This month, you will probably be hearing a lot about one very spectacular celebration: June is Pride Month, and communities across the world will be celebrating.
As a parent, you might also be wondering how to navigate the month with your kids, and you might be extra curious about how you can raise your children to be LGBTQ+ allies if they’re growing up in a heterosexual home.
If you’re nodding along, trust: I get it! My son’s dad and I are both straight, and our self-identified genders correspond with the biological sex we were born with. We are huge allies of the LBGTQ+ community and have so many friends we love and cherish who are part of it.
As such, it’s been really important to us that our son is a fierce ally and friend to this community — and really to everyone who isn’t bigoted.
If you don’t have friends who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, it might feel extra hard to figure out how to have a conversation about being an ally with your child. After all, one of the best ways to foster empathy is to know and love the people you are empathizing with. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to put together a list of ideas and resources for heterosexual parents who are hoping to raise LGBTQ+ allies.
1. Have honest conversations about sexuality early.
My first tip is this: Start talking about sexuality, gender identity, and sexual preference early in your child’s life. And I really do mean early: There are totally board books for babies that cover these topics and ideas. The earlier you normalize the many ways people live and love on this planet, the easier it is. Once you get started, I think you’ll be amazed by how little of a big deal this has to be.
For example, a lot of us already have built-in expectations about gender identity and gender performance due to how we have been socialized, so you can start by examining the ideas you already have and believe. Then identify the areas where you need more growth and learning. From there, find the words that you’re comfortable using with your kids.
Tip: Keep in mind that LGBTQ+ is about way more than just being gay or straight. The community encompasses a huge range of sexual expressions and preferences, and it’s important to give all of them equal weight.
2. Recognize that your children might also be LGBTQ+.
While you’re learning and having these conversations, realize that your own children might actually be part of the LBGTQ+ community, or they might not know if they are and be interested in exploring it. You don’t want to talk about all of this as if it’s something that is distant and removed from your own family. It’s normal and healthy for your kids to explore sexual identity and preference, and if they feel safe and supported in their home (and are raised loving this community of people), then they’ll feel like they can talk to you about those explorations and questions.
Plus, they’ll never have to doubt whether or not you love them.
3. Challenge gender and sex-based stereotypes all the time.
If there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I am relentless. A friend recently asked me how often we talk about racism with our 11-year-old son. I told my friend every single day. They were surprised, but when I explained that either someone we love experiences racism every day, or there’s a story in the news, or we watch or read something and racism is present in it, it started to make sense.
We also talk about other -isms every single day, such as sexism and ableism. We talk about bigotry and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and beliefs every day. These aren’t always big, scary conversations about subjects and events that are hard. In fact, more often than not, we’re having celebratory chats.
It can be tempting to only bring up these topics when the news “forces” us too, but I found that deliberately making it part of everything that we do in a day eventually made it come quite naturally.
4. Know and love LGBTQ+ people in your life.
I am absolutely not saying you need to run outside and find the first LGBTQ+ person you see and make them your new best friend, because that would be rude and gross. What I am saying is that if the only LGBTQ+ representation your kids get is from a book or TV, then that’s not really good enough. I know some people truly do live in very homogenous towns, but a lot of us live in diverse cities and communities and, either on purpose or without realizing it, self-choose to be distant from others who we don’t immediately identify as like us.
If you really don’t have any friends who are LGBTQ+ and you’re doing the work to learn to be an ally yourself, I suggest volunteering with an organization that supports LGBTQ+ people in your community as a good way to get to know the people you’re pledging your time to learn more about.
5. Celebrate diversity in your home in obvious ways.
And finally: I always remind myself that, as much as I would love for him to, my child does not learn through osmosis. I can’t assume he will be a kind, gentle person who is a friend and ally just because I want him to be one, or because I believe I am raising him to be “a good person.” The idea of “a good person” is so general that it’s hard to even know what I might mean — and I am sure that how I define “a good person” is not the same definition another family uses.
Celebrating diversity in your home isn’t too hard. Go to events, go to rallies. Support communities that need your support. Make sure your kids see all sides of the LBGTQ+ spectrum — don’t only bring up stories of pain and oppression; bring up stories of love and joy, too. Everything from the books you introduce to the media you consume to the people you spend time with will impact your children.
And on that final note: If your family and friends are bigoted and homophobic, your kids will see it. If you’re really the ally you want to be, then you absolutely have to speak up and educate the people you allow your children to be around. Otherwise, you’ll be little more than a walking contradiction, and your kids will respond accordingly. It can be tough to have hard conversations, but if you’re armed with the right mix of knowledge, facts, and empathy, you can do it. Lives are on the line, so really … you have to.