After a year like 2020, how does one approach 2021? With low expectations, since anything would be better than 2020, or with high, since we feel we deserve a little recompense for the year gone by?
For myself, I am trying to remain open to what the new year will bring. I am cautiously optimistic about the Biden administration’s ability to make positive change for our country and to effectively address the pandemic. There is still much work ahead: continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing; taking care of those still being diagnosed with COVID-19; distributing the vaccine and educating people about why they need to get it; and helping people and businesses (especially small businesses), through the economic repercussions of the pandemic. Pandemic aside, we need to enact legislation and regulations in many areas to offset the backward steps taken during the Trump years; continue to combat the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since its beginning; and otherwise strive towards the vision of a country where all are truly free and equal. We need, too, to take strong steps to slow climate change so that we can pass on a green and healthy planet to our children.
Dare we hope there will be further progress towards LGBTQ equality, like passing the Equality Act to enshrine a broad sweep of LGBTQ protections in federal law? That would be progress indeed. There will regardless remain danger for LGBTQ families in the coming year, though, most notably from the U.S. Supreme Court, which this past fall heard a case that could give taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies the right to use their religious beliefs as reasons to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others. That would reduce the number of otherwise-eligible parents for children in need of homes, could result in LGBTQ youth in care being placed with unsupportive parents, and might open the door to religion-based discrimination in other areas. The decision is expected by the end of June.
We need to continue, too, the work of educating those around us—from health care workers to teachers, coaches, and many others—about LGBTQ families. It can be tiring, yes. We have made such progress that it sometimes feels as if everyone should just “get it” already. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re in the PTA. I’ve found, however, that sometimes even the most well-meaning folks still sometimes stumble over the right language or could use some guidance on inclusive books and other resources. Perhaps it’s our burden as this particular generation of LGBTQ parents to be the guides that people need. Perhaps that’s one of the gifts we give to our children.
Speaking of books, the past couple of years have seen a tremendous surge in the number and scope of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books, which shows no sign of stopping. I’m already looking forward to a number of new titles this year—stay tuned for reviews! While children’s books may not seem as important as political progress, I think their publication—and the response to them—have long been indicators of the general response to LGBTQ people and our need for equality. Nor should we minimize their positive impact on LGBTQ children and those with LGBTQ parents as well as their peers. Representation does matter.
Yet our assessment of a year is driven by more than external social, political, literary, and epidemiological happenings. Our years may include new children; milestones of their childhood; marriage or divorce; illness or deaths of family and friends; and other events for better or worse, which all impact how we feel about this lap around the sun. For my own family, the new year will hold some bittersweet moments as our son goes off to college next fall. While I am bursting with pride at seeing him growing up and discovering himself, I will also miss the heck out of him while he is away. I want to give him space, even while he is still here—the kind of space every teen needs—but there is also part of me that wants to spend every possible minute together before he leaves the nest. I’ll try to find a balance that suits both of us—I can usually get him to hang out with me if it involves baking something (and dozens of chocolate chip cookies would help temper whatever else the new year has to bring).
2020 was indeed a year like no other. 2021 remains as yet unknown. Many of us are dealing with the loss of loved ones to the pandemic or for other reasons. Many are struggling financially. We are heading into the new year a little worse for wear and know there is no magic in the calendar suddenly flipping to January 1. (The Jewish and Muslim calendars have already begun their new years, for that matter.) The ills of 2020 didn’t disappear magically when the ball dropped in Times Square. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about feeling like we’re starting fresh and turning the page to a better future. We may take the time to reassess, make resolutions, and catch our breath before moving forward. Whatever 2021 may bring for you and your families, and for our country and the world, may it include joy, peace, and much love.
Originally published with slight variation as my Mombian newspaper column.