Starting Conversations with Your Kids about LGBTQ Identities
By: Ariane Robinson and Marina Spears
This is part 1 in a series. Find part 2 here.
Last week, I was driving around town running errands with my nine year old daughter. As usual she was happily singing along to the radio. As we turned down a street that was not on our typical route, she stopped singing and looked out the window and pointed across the street and said, “Hey Mom! Look at that pretty rainbow flag.” As I looked across the street, I noticed that what she was referring to was an LGBTQ flag.
My first thought was just to say, “Yeah, that is a pretty flag.” However, lucky for me I was having a good parenting day, and decide to seize the moment and have a discussion with her. I asked her if she knew what the flag was for. She did not, and so for the rest of the drive home I was able to discuss with her what the flag represented, and that the achronym LGBTQ stood for; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. This led us to a short, but important discussion on the importance of showing love and empathy to those around us.
Having discussions like I had with my daughter about LGBTQ issues are important. Many of the questions asked by children and the issues discussed may lead to tough conversations for some parents, but they are important in helping our children navigate the world we live in. Having honest, open conversations with our children can also help to dispel any hateful or discriminatory statements that they may have heard or seen online that could be considered hurtful and inappropriate. When kids are curious about something, “googling it” to get the answer is second nature, and what they find can often be incorrect.
When discussions just happen, like the example above, it is an opportunity not to be missed! However, it is imperative to have these conversations, even if they don’t “just happen”. It is up to us, to make them happen.This ensures that the information our children receive is accurate and comes from a place of understanding, and kindness towards all people. The 2013 National School Climate Survey Report (Kosciw,et al, 2014) reported the following statistics:
- 74.1% of LGBTQ students were verbally bullied
- 36.2% of LGBTQ students were physically bullied
- 49% of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying
The statistics of bullying are not going down and LGBTQ youth are often targets. Hate is learned and perpetuated, and the best way to stop that cycle is to teach that mistreatment of others is wrong, and there is never a justification for it. Bullying does not happen in a vacuum, it affects the victim, their family, friends and the communities they live, both online and off. Taking time to talk with our children and to listen to what they already know is of utmost importance.
If you are unsure of how you can begin having a conversation with your child on this topic. Here are several response questions that can be used to spark conversation and help you connect more with your children on LGBTQ issues.
- Do you know what LGBTQ stand for?
- Do you know anyone who’s identifies as LGBTQ?
- Do you understand that people can fall in love with people of the same gender?
- Does anyone treat them differently?
- Are you aware of derogatory terms for LGBTQ individuals?
- What do you think about that?
- How do you think those terms and/or bullying affects the individual, family members, or friends?
As you begin having conversations on LGBTQ terms with your child remember:
It will take more than one conversation-As parents sometimes we think we need to have big long talks with our kids to be effective. However, it is often better especially for younger children to have multiple smaller conversations over a period of time. This approach gives your child some time to think about and process what you’ve discussed,
Listen carefully-Don’t forget that you don’t want your discussion with your child to turn into a lecture. It should be a two way conversation where you ask questions, and then listen to their responses and replies. When you listen closely to what your child is saying it shows them that you value them and their thoughts. If they feel valued and heard it is likely that they will come to you again with other concerns.
Keep it at their level-Do your best to answer you child’s questions on a level that they can understand. Using simple words and explanations work best. Keep the facts appropriate for their age, and what you think is most important for them to understand now.
Emphasize the importance of respect-Make sure your child knows that anti-LGBTQ and gender-related put-downs are never ok. Remind them if they hear a term and they are not sure what it means to come and ask you about it. Teach them that we can learn from people of all races, families, ethnicities, faiths and gender identities.(Human Rights Campaign, n.d.)
Remember that action reinforces conversations. Our children watch us and hear us. It is crucial that our words of love, and understanding for all people be matched with our actual words and behaviors! Some points to consider:
- How do we act around LGBTQ indivduals?
- Do we make inappropriate jokes about this issue?
- What stereotyped gender roles are we passing down, in statements such as “he throws a ball like a girl”?
- Do we use derogatory terms such as “fag” or “dyke” ?
- Do we avoid families with an openly gay or bisexual child? (Keep in mind every LGBTQ child has a family, and unfortunately the family may undergo prejudices and exclusion from their communities, friends and even family. Reach out, be a friend, you will teach your children a lifelong lesson.)
Even if you are unsure of where you stand on LGBTQ issues because of personal or religious beliefs, it is important to teach through behavior and conversation that treating others with respect is critical to our communities. This will lead to more tolerance and safety for all people no matter their identity.
For amazing discussions about healthy sexuality, curiosity, sexual identification, anatomy, and more, check out our most popular resource, 30 Days of Sex Talks, available on Amazon.
Ready to improve your communication with your child on this topic and many others? Check out our book 30 Days to a Stronger Child for activities and wonderful discussion questions that will help improve your family’s communication and connection.
Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids. She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.
Ariane Robinson is the mother of five children. She is a Marriage and Family Studies Major and a certified facilitator with PREPARE/ENRICH. A program designed to help couples develop skills to improve their relationships. She enjoys working with families and helping to strengthen their relationships.
Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Responding to Concerns on LGBTQ Topics | Welcoming Schools. Retrieved from http://www.welcomingschools.org/research/responding-to-concerns/
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.