I have a lot of gay friends.
I don’t mean that in the way your brash co-worker does before spewing something like “… But I just don’t get why anyone would want to watch dudes pretending to be chicks on RuPaul’s Drag Race!?” I mean it like, half of my closest friends identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. I went to a drag show in Palm Springs the same week my girlfriend’s wife had a baby and I debated the artistic merits of Kesha and Ariana Grande with my gay neighbours while we shopped for their future egg donor on a website. This is the norm for me. I exist in a rainbow bubble where love is love, whether you find it on Grindr or Tinder. (And Kesha > Ariana ALL. DAY.)
It is from that very bubble that I nonchalantly decided to make a video celebrating Pride Month with kids.
I always inform their parents what we’ll be discussing and I am endlessly entertained by their candor. I was particularly blown away by our conversation on Pride. I couldn’t believe how educated, accepting and open-minded these kids were. To them, gay marriage was just “normal marriage” and the notion of having two moms simply meant, “You don’t have to flush the toilet for the boys.” These kids were WOKE AF.
When we wrapped filming, my producer Jason Yantha (who also happens to be one of my aforementioned gay BFFs) wasn’t just blown away, he was moved. This was not the attitude his peers had when he was growing up as a gay kid in Ottawa. This was a new generation of young Canadians who have been taught to love without judgment. The kids in our video gave us hope that we were moving towards a more accepting future. We couldn’t wait to share this uplifting message with the world.
I posted the video on Friday, June 1, the first day of Pride Month, then sat back and waited for the positive feedback to roll in.
‘Corrupted bitch’ was quickly topped by ‘evil devil’, ‘angry jewess,’ ‘nasty pedophile’ and ‘sick fuck.’
These were not the “YAAAAASS QUEENS” that I expected. And as the views started to grow by the millions, so did the angry comments. By Monday, my social channels were riddled with death threats, insults and hate towards me, my beliefs, my twin babies. I didn’t let it bother me—it’s happened before—and irrational internet trolls are easy to ignore. Especially when they can’t spell.**
By Tuesday, it made international news. This was harder to ignore.
Dozens of right-wing “news sites,” radio shows, web channels and podcasts from around the world were filling their feeds with a very different spin on my video. If you don’t have 12 spare hours to read their critiques in French, Spanish and Hungarian, I’ll give you the gist, rather than give them the clicks:
“This is sick,” says a source in a post published on LifeSite, a pro-life news hub. “To use young children to push the gay agenda is monstrous and manipulative.”
Right-wing talk show host Pat Gray told his American viewers, “Jessi Cruickshank has a SEETHING AGENDA… to indoctrinate these kids about gay Pride… she’s telling them they should all aspire to grow up and BE GAY.”
And readers of conservative news site Canada Free Press agreed, writing, “This VILE woman: CROOKSHANK, is hijacking the minds of 5 year olds for her perverted sexual agenda… an agenda promoted by the LIBERAL LEFT.”
Death threats are scary. This was even scarier. These news sites were not just commenting on my video, they were using it as propaganda. They were turning the video I had created to spread a message of love into a vehicle to spread their message of hate.
I had unwittingly become a part of what I’ve since learned is called “hyperpartisan news,” overtly and unashamedly partisan media sites that write pieces designed to reinforce their readers’ biases. These sites can lean far left or far right, they have tens of millions of Facebook followers and reach as many—if not more—eyeballs than “their better-funded counterparts in the political media,” like CNN or The New York Times. Oh, and politically partisan stories that solicit anger often generate more shares than mainstream news—regardless of whether they’re factual. So, if a person with conservative views and anti-gay beliefs sees a headline in their feed that says “CREEPY VIDEO INDOCTRONATES CHILDREN FOR ‘PRIDE MONTH,’” you better believe they are clicking. Then sharing. Then calling a redheaded stranger a “corrupted bitch.”
Suddenly I understood how large swaths of our society have come to fear immigrants, deny climate change and elect Trump. How our culture has become increasingly polarized because of our ability to consume only content that confirms our pre-existing values. How my friends and my feed are so liberal-minded, that I was able to put out a video talking to kids about Pride without it ever occurring to me that it might not be universally beloved.
On the first day of Pride Month, my blissful rainbow bubble was savagely popped. I was devastated to encounter this prejudice and fear. I was horrified that my video was being used to reinforce that prejudice and feed that fear. And that’s when it started to make sense.
To someone who is already homophobic, there must be NOTHING SCARIER than watching children talk about “gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual’ people like its NO. BIG. DEAL. But in the face of all this hate, therein lies the hope.
The children in this video are a hopeful reminder that it is human nature to accept those who are different from us. That we are born to love and taught to hate. These kids have no fears or biases or pre-existing beliefs. They don’t have Facebook feeds filled with fear-mongering headlines or inboxes brimming with hyperpartisan news. Their views, their compassion, their inherent acceptance of others regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation comes from their parents, from their communities and ultimately, it comes from their hearts.
So, call me “evil,” “monstrous,” a “corrupted bitch.” Comments can be deleted, articles will disappear and eventually my video will fade away… but these kids are our future, whether you click “like” or not.
**Editor’s note: LGBTQ people regularly experience relentless and horrific abuse online and in real life, which was not acknowledged when this piece was originally published. This was an oversight on the behalf of both FLARE and the author and one for which we sincerely apologize.
More from Jessi Cruickshank:
Jessi Cruickshank: This Is What Happens When the #MendesArmy Attacks
Jessi Cruickshank on her Scary, Miraculous, #NotPerfect Pregnancy
Jessi Cruickshank on Finding Out She Was Pregnant Over FaceTime