Lately, our family has been dealing with a lot of questions about transgender issues and LGBTQ awareness.
I write for a local LGBT + Ally magazine. My kiddos find LGBTQ and identity conversations to be healthy, but it didn’t happen by accident. My partner and I have made it a point to discuss LGBTQ issues with our children. We want them to have the facts they need to make good decisions and be good citizens.
If you’re interested in raising children who are sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ community, this blog post is for you!
Five Way You Can Raise An LBTQ Ally
An ally is someone who advocates for their friends, family members, and the community.
1. Don’t Assume What Your Kids Do or Do Not Know
Ask them! As a parent, I have instilled in my children the values I hold dear. But how do we know our words are sinking in? We have regular conversations. There’s always room to ask questions. We clarify things they don’t understand or have heard from another source (I’m looking at you, YOUtube).
Sure, it’s a little uncomfortable to strike up a convo on tough topics. See if you can find ways to incorporate LGBTQ awareness into regular activities.
Social media works to your advantage on this one. I’ll find a good conversation starter on Facebook, then tell whatever kid is in the room to “Come here; this is so cool!”. It might be this video by Lindsey Amer which explains what LGBTQ means and is part of a series called Queer Kid Stuff. Sure, they might roll their eyes and inform you, “I already know this, mom!” But you’ve let them know you’re open to talking about it in the future (and who knows if they already knew?!).
Heck, what’s an LGBTQ ally? FYI: It’s someone who supports the civil rights of the LGBTQ community.
2. Be Blunt! Your Kids Can Handle It
Any school-age child knows feedback isn’t always nice and warm. Peers and some of their teachers likely haven’t mastered the skill of being kind all the time. While I praise my daughter’s leadership and organization skills, her peers tell her she’s “bossy.” When I point out my son’s mensch-like qualities, he hears a “goody-two-shoes” jab by a classmate.
My point? Kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for! Instead of going the roundabout way of discussing sexuality or gender identity, say it already! Not feeling your sea legs on this one? You need practice! The New York School of Medicine’s Child Study Center suggests practicing these conversations with your spouse, friend, or another family member.
“These are often difficult topics to broach, and speaking frankly with your child about sex and sexuality does not come naturally to most people. Your child will pick up on and respond to your level of comfort with the topic.” – NYU School of Medicine, Child Study Center
The practice won’t make perfect, but that’s ok! Your kids are bound to throw you a million curveballs in life, and this might be one of those times. Stay true to your values and be an LGBTQ ally. Because trying to be a good person is what matters.
3. Be on the Lookout for Reinforcing Stereotypes (and fix them!)
Now, I know that everyone reading this blog is as progressive and open-minded as the best of ‘em, but you’re likely carrying around some subconscious prejudice. LGBTQ awareness is about checking in with our oh-so-enlightened selves to make sure we aren’t inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes in the ways we talk, act, and move through life with our children.
For example, I use gender-neutral language with my kids when we talk about things like dating, marriage, and relationships. Instead of referring to my daughter’s potential future partner as “he,” I use “they.” I also say, “Whoever you decide to marry” instead of “Whoever your husband is.” A friend of mine recently shared with me that whenever she started dating someone new, her mother would say, “So, tell me about him or her!” Even though it was embarrassing for her at the time (and there never was a “her”), it let my friend know that her mom was supportive – and an LGBTQ ally.
It’s also important that pejoratives like, “that’s so gay!” or calling someone “homo” are anti-LGBTQ. LGBTQ awareness fights back against these stereotypes!
Even if your kids don’t use that language, they are exposed to it at school or elsewhere in the community.
As WelcomingSchools.org points out, when children see anti-LGBTQ of behavior in school, and it is not corrected, it sends the message that it’s acceptable. It also teaches LGBTQ youth that they cannot expect protection at school. Explaining to your children how bad this language can be is a critical step in shaping them as kind and empathetic citizens, so make a list of words that are harmful and ban them in your home and family life.
2022 edit: A reader who runs an LGBTQ youth group recently let me know they’ve been finding this LGBTQ resources link helpful, should you have an older child.
4. Start Reading
Curated lists of LGBTQ supportive books for kids of any age to enjoy are a Google search away. I honed in on A Peacock Among Pigeons by Tyler Curry, which is an LGBTQ themed book that explains how to stand out when you can’t fit it. I also liked The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Leslea Newman. This book shares the story of Roger, who loves exploring the world around him and finds most things “fabulous!” But his parents don’t agree, and they want Roger to see the world as they see it, so they ban the word from his vocabulary. Check it out to discover its fabulous ending! You can also see the Advocate’s list of 21 LGBT Picture Books Everyone Should Read for more great books.
5. Get Involved in Your LGBTQ Community
Whether you want your kids to be LGBTQ activists or have LGBTQ awareness, getting involved in local events can benefit everyone. Pride Month is a great time to get involved, and there are a lot of family friendly activities. Find a family friendly LGBTQ event near you here.
Remember that raising healthy, educated children takes a little effort and a lot of understanding. There will be hard conversations for sure, but, showing your kids that you’re willing to listen and respond to their needs makes all the difference in the world.
Melinda Lejman is a native Memphian, supermom and freelance writer. She specializes in human interest, non-profit development, and blog content. Melinda is a regular contributor to Focus Mid-South Magazine and a daily practitioner of the art of imperfect parenting. Read one of Melinda's recent pieces on LGBTQ issues here.