The Portland Phoenix

The Universal Notebook: Gender identity in kindergarten?

I admit that when I first heard about the video dealing with gender identities for kindergartners my first reaction was, “Do we really have to talk about LGBTQ issues with little kids?”

But upon a little research and reflection, I concluded, “Yes, we probably do.”

The Maine Republican Party made a culture war issue out of a little educational video by claiming in a distorted campaign ad that the Maine Department of Education, and by extension Gov. Janet Mills, had spent $2.8 million on extremist videos. Rather than defend the “Freedom Holidays” videos, which also dealt with the Revolutionary War, women’s rights, and emancipation from slavery, the Mills administration capitulated to the GOP without a fight and had the video taken off the DOE website.

Kailina Mills, a former Whitefield Elementary kindergarten teacher, was paid a mere $1,000 stipend (not $2.8 million) to make the video – one of 400 on the DOE website for use as an optional educational aid. It was not part of any mandated curriculum. She was absolutely correct when she responded, “The most disappointing part of all of this is that the Maine Department of Education and Mills administration caved to pressure instead of standing up for some of the most vulnerable people, families, and students in Maine.

“Those children and those families deserve to be represented in their school curriculum,” Mills, who is not related to the governor, said. “Public schools are for everyone and should, therefore, include everyone.” 

So now Gov. Mills has openly opposed public power, tribal sovereignty, asylum seekers, and gender identity, and yet she still thinks liberals will support her because the alternative (another four years of bully Paul LePage) is too unthinkable.

I watched the “Freedom Holidays” video and found that Kailina Mills dealt tactfully and frankly with a difficult subject. Yes, she tells little kids that some women love other women, some men love other men, some people love people of both sexes, and that doctors sometimes are mistaken when assigning gender at birth.

But there is nothing there to freak out little Liam and Emma. Of course, the mere mention of the fact that nonbinary people exist might be enough to send their parents, Ken and Karen, into fits of fundamentalist rage. But, hey, if you believe in God then you must also believe that all people are as God made them.

Florida is the primary reason I believe Gov. Mills made a mistake banning the LGBTQ video for little kids. It puts her in the same category as Donald Trump wannabe Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law this spring. Florida teachers are barred from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Never mind that most transgender children begin dealing with issues of their gender identity by the age of 7. Maybe if we don’t say anything about gender it will just go away.

I tried to get in touch with Kailina Mills to discuss the “Freedom Holidays” videos, but I was unsuccessful. I was mostly interested in whether she anticipated the controversy. From what else I learned about her online I suspect she knew exactly what she was doing.

Kailina Mills was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and she co-founded the Goddard College Alumni Association that received a cease-and-desist letter last year from the Vermont college after the alumni voted no confidence in the Goddard trustees and president.

So, yes, Kailina Mills is out to shake things up. That’s exactly what we want from her generation.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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