*Disclaimer: We support the rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and otherwise non-heterosexual or non-gender-conforming individuals. We recognize this post does not cover ALL bases, but is intended to be a start. If you have suggestions for how to be even more inclusive in the discussion when it comes to young children, please comment below! *
As the parent of a young child, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise a kid who will eventually have respect for all people regardless of color, identity, sexuality, political affiliation, etc.
With Pride week coming up in our home city, it's become a regular topic of conversation in our household. How do we introduce the idea of gay rights to a toddler who doesn't understand romance or sexuality?
When I first brought up this question in mixed company, I could visibly see my friends and family bristle at the idea.
Teaching sexuality to a kid? LET THEM BE LITTLE!
Here's the thing -- I agree. But gay rights aren't just about sexuality. The long, sordid history of how we've treated the LGBTQ community in the United States (and the world) is not solely about what two people choose to do in the privacy of their relationship. It's about respecting fellow human beings, learning to love those who are different than us, and recognizing/dismissing hate.
Pride isn't just about recognizing a variety of lifestyle preferences -- it's about celebrating how far we've come in the fight for human rights. It's about recognizing the power of love to overcome hate.
As a half-Jewish family, living in a largely Muslim neighborhood, we've already talked about how people have been "mean" to our ancestors and our neighbors based on how they dress and what they believe. However, we haven't broached the full topic of religion. Why should it be any different with this topic?
We have books that feature heterosexual parents and heterosexual couples even though we don't talk about romantic attraction with our 3 year old. Why shouldn't we also read ones with same sex couples?
So here are some ways to keep the discussion open all year 'round without making it sexual:
1. Word choices - Words are powerful, y'all! When you talk about parents in general, do you always use the heteronormative "mom" and "dad"? Once in a while, mix it up. For example, when we play with batman at home and think up an imaginary family, I try to give the super hero two moms or two dads on occasion. My toddler just accepts this (probably because I'm awesome so two moms would be the best thing in the world! Double awesome!) and it's never been a discussion, he just understands this as a legitimate option. Using the words to normalize alternative family structures can be an easy way to integrate the idea of acceptance into all facets of play.
Another option is to use non-gendered pronouns for parents or couples before meeting them. If the only combination a child every hears is a "he and she" for parents/couples/etc., it creates the idea of a "default" combination. Instead, leave it open ended by using the couples' names or just saying "they" until you're sure of their gender(s). For example, "let's go meet Huey's parents!" instead of "let's meet Huey's mom and dad!".
2. Book choices - This is a big one for reading families. Kids learn to expand their world through the pages of picture books. We've done blog posts and videos on the topic in the past, but it's always a good idea to look through your current book selection for inclusive characters. For example, we love the book 10,000 dresses which features a character named Bailey who loves to make dresses even though his parents keep telling him "but you're a boy!".
Some other options are John Oliver's A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo about a bunny who likes to hop with his friend all day long. This frames the idea of gay marriage in a way that's not related to romance or sexuality, but instead talks about how the two bunnies find a way to hop together forever.
Daddy, Papa and Me is for even younger audiences. This one doesn't have a message (not even a very kid-friendly, diluted one). It's just about a fun day spent with two cool dads.
3. TV choices - For video families, the same exact concept applies here as it does for book choices. Some children's programs are now including autistic, differently abled, and even non-gender conforming characters. Finding shows with alternative family structures is even harder. Here's an article on Quartz with some suggestions including the Loud House and Legends of Korra.