Tell Your Children about Gay People
A friend of mine has a four-year-old son, and although it exposes my own internalized homophobia, I have to admit that the first time we had my friend and her family for dinner, I worried. What would they tell Noah about me and my partner?
I’m used to heterosexual parents, who say they’re fine with gay and lesbian people, fumbling with what to say to their children. Many times I’ve heard, "This is so-and-so and her friend," followed by a quick subject change, or worse, shushing of a child’s continued questions. I sold my friend short, however; she knew what to say.
My friend told her son Noah very clearly that this is the home of Miss Julie and Miss Kim and we were celebrating a very special event with their family, Passover. Noah, at four, didn’t need much more information. He knows that we live together, and we are a family like he and his mother and his father. He’ll get more information as he grows up.
Noah is one of the many reasons I always look forward to our Passover seder. Each year, Noah participates more in the seder; already he is asking about when he can find the afikomen. It’s these traditions, these shared, family traditions, that are going to make a difference for gay and lesbian people and our acceptance in the larger world.
While our Passover table has never been as uncomfortable as the dinner table in Little Miss Sunshine, the movie demonstrates the same principle: it’s fine to tell children about gay and lesbian people.
In Little Miss Sunshine, at the dinner table- and over the protests of her father- Olive’s uncle explains to her his suicide attempt and that he was in love with a man. She dismisses his love for another man, but Olive’s life has been changed. She now knows gay people exist. As she grows up, she’ll learn and understand more, but for now the existence of gay people, the possibility of love between two men, exists for her. That changes her world, and it changes our world.
Sometimes heterosexual people ask me how they can support gay and lesbian rights. I’ve fumbled in the past, but now I know what to say: tell your children, or your grandchildren about gay and lesbian people. Make it simple and straight-forward. Do it with words they can understand, but tell them. Make the families and relationships of your gay and lesbian friends and colleagues visible to your children.
The time of believing that sexuality and sexual orientation are something in the adult world from which children must be shielded is over. Gay and lesbian people are a regular part of everyday live.
Whether we are partnered or not, whether we are raising children or not, whether we are your next-door neighbors, your teachers, your coaches, or your friends, we- gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people- are in your communities. Some of us still feel the need to render ourselves invisible; some of us still remain in the closet. More and more, however, we live openly. To continue to be open, to continue to live our lives visibly, we need the support and affirmation of our heterosexual counterparts.
You know us and your children know us; talk to them about gay and lesbian people. Keep it simple. Make it natural and discuss it in ways that they understand. Talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to your children, no matter what their age, makes a difference.
It makes a difference for them as they grow up. Your children may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and knowing people who are from a young age will have a profound and positive effect on their ability to understand and accept themselves. Your children will meet other peers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; they can be a voice of support and compassion to other young people who may be confused or upset and who may not have parents as open as you are. Your children will work with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; they will live with them, and they will share with them throughout their lives. Talking with your children about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people now will make their lives easier in the future.
Help children to know gay and lesbian people early in their lives; help them to understand different families and different ways that people organize their personal and intimate lives. Don’t hide gay and lesbian people and their lives from your children. It makes a difference for them, and it makes a difference for us.