One of my jobs is at a community agency that serves mostly LGBTQ folks, where, among other things, I provide childcare at our drop-in center. The childcare space is off the lobby, and has a half-door that I usually leave open – like I did tonight, while I was in there with 4 children under the age of four. At one point, while we were all in the second room (with no access to the entrance door), the infant fell and started screaming bloody murder. I took her into the front room to calm her, and while she continued screaming, the other children wandered in to check out the action. Her cries also attracted the attention of someone else who was hanging out in the front lobby – a middle-aged man who came over to the half-door and kind of poked his head in. I barely made eye contact with this man, more intent on calming the screaming infant and getting the other kids back on track. So I turned away from the door and asked the other children to go back into the other room and find their snacks, and followed them in with the baby – who, distracted by the movement of the children, magically stopped crying.
I feel uneasy about how I acted toward the curious man tonight. My first priority as a childcare provider is for the kids’ well-being, which I accomplished by herding the kids into the back room (and also by not involving a stranger in an already-stressful situation.) And in the past, I’ve had strange characters invite themselves into the childcare, invading the children’s and my privacy. So I’m clear that I did the right thing tonight. What makes me uneasy is this: most of the folks that hang out in the lobby of this community agency are struggling with homelessness, mental illness, HIV infection, and other things that bring about social stigma. I’m sure that the clean, pretty mommies with their clean, pretty babies regularly shun these folks on the street, and I feel like I acted like the clean pretties tonight.
I know I didn’t act based on prejudice (I would have steered the children into the back room regardless of anyone being at the door), but part of being a community agency is supporting the people on the margins, not replaying the same stereotypes (i.e. middle-aged gay man as child molester) that harm these folks every day. It weighs on me that my actions came out looking like actions based on stereotype and prejudice.