LGBT Parents & Allies

12-Year-Olds Can Speak Up Against Injustice Too!

by Sean A. Watkins

These days, it’s not every day that a 12-year old brings me to tears. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you that last time I talked to a 12-year old but I’m sure I would have probably chastised the kid for living in a new digital age and not being able to appreciate the wonders life has to give outside of a computer or phone screen.

So when I came into work today and my Acting Director told me there was a video of a 12-year old speaking for marriage equality in Utah, I knew I had to see this — if for anything, to regain hope in the youth of today.

And wow, my heart and soul was touched!

Riley Hackford-Peer, you are an inspiration! But more than that, you are a FIGHTER! A fighter who knows how to weigh the options of both sides of an argument, choose the side he believes in, and speaks up about it.

Let me say that again, SPEAKS UP FOR IT!

After I watched Riley’s message, I started to think immediately of all the haters who would have something to say to him for speaking out.

And sure enough, I scrolled down to the deep dark hole that is of the YouTube comments to see responses like “Adopted and brainwashed. Sickening” and “Those women ruined those boys. My god those poor children.”

Well, let me be the one to say that a 12-year old is very well able to speak on issues he/she/ze* thinks is unequal and unfair. I can say this as a matter of fact because it was when I was 12-years old that I did my first standing up to injustice.

His name was Mr. Nardo and he was my 6th grade Woodshop teacher. I was 12 and I was being verbally harassed by one of my male classmates in the class. I told Mr. Nardo several times but he did nothing to make the boy stop.

So when the boy crossed the line and called me a , I picked up the stool I was sitting on and said “say it again!” in a way to put fear on the kid’s face.

Well, that finally got my teacher’s attention enough to send me to the Assistant Principal’s office. When I got there, I explained that I knew I was wrong for picking up the stool and threatening him but at the time, I felt I had no other choice since my teacher ignored me when the verbal harassment was going on. She sympathized with me but informed me that my mother would have to come in and a suspension was to be given to me for threatening my classmate.

I took the suspension, as there was nothing that I could say to stop that, but when I came back to school, I had a meeting with the Assistant Principal again outlining why I felt that it was unfair that I received a suspension while my classmate received nothing and furthermore, how it was unfair that my teacher not be held accountable for not listening to his students.

Fast forward 10+ years and I am still that same 12-year old kid who speaks out when he sees something that is not right.

I should mention that I don’t go around picking up stools and threatening people anymore (because let’s face it, violence doesn’t win) but for some reason, this memory has stayed with me as a source of inspiration on the harder days of my fight for social justice.

So, I share my story with you today as an example that a 12-year old really CAN speak out on what he, she, or ze thinks is not right without being “brainwashed” by their parents or guardians. That is not to say that my mom did not help shape who I am today (I owe so much to her for teaching me the true values of equality)—but it was never her decision for me to speak up about what was wrong about the situation. It was all of mine to make.

I have made the decision to devote my life to fighting for what I believe is right and though it has not been an easy journey, it is the only path I can see myself walking on.

Riley, you said that watching your moms marry on December 20th felt like fireworks bursting in your heart; well, watching you speak in front of that crowd about “love, family, and equal rights” made me feel the same way.

Your conviction to showing Utah that your family deserves protection just like “traditional families” can be heard in your voice and your public speaking skills rival some of the peers that I went to college with.

So today, I stand for you, Riley.

Thank you for using your voice to let others know that it is not right for a family to not be allowed equal rights just because of who they love. Thank you for telling the haters that you DO come from a loving family. But more than anything else, thank you for being a fighter for social justice.

I hope that you continue to talk out against injustices in the world and help make this world a better place for people like yourself, your moms, and your little brother. And hey, maybe in ten+ years, we’ll find each other working for the same cause — if your message is any reflection of what is to come in life for you, there will certainly be people like me listening to your voice

The word ze is used by some advocates and allies as a gender-neutral pronoun.