Teachers and administrators at Sierra Charter Foothill School in Mariposa County, California love a good play, but the events and attitudes surrounding a recently canceled production are tired and just played out.
After narrowly missing out on the chance to host last year’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit, the school booked this year’s tour early, excited to treat first and second graders to a fun and educational experience.
But when news began to circulate that this year’s show is And Then Came Tango, parents began to freak out. What could make adults this crazed over children’s theater? “Gay themes,” of course.
Tango tells the story of the real-life Roy and Silo, two male penguins who formed a bond akin to their male-female-paired peers, engaging in mating rituals and trying to hatch a rock. The zookeepers in the play end up letting them incubate an orphaned egg, which they do so “to loving fruition.”
Outraged parents interpreted the themes of family and acceptance as indoctrination. Buckling to pressure, the school board ended up canceling the show altogether.
One dad had a decidedly different take on the situation. Rob Watson, a writer for The Next Family and father of two, penned this response, getting to the heart of the ugly truth:
Dear Sierra Charter Foothill School Community,
I was horrified to read of your recent actions around the play called “And Then Came Tango,” which depicted two penguins who loved each other and then saved, hatched and nurtured an orphaned egg. Your principal stated that the play “does cross the line for what parents think is appropriate for school.”
At the school board meeting, parents made comments like “It’s about two men. They raise a baby and I don’t agree with that.” Your community members described the family image in “Tango” as “social engineering” and “promoting” homosexuality. The consensus was “I want to teach my kids what I believe in my home that’s it.”
The family depicted in “And Then Came Tango” is mine.
We are not penguins, and my sons were not hatched, but aside from those set-decorating changes, it is us. My oldest son was born six weeks prematurely to a heroin-addicted mother. My younger son was found abandoned by his drug-addicted mother in a trailer where he had been uncared for two days. My spouse and I had so much love between us that we wanted to extend it further. We adopted these two babies who needed us.
The love I have for my sons is the most profound I have ever known.
That is our story, and it is reflected in the factual story of the penguins in the play. The penguin real life story occurred in 1999 at the Central Park Zoo, and they met with the same intolerant attitude that your community is exhibiting. Homophobic people rose up and demanded that the penguin family be broken apart. They felt what had happened naturally was somehow “sending the wrong message.”
The “Tango” story is about love. My family’s story is about love. We are people, we are not ideas or theories for you to “agree” or “disagree” with. My sons are not experiments nor are they part of some agenda to “promote” a brand of sexuality. I would never disrespect your children by characterizing them as “talking points of heterosexual sex acts” and I expect the common decency from you to not classify my sons similarly.
Just for the record, my family is not alone. There are thousands like us in the state of California. We are your neighbors. Just like the orphaned egg in the story, there are also thousands of kids who have been abused or neglected in our state. A Cambridge study found that there is only one parental profile family that chooses to create a family using foster care/adoption as its first choice — that profile is a two male led household.
My sons are both wonderful boys — bright, charming, caring — and have both been taught to be good citizens in their school community. Even though it is clear that they would not be welcome, your school would be fortunate to have two such as them within it.
All your kids are going to come to school and share with others about how they came to be in their families, LGBT kids do the same. My sons, like other kids from differing family structures, fully grasp the concept of mutual respect between families. It is the principle where we listen to each other and find common ground, not a focus on our differences.
It is a concept that you have just voted down. It is a lesson you have yet to learn.
As for “Tango,” theater arts are meant to illustrate, illuminate and shake their audience from pre-conceived notions and feelings. This play was brought to you not so you can judge and censor it, or the families like mine that it represents, but so you can watch and grow from finding out about us. It asks you to consider that a family is driven more from the hearts of its members than it is from their genitals.
Last year, your school was upset that it missed out on the road tour of a production of the classic “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I wonder if you would have caught the message of that play and how it too affirms the creation of families such as mine. I am sorry you did not see it, as you might have taken a glimpse of what it means to be a “real” family. You would have heard this:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once…You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Tango was not seeking your approval, it was a gift for you so that you could start to see things more broadly and appreciate the diversity in this world. It was ready to show you what is truly real, something like my family.
By your actions, you have shut down a great educational opportunity.
That opportunity was not for your kids, it was for you.