Start the Conversation: LGBTQ+
By Barbara Kaye Friend. Photo by Cecilie Johnsen on Unsplash
Guest blogger Barbara Kaye Friend is a Los Angeles TV writer. She co-founded Alphabet Hour, a collective of LGBTQIA+ artists sharing work in an encouraging space. She’s also on the steering committee of the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity, an organization committed to accurate and authentic representation in media.
As parents and caregivers, it’s never too early to teach our kids that they deserve to be loved for exactly who they are, and that other people deserve the same respect. Each day, we have the opportunity to model love and acceptance and to set a compassionate example for them.
When LGBTQ identities, issues, and history are left out of our larger conversations, it can negatively affect how our children see themselves and the LGBTQ community as a whole. This may lead to feelings of shame, confusion, and “otherness.”
On the flip side, when we promote an understanding and celebration of LGBTQ people, we create a safer and more open society for everyone. Most of us know someone in the LGBTQ community. Some of us or our children (whether we know it yet or not) might identify as LGBTQ. But no matter how you identify personally or who you may know, we encourage you not to shy away from having conversations on LGBTQ topics, big or small, with your kids.
In the Bernice Bing issue, we introduce important LGBTQ+ education (preview this specific content here). The following guide expands on the subject, and includes tips and talking points to teach your kid to be an LGBTQ+ ally. It also shares valuable resources to support your LGBTQ+ child.
PART 1: EXPLORING IDENTITIES
Our gender identity refers to who we are: girl, boy, both, or neither. Our sexual orientation describes who or how we love. With help from Welcoming Schools, let’s take a look at some of the wonderfully unique kinds of people in the LGBTQ community.
- Agender: People who do not have any gender at all.
- Cisgender: When your gender identity is the same as what doctors/midwives assigned to you when you were born (usually girl or boy).
- Genderqueer: People who challenge the ideas of what it means to be a girl or a boy. Some identify as neither gender, some as both, and some along the gender spectrum. They sometimes use pronouns such as they, them, theirs.
- Non-Binary: People who do not feel like the words “girl” or “boy” fit. They may feel like both or neither. They sometimes use pronouns such as they, them, theirs.
- Trans or Transgender: When your gender identity is different than what doctors/midwives assigned to you when you were born (usually girl or boy).
- Asexual: People who might not love (or be attracted to) other people, or who do so differently than others. Asexuality refers to how you love, not who you love.
- Bisexual: People who love (or are attracted to) people of more than one gender.
- Gay: People who love (or are attracted to) people of the same gender. Often describing two men.
- Heterosexual: People who are women who only love (or are attracted to) people who are men. Also, people who are men who only love (or are attracted to) people who are women.
- Lesbian: People who love (or are attracted to) people of the same gender. Usually describing two women.
- Pansexual: People who love (or are attracted to) people of any gender.
- Intersex: An umbrella term that refers to people who are born with bodies that are naturally different from what is traditionally considered a girl or boy. Intersex is not a gender itself but a status (whether someone is intersex or not), meaning there are intersex girls, intersex boys, intersex non-binary people, etc.
- Queer: Queer is a more flexible term. People use this word to identify with a number of LGBTQ genders and orientations, or to describe the LGBTQ community as a whole. When used in a mean way, it is a word that can hurt someone’s feelings.
- Two-Spirit: An umbrella term for someone who has both masculine and feminine spirits. This term is only used to describe Native American and Indigenous people who fit this description, and refer to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or spiritual identity.
To learn even more about the many people under the LGBTQ umbrella, and to find nuanced definitions for older kids and adults, PFLAG’s glossary is an amazing resource.
PART 2: LGBTQ TALKING TIPS
If you aren’t already well-versed in LGBTQ identities, the ever-changing and ever-expanding umbrella might feel like unchartered territory. It’s helpful to remember that as long as you’re promoting love and support for all LGBTQ people, you’re on the right track!
Here are some other things to keep in mind when talking to your child:
- Meet your child where they’re at. Rather than feeling like you have to have a very special, very serious “LGBTQ Talk,” just be more inclusive in your everyday conversations with them. For example: Talking about families can be a time to explain that other kids might have two moms, two dads, non-binary parents, or only one parent or caregiver. Signing up for a “girls” or “boys” sports team can be a time to explain that not every child identifies as a girl or a boy (and might encourage you to see how you can help non-binary and trans youth athletes in your area).
- You can even start by incorporating more LGBTQ themes and characters into your family’s bookshelf. Common Sense Media has a great LGBTQ reading list for kids of all ages.
- Give space for your child to ask questions. Letting them navigate the conversation on their own terms can help pinpoint their level of understanding on LGBTQ topics and might lead to more nuanced discussions and self-discoveries.
- Let go of the gender binary. The gender binary is the falsehood that there are only two genders: boy and girl. Also, let go of the idea that "biological sex" is connected to gender identity and any other ideas of what people “should” be, look like, or dress like, or what pronouns “match” their gender.
- In general, it’s a good idea to start conversations around gender as soon as possible, as our kids will be exploring their own gender at an early age.
- Teach kids to use and respect the names, pronouns, and identifiers that others have said they wish to be called. And practice doing the same. Know that it’s okay to ask! And accept that these might change over time for some people, as gender and sexual orientation are fluid.
- Try to discourage your kids from asking invasive questions or interrogating LGBTQ people about their identity. This includes asking about clothes, anatomy, or medical history. Kids are going to be curious and shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to know more, but that’s why it’s important to have these conversations at home so that they’re less likely to put others in an uncomfortable situation.
- Ask your child if they would like to attend a Pride event or volunteer with a local LGBTQ center or organization. Not only is this a super fun way to spend a weekend, it’s also another conversation starter and the perfect way to show that there is no shame in people being their truest selves. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
PART 3: RESOURCES FOR PARENTS & CAREGIVERS OF LGBTQ YOUTH
For some of us, these kinds of conversations might lead to our child coming out (if they haven’t already) or questioning their own identity. If this happens, the most important thing you can do is let your child know how much you love them exactly as they are. And secondly, know you’re not alone and that you don’t have to have all the answers right away. There are many resources to help you, your child, and your family as you navigate your kid’s identity.
- “Quick Tips for Supporting Your LGBTQ Kids -- And Yourself -- During the Coming Out Process” from PFLAG provides a helpful list of steps and reminders.
- “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics” from the Human Rights Campaign provides not only a guide but also lists valuable mental health and medical services for you and your child.
- For parents and caregivers of intersex youth: InterACT has created a number of guides for families, friends, and medical professionals on how to protect and support them (especially from dangerous, irreversible procedures often performed on them as babies).
- Valuable resources specifically for your LGBTQ child include the Trevor Project, the It Gets Better Project, and the LGBT National Help Center youth talkline.
The LGBTQ community faces a lot of challenges and types of discrimination, and LGBTQ children are especially vulnerable. According to the Trevor Project, 71% of LGBTQ youth have felt discriminated against for their identity, and 54% of trans and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide.
That’s why it’s so important for all of us to do our part to make LGBTQ people feel safe, loved, and supported. These small conversations we can have at the dinner table or while our kids are getting dressed in the morning can play a huge role in making our world better for our LGBTQ friends, neighbors, and loved ones. Why not start today?