Rear view of people in the pride parade. Group of people on the city street with gay rainbow flag.

When I moved to Dallas in 1992, I volunteered for several nonprofit organizations: I stacked food on the AIDS Resource Center food pantry shelves. I was an HIV counselor at the Nelson Teredo Community Clinic. I created four monthly newsletters. I sat on the boards of the Dallas Gay & Lesbian Alliance, Couples Metro Dallas and others.

I was an activist–fighting for our community, fighting for equality.

Fast forward to 2008: My husband Tony and I adopted two boys through the foster care system. We believed our job as parents was to advocate for our kids. LGBTQ+ parents often have to become activists because we have to be comfortable being out and protecting our kids.

Everywhere from doctors’ offices to schools and community centers, we had to be honest and inform these folks that our kids have two parents of the same gender. It was important for our boys to see that we are proud of our relationship, family and community. 

Today, the fight continues, not just here in Texas but across the country.

In Texas, our LGBTQ+ community is being attacked at the legislative level. The score in the 2023 Texas Legislature so far is 104 “good” bills to 93 “bad” bills, according to Equality Texas.

The “good bills” would protect the rights of LGBTQ+ Texans. The “bad bills” would take those rights away.

What are some of the “bad bills” lawmakers have proposed? One example is the bills introduced in both houses that would block transgender children’s access to medically necessary transition-related health care. Another example is lawmakers’ efforts to classify businesses that host drag shows as sexually-oriented establishments. One conservative has even introduced a bill that would allow someone who, as a minor, attended a drag performance to then turn around and sue the hosts and performers.

As parents, this infuriates my husband and me and reinforces our need to be advocates for our kids and for all children. 

Our sons have friends who have transitioned, and they benefited from drag queen story time over the years. They attended schools that addressed sexuality and gender identity to various degrees. Thanks to these experiences, they have a better sense of who they are and more respect for diversity and inclusion.

I believe we have a responsibility as parents to prepare our children for a diverse and changing world. Limiting their exposure to people who are different from them does them a disservice. Young people today experience the world through social media, which is global and diverse, and without some personal experience in their own lives with diversity, their ability to understand and participate in this varied and ever-changing global community is dangerously stunted.

As parents, we need to advocate for all children to develop the skills and attitudes they need to be successful in this changing world. 

I never thought of my parents as activists. But my mom advocated strongly on behalf of my siblings and me, and I learned the importance of advocating for your family from her.

I learned the importance of being an activist for our family and our community through the process of adopting our boys. Our kids deserve the right to be prepared for their future, whatever that might be.

“As parents, we need to advocate for all children to develop the skills and attitudes they need to be successful in this changing world.”

Leo Cusimano

The legislators working on these discriminatory bills are trying to return the country to a time that no longer exists. They don’t understand that the world is becoming more diverse, and our youth are looking at their identity through a different lens.

They cannot put the genie back in the bottle, so their efforts will not be successful in the long term. However, they can do a lot of damage in the short term. That’s why we need all parents to advocate for their kids and be activists for all children. 

What can you do? Get involved. Make sure you know who sits on the board at your children’s schools and keep up with the policies and proposals the school board is considering. When they start talking about taking certain books off the shelves or trying to restrict the history students learn to some sanitized version of the truth, stand up, speak out and fight back.

Pay attention to the laws and policies being proposed at every level of government–from your city council to your county commission to your state legislature to Congress. Speak out against those “bad bills”–the ones that try to take away not just your rights but anyone’s rights. And speak out in support of the “good bills.” 

And above all else, vote–in every election.

Our vote can be our loudest and most effective voice, so use yours wisely. Educate yourself on the issues and the candidates and vote.

Leo Cusimano is the owner and publisher of Dallas Voice.

Leo Cusimano is the publisher of Dallas Voice.