that a 5-year-old boy (a boy with two dads, no less) wears to kindergarten.

I can’t help thinking how many of the original Queer Nation activists didn’t survive the AIDS epidemic. They weren’t here for gay marriage, gay sitcoms and the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, for a time when an openly gay man can host the Oscars and an openly lesbian woman can have a beloved daytime talk show. When you can finally say “I’m gay” and still have a career, but if you say, “I wouldn’t go to my friend’s gay wedding,” then everyone thinks you’re a major weenieburger.

If I could show those fallen heroes one thing to illustrate how far we’ve come, though, it wouldn’t be any of those things.

It would be this picture, of my son in his favorite hoodie.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

“Holy shit,” I imagine they’d reply. “They got used to it.”

* * * * *

Do you like the things that I say and the way that I say them? Did you know you can read a lot more from me in my book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”? Do you have any idea how happy it would make me if you did?

And if you just like this post and have no interest whatsoever in anything else I’ve ever written, then why not share this post with all your social media friends by clicking on the share buttons below? Then, when they all start commenting with things like, “I love this!”, you can say, “Oh yeah, he wrote a book, too. I just ordered it.” And then you can order it. I won’t tell.

27 comments on “How the Minions Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights

  1. Love this Jerry! I hope that somewhere out there in the universe, anyone who struggled so hard to bring attention to basic human rights, knows the difference they made. Great post & opportunity to enlighten your children. Now, what’s for dessert?

  2. Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    A fantastic post from one of my favorite gay dads. I like the reference to Queer Nation, I participated in Queer Nation events in Boston in the early ’90s. I remember the chant “Mommy Mab” quotes very well! Thanks to the author’s son’s shirt the chant has come full circle to be paraphrased by Hollywood to move merchandise. Enjoy this fun and informative post!

    • Admittedly, I oversimplified that discussion in my post. She made the statement, and then I named an African-American character who actually is on the network. So I don’t know if the 4-year-old was confused, if her mom was or if this one character wasn’t enough representation and her mom still made her avoid the network. But that’s why I didn’t name the network. The point remains that the mom was discussing race issues with her daughter, and I admired that.

  3. What a great dad! Maybe if more people started the discussion early with their kids we would have less issues with bullying, etc when they get older. Love ya!

  4. Jerry, truly all of your posts are like nuggets of solid gold!

    Personally, I do believe that all the members of Queer Nation that have since died would be very happy to see how many people got used to the “queerness.”

    I must admit, being called “queer” does not bother me. Being called the “f” word, however, does, but I digress.

    Indeed, we have come a long way, baby!

  5. Pingback: How a Hoodie Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights | Drowsy vs. Baby Tenderlove

  6. Hey Mommy Man! I was there too! Act Up, Queer Nation, marched on Washington. Love seeing parents living OUTloud. Check out my blog if you like, we have some commonalities.

  7. nicely said my friend. I have seen that slogan on with sport logo as well. The same mucho jerkers who bash are now where “A mets fan a here get use to it” you guys c u in a couple of weeks

  8. I loved this. There is something completely amazing and soothing about a childs view of the world that, unfortunately, we all lose. You have very lucky children to have two dad’s who would share something so hard for them to understand in a loving and encouraging way. Thank you for being the kind of parent more people should strive to be.

  9. I don’t specifically remember all the talks my parents had with me about deep life lesson stuff… what I do remember is mulling it over in my little brain, from time to time over the years when circumstances would arise. I would remember when mom or dad had told me something…. It might not have sunk in completely in their short-attention-span minds right then and there, but the seep has been planted. Good job! I love the hoodie too!

  10. I love reading the way parents are helping their children understand all the complex issues they will be facing as they grow up. The most interesting thing to me is when you’re talking about sitting at the table having supper and you try to gently move into uncharted water with the littles. Your approach is the same as mine and I am in a straight relationship which seems like such a shocker to certain people. The kids listen, nod their heads and then wonder about dessert because honestly that’s about how interesting these ridiculous issues are to them. All of the bigots and racists out there should take a lesson from our kids and that is, maybe all of the things they’re hating and judging should be less of a concern to them since in reality who someone marries or loves is none of their business. Kids understand that so why can’t adults? Keep fighting the fight and I will too. I love your blogs! Maybe we should all be more concerned about dessert…

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