The heart-stopping Glee storyline included gun shots ringing across campus, followed by tense moments as a classroom of students went into lockdown. As they cowered behind band instruments, most began to text and record goodbye messages. Dialogue was punctuated by sniffles and sobs.
Critics say the episode depicts school violence too soon after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Some members of the Down syndrome community protest the choice to have a teen with Down syndrome (played by Lauren Potter) at the heart of the gun controversy. They call it a step back for individuals with Down syndrome who fight negative stereotypes daily.
Still others are troubled by the rationale behind Becky’s gun-toting to school: She shares her fears that her future is unknown, unlike her friends who will graduate and go to college. “I can’t go to college,” she frets. Her teenage confidante doesn’t dismiss that assertion, but instead coaches her to prepare herself.
“I have to be prepared,” Becky tells Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, who tries to quell Becky’s fears by saying, “There’s always a place for you here.”
As Becky begins to hand Sue the gun, she accidentally fires it. Startled, she drops the gun and it fires again. She wasn’t intending to shoot the gun, and at no point does she express intent to hurt anyone. Sylvester takes the blame for the gun, never mentioning Becky, and is fired.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? One answer may not exist when it comes to a television show akin to “a train full of gum drops crashing into a cotton candy factory,” according to Melissa, a mom and blogger. She calls the show “just light and fluffy and goofy. If you watch it while never expecting it to be realistic, you'll probably enjoy it.”
A self-professed “Gleek,” Melissa has a toddler with Down syndrome. “To me, this episode was more about crummy writing to get rid of Sue temporarily [because Lynch is heading to Broadway] than about any of the issues they tried to tackle.”
Some parents object that the character Becky isn't held accountable for her actions. “If the point of having her take on that role was to show that she is fully integrated with her peers, then why not have her… suffer the same consequences that any other student would face?” asks Stacey, who also has a child with Down syndrome.
The day after the episode aired, Potter’s mother, Robin Sinkhorn, posted on Facebook: “Where are the comments from our [Down syndrome] community that talk about how Glee trusted Lauren Potter, the actress, with this emotional and dramatic role, and that she absolutely rocked it?“
“We want inclusion for our kids, but do we only want it if it is comfortable? Lauren the person would never bring a gun to school, as most typical kids wouldn't, but this was an acting role, not real life.”
Sinkhorn addressed criticism that options exist for teens with intellectual disabilities graduating from high school, as well.
“The feeling of fear of the unknown, and of the future are very real for Lauren, and I think for every young adult, but this absolutely showed that guns are not the answer… ”
Melissa agrees: “For kids with disabilities, I'm not sure the future is so clear. Yeah, they have that transition plan, but it must be scary to think about leaving the people you know... I think the episode inadvertently highlighted an issue: There are still major barriers to the future of kids with disabilities.”
Bridget has a 21-year-old son with Down syndrome who lives independently, attends college classes and has a full social life. Bridget points out that while more than 100 colleges have post-secondary programs for those with intellectual disabilities, “It is still very rare for someone with [Down syndrome] to obtain a college degree.”
Ultimately? “People are talking! That is a good thing!” Sinkhorn wrote. “What we should also be talking about is how to keep guns out of the hands of all kids... Lauren and I love our [Down syndrome] community… We are sharing the message around the world that people with [Down syndrome] are more alike than different.”
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