Nowadays, it seems like you have to qualify for almost anything you do. Want to drive a car? Study, take tests, get a license. Want to get a job? Study, take tests, get a degree. Want to buy a house? Fill in forms, apply for a loan, get approved. Want to work with children and teenagers? … Actually, it seems no qualification is needed for that.
The gay that didn’t get ironed
At a christian summer camp in Northern Iceland, teenagers were told that the staff would not iron their hama beads because the artwork had the word „gay“ written across it. After a bit of fumbling about, the staff explained to the teenagers that God doesn‘t like homosexuals, and that homosexuality is a sin. Therefore – no hama beads.
It should be noted that the summer camp is run by a small religious group, not connected to the state church of Iceland (who has in the very last years become somewhat tolerant towards queers). Even so, news of the sinful hama beads led to an army of online commenters agreeing with the staff.
I often wonder if the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to humanity, or the worst thing. I think about this when I read comments that can only be categorized as hate speech – sprung from ignorance that is next to incomprehensible at the peak of the information age. Where is all the tolerance we boast about? Where is the progress?
Even though it is very relevant, I won‘t go into all the other things the Bible says it‘s followers must or must not do, and they choose to ignore. After all, the teenagers were not writing things like „education for women“ or „disagree with your parents“ in hama beads. I guess that could have gone ugly.
But I digress.
The positive thing about the „big hama bead case“ is that according to news, the teenagers argued against the staff‘s perspective. Homosexuality became a hot topic during the camp. Árni Grétar Jóhannsson, the director of Samtökin ’78 (e.The National Queer Organization), said in an interview that it seemed heterosexual teenagers had in the end stood up to defend gays right to exist, against the staff.
And that is a very positive thing. If this is something to expect from most teenagers today, that could just be enough to restore my faith in the human species, every time I accidentally read the comment-section below an article about queer matters. If anything symbolizes progress, it is the voices of these teenagers.
Times are changing and kids are too
„Kids today are kinder than they were,“ my friend Signý said to me a few days ago. Many years ago we had been working together at a different summer camp (we didn‘t have any hama beads at all, as I recall) and she had taken a job there this summer, after going back to school to earn more degrees. I lent her a hand for a couple of days and told her I found it harder now to keep the kids attention, than it was almost 20 years ago.
She pointed out she thought other changes outweighed that one. „They are much more accepting to anyone that‘s different from them. It doesn‘t matter how different someone is, they look past it. That was not the case when we used to work here before. They would outcast anyone they didn‘t identify with immediately.“
This gave me even more hope.
It later dawned on me that we (me and Signý) didn‘t really have any qualifications to mentor kids at a summer camp. Sure, we‘d both worked with kids before – she had even taught at school – but there wasn‘t a single test we had to take to make sure we weren‘t filling their minds with all kinds of nonsense.
Not that I think we would, but the same goes with the staff that wouldn‘t iron the hama beads. They had no-one to answer to. If they thought they should tell their campers that homosexuality is wrong – nobody would stop them.
(At this point I must say that every staff member at „my“ summer-camp must agree to have their criminal record made accessible, and undergo a state-mandatory seminar that teaches protocol if they suspect a child is exposed to any kind of violence or neglect. I would like to think that the staff at Hama-bead camp has to undergo at least the same routine.)
I don‘t know if the case of the hama beads will affect the summer camp in question. Will the demand for staying there go down next summer? Or will this make the camp more attractive for some? I doubt the religious group will change their believes overnight, so if the camp is still running next year and the subject of homosexuality comes up – perhaps in pottery or woodcarving this time – I think we can predict the staff‘s opinion.
So … and I know I‘m speaking from one side of the table … I guess it‘s up to us parents to get to know the agenda of every institution we consider having our children come in contact with.
Making the difference clear
After being fed up with news in the Icelandic media about how homosexuals are not welcomed in the scouts, another friend of mine, Inga Auðbjörg, had to act. Even thought the news were about Boy scouts of America, she felt it reflected badly on scouts in Iceland, as she felt most outsiders wouldn‘t know the difference.
While Boy scouts of America is run by a religious group, more or less, the Icelandic Boy and Girl Scout Association (first scout association in the world to include both) has it written in it‘s law that it does not discriminate against anyone, based on „race, skin color, gender, language, religion, political views or other views, nationality, origin, wealth, family, sexual orientation or other reasons.“
„First and most I want it to be absolutely clear that we welcome everybody, unlike Boy scouts of America,“ Inga said in an interview. She used Facebook to get together a group of scouts, borrowed a trailer from a rescue team, got permission from the Association and had an entry in this years Gay Pride, with scouts waving rainbow flags and signs that all pointed to the same message: We do not discriminate.
„Everyone brought a lot to the table and used their talent for the whole thing to work. It was also beautiful to see the consensus for this project within the Icelandic scout movement,“ she added.
So, there you have it. Two recent examples where young people have stood their grounds and spoke up when they felt it was the right thing to do.
In the beginning, I meant to write about how a young mind is a fragile thing, and how we should all try to shield our young people from exposure with discrimination, like queer-phobia, racism, etc.
But, the more I look at these two examples, I realize I got it the wrong way around. I probably don‘t even need to worry about the future. Our young are not in the back, being guarded by an army of us (as Björk would put it). It‘s them guarding the fortress. It‘s them at the front lines, convincing the opponent it‘s time to end the war.
.. With hama beads.