By Executive Director Lisa Olcese
May 26th, 2016
June is just around the corner, which means National Pride Month is almost here too. As this important education and advocacy campaign picks up, there will be Pride parades, fundraising opportunities, and many ways to show your support for the LGBTQ (that’s “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning”) community. If you’re a parent and/or an all-around trusted adult, this and any “awareness month” can also serve as a great reminder to learn something new about the issue, make commitments to act, and have a more direct impact on promoting respect, curiosity and inclusivity among the loved ones in your life.
Yes, I’m saying it’s a great time to talk to your kids or the kids you care about.
When it comes to talking to young ones about sex, many parents are too overwhelmed (You mean I have to say “penis” and “vagina” to my kids?!) to even think about how to address sexual orientation and gender identity. On top of that, there’s increasing research recommending that these conversations start earlier - around ages three or four - and there are lots of resources to learn age-appropriate ways to do so. As a result, you set a solid foundation of acceptance and inclusivity for a young person’s positive sexual development, and bonus! You open up an important line of communication between you and your child.
Talking to children about these concepts doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and even when children are very young, the learning can go both ways - between child and adult. Here are some key points to keep in mind for initiating this conversation.
- Be proactive. If they don’t learn it from you, they’re going to learn it somewhere else. That’s why it’s so important to open up that line of communication early on - you want to be the first to introduce them to these sensitive topics, not the TV, social media, or one of their misinformed peers. The good news? Young people want to hear this kind of information from their parents! Research shows that young people named their parents as their #1 influence when it comes to sexual health. So even if it’s awkward - and ample eye-rolling ensues - know that they’re listening to you.
- Don’t assume anything about your child or his or her development. Young children may not be aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity yet - or maybe they are! It’s impossible to tell, so don’t jump to conclusions about your child’s experience. Make it clear that all sexual orientations and gender identities are ok, that you are there to support them, and that you are an open resource if they ever want to talk about what they are feeling.
- It’s not complicated. People can be any gender and can be attracted to anyone or no one. Young children especially don’t have the ingrained bias or political baggage that many adults do, and they don’t need a long explanation for this simple concept.
- Treat everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter how someone is different from you - maybe it’s their sexual orientation, maybe it’s their hair color. Regardless, everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect.
- You can’t determine someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity just by looking at them. There are no personal traits that always indicate a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity - not their voice, not their choice of clothing, not their taste in music. The only way to know this information about someone is if they tell you.
- There is no such thing as a “normal” way to be a boy or a girl. There are no inherently male toys, clothing, colors, habits, etc. -- just like there are no inherently female preferences either. Anyone can do or like anything, regardless of whether it aligns with gender stereotypes. Once we learn/re-learn how to see and appreciate people for who they are, as they are, it’s the stereotypes that become “abnormal.”
- Families are made up of all kinds of people, and there is no “right” family model. Some families have a mom and a dad, some have two moms, some have two dads. Some have one mom or one dad. Some parents are transgender, some are cisgender (a term for someone who has a gender identity that aligns with what they were assigned at birth). Some have multiple moms and/or dads...you see where I’m going here. Every possible family composition is normal and healthy.
- Cultivate curiosity. Many parents I’ve talked with say that sometimes the questions surprise, amuse or shock them, but when they remember that they have two jobs - to invite and then to just answer the question, as directly as possible - they navigate the conversation more effectively than they ever thought they could. If you get a question that throws you off your game, ask a clarifying question, don’t embellish and most definitely don’t be afraid to say you don’t know - just be sure you commit to finding out.
I want to conclude with a special shout-out to all the LGBTQ parents and trusted adults out there - for you, it’s not an awareness month that provokes these conversations but rather your everyday, lived experience. Hopefully, these conversations are awesome and affirming (“this is just how love is”) but they can also be challenging, scary and/or enraging as you teach your child about the bigotry and intolerance that still exists (sometimes within our own extended families). Please know that you are not alone and we will work hard to educate the parent and educator alike to be everyday allies and activists. For all of us, let’s talk with the youth in our lives - this month and every month - and affirm who they are, teach them respect, and everyday ways to challenge inequities and promote inclusivity. Happy Pride!