Love and acceptance are learned at any early age and it's important for families to demonstrate these values to little ones from the beginning. Often times, omitting LGBTQ topics and issues from conversation can allow feelings of shame and negative behaviors take root, which are harmful not only to children, but to the LGBTQ community as a whole. According to Human Rights Campaign, "4 in 10 LGBT youth (42%) say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBT people." If we continue this trend of distancing ourselves from issues such as trans rights or gay marriage, our children will be the ones ultimately paying the price.
26% of LGBTQ children say their biggest problems are not being accepted in their communities, while 22% of non-LGBTQ children biggest problems are homework and and exams. This variance in the daily challenges and concerns of children can be lessened by teaching all children LGBTQ basics in a language they can understand. We've spoken with professionals as well a new mom, grappling with how to raise her son in an often intolerant world—read on for their take on how best to explain LGBTQ issues to your own children, as well as some helpful tips and tricks for tackling this sensitive issue while still holding true to your personal beliefs and identity.
Separate LGBTQ and anatomy topics.
The first step in introducing children to LGBTQ topics is separating them from the "birds & bees" conversation. Even though gender identity is somewhat associated with anatomy, it doesn't mean every LGBTQ issue is about body parts or sex. "I think it’s a part of it, but the LGBTQ talk is about understanding and acceptance, the birds and bees talk is about anatomy." says Maggie Robinson, 30, a new mom who's beginning to teach her baby boy how to love and accept all people regardless of any differences.
Start the discussion early on.
According to Javier Rosario, MSW, LCSW, a social worker who works with communities in the Central Florida area, "Healthy conversations early in life, just as the “birds and the bees,” will ensure that we create a safe space for our children to learn and grow. We should not judge how others love but rather embrace others for the content of their character. Let’s open our hearts, open our minds and meet our children where they are."
According to John Carroll, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City, the early introduction of these chats help to minimize any feelings of shame attached to these topics, due to societal influences. “Starting conversations with our children regarding current LGBTQ+ issues early on fosters a mindset of tolerance and inclusiveness throughout the child’s development," he says. "Children are very perceptive and will take their cues on how to interpret the information from you. Having calm, grounded, mindful conversations with your children, holding space for any questions they may have, allows the child to better understand the issues and build empathy and compassion for others.”
Utilize the great resources out there.
There are plenty of LGBTQ resources for children available on the web as well as at local centers, dedicated to helping little ones understand LGBTQ topics and issues even if they don't belong to that community. Web series like "Queer Kid Stuff" by Lindsay Amer are great for tackling these talks for children under the age of 10. Literature like "Marlon Bundo", written by Jill Twiss and published by John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, address LGBTQ themes in a hilarious voice that is perfect for both young and older children. There are also a slew of great children's books that are easy and fun to read.
Emphasize the concept of being an "ally."
Whether or not your child identified with the LGBTQ community, it's key for their development to understand how to get along with and support those who do, even if they're too young to truly know what it means to be an ally. "The importance of education for our children regarding views that are harmful, encourage discrimination, and hatred should be at the forefront of childhood development," Rosario notes. "Our children are the faces of our future and educating them proactively about the issues that affect the LGBTQ community—or any other marginalized community, for that matter—aids with establishing the foundation and comprehension of human equality."
Tackle these topics with conviction.
Don't be afraid of or minimize any of these topics. The more parents shy away from these crucial conversations, the more their children will ask, or (more dangerously) make their own assumptions based on what they hear from others. It's important to tackle their questions early on to show your children that you are not afraid and are a confident in your views. "If you think telling your child about LGBTQ issues has a negative impact, then you’re part of the problem." Robinson says. "You don't become gay—it's who you are. That’s creating the wrong dialogue. If you have that viewpoint, you need to reeducate yourself before you can educate your child properly."
Reiterate that tolerance is not acceptance.
Often times we confuse simply tolerating something to truly accepting it. In actuality, tolerance is being able to withstand something while acceptance is opening your heart to it. This is a simple but important lesson for little ones, and by showing them the difference, you make them less susceptible to hate, shame, and trauma later on in life.
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