I wrote this a few months ago (with slight modification) for Vanessa Van Petten’s Teens Today blog. She had asked me to share some resources for her audience of mostly straight parents who want to talk with their teenagers, LGBT and not, about LGBT issues. I realize most of my readers at Mombian are more up to speed on things queer than her audience, and may find some of the below old hat. At the same time, I know there are non-LGBT parents who stop by here in search of information, as well as LGBT parents wanting resources to share with non-LGBT friends, or seeking words to help explain to our children matters that we know inherently.
The piece below only scratches the surface, but I mean it as a start, not an end. Feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comments.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are more visible in today’s society than ever before. LGBT-rights issues are often in the news, and LGBT-headed families are taking an open, active part in local schools and communities. (Gay and lesbian families live in 99.3 percent of all counties in the U.S., according to the 2000 Census.)
Not only that, but as children reach their teens, some may themselves discover that they are LGBT, or at least wonder about it. For all these reasons, it is important to discuss with our children what it means to be LGBT, how to respond when meeting someone who is LGBT or who has LGBT parents, and how to be tolerant and respectful of others even if one doesn’t believe that being LGBT is morally right. If you need convincing that such knowledge is a necessity in our world today, read the Human Rights Campaign’s “A Few Facts” (PDF), a brief overview of the changing structure of U.S. Families, children of LGBT parents, the impact of bullying and anti-LGBT name-calling at schools, and the early development of sexual orientation.
One of the biggest concerns that parents have when discussing LGBT issues is that it necessarily means talking about sex. This is untrue. Even the very youngest children can be told that families come in many different types: some have two moms or two dads, some have one of each, and some have only one parent, or one plus a grandparent, or any of various other permutations. As children grow and learn the basics of biological reproduction, they may naturally be curious about how two moms or two dads created their families. The simple explanations in the Family Equality Council’s Talking to Children About Our Families (PDF) are aimed at pre-teens but may also be useful for parents of teens looking for a place to start.
As children reach their teens and start thinking about dating and relationships, they may indeed wonder about the more intimate aspects of LGBT relationships. It may be necessary to discuss sex at this point, but no more so than when discussing opposite-sex relationships. All teens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, need to learn about safe sex, as well as the emotional aspects of intimate relationships. Still, teens may be just as curious about the non-sexual aspects of LGBT life, such as how same-sex couples create their families, the various terms used to describe LGBT people, what various religions say about being gay, and why LGBT issues create such controversy.
A short article like this is not the place to attempt comprehensive answers to these questions. Others have thankfully done so elsewhere. What If Someone I Know Is Gay?: Answers to Questions About What It Means to Be Gay and Lesbian, by Eric Marcus (Simon Pulse: 2007) is perhaps the best single-volume resource for straight teens with gay classmates, teens who may be questioning their own sexuality, and teens dealing with a parent’s coming out. The 2007 edition also boasts a new chapter just for parents—both those with gay children and those who simply want to be able to explain gay issues to their kids. The book is unfortunately brief on gender issues and the transgender community, but it is nevertheless highly recommended as a first book on gay issues for parents and teens themselves.
In addition to Marcus’ book, you may find the resources below useful. I’ve geared them towards parents wanting to explain these issues to teens in general. Parents with LGBT teens (or those they suspect may be LGBT) may want to dig more deeply into the resources at PFLAG and OutProud.
- Tolerance.org has a plethora of resources to fight hate and promote tolerance of all types. Their general advice for parents of teens is worth a read, as is their more extensive handbook, Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice. They also have useful articles on what “gay” means and how to talk with kids about same-sex marriage. Their article on what “transgender” means is aimed at parents of younger children, but can still be a good place to start for others just learning about such matters.
- “A Straight Guide to GLBT Americans” (PDF), from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is for those wondering how to deal with a friend or relative who has just “come out” to them as GLBT. It includes a useful glossary of terms used to describe various LGBT concepts.
- Likewise, HRC’s “Transgender Americans: A Handbook for Understanding” (PDF) is a good introduction to transgender people and issues of gender identity and expression. The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition has further articles and book recommendations. Mary Boenke’s book Trans Forming Families: Real Stories About Transgendered Loved Ones is a varied collection of stories by parents, children, spouses, and friends of transgender people, as well as by transgender people themselves.
- Families Like Mine is a Web site based on the also-recommended book of that name by Abigail Garner, the daughter of gay dads and a long-time advocate for the children of LGBT families. Her FAQs About LGBT Families is a good overview for those just starting to learn about them.
For Parents of LGBT Teens (or those who might be)
- PFLAG New York City has a page of Facts About Our LGBT Children as well as Questions Parents Ask if a child comes out as LGBT.
- The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals is a recent, sensitive, and thorough guide for families with transgender or gender variant children.
- OutProud, the National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth, is a site for teens themselves, but parents may also find their brochures useful, especially if one of your children is, or may be, LGBT.
Bullying and Harassment at School
(Keep in mind that kids can be teased for being LGBT even if they aren’t, making these resources valuable to a wide variety of families.)
- The Safe Schools Coalition has several handouts for parents and guardians on how to handle anti-LGBT harassment and bullying. They also have an extensive bibliography of books on the subject.
- GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, also offers a variety of resources for educators, students, and others interested in reducing name-calling and bullying and creating safer schools for all students.
Fiction is also a great way to convey information about LGBT youth and families. Even though this article is aimed at parents of teens, I’ll start with a few recommendations for parents who have younger children as well. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, And Tango Makes Three, and The Different Dragon all present same-sex families without making an “issue” out of them. Todd Parr’s The Family Book is also a good, if simple, book that celebrates all types of families. (I avoid Heather Has Two Mommies as a starter book, although it is one of the first children’s books that featured a same-sex family, and something of a classic. It revolves around a girl who is upset that her friends are teasing her about her two moms, and I see no reason to put the idea of teasing about this into children’s heads if it is not there already. If they have experienced or caused such teasing themselves, however, Heather can be of value at that point.)
For older children, Julie Anne Peters is my go-to young adult author, though Carrie Jones’ Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend is also a great read for teens looking for a book with a straight perspective on LGBT issues. For more LGBT-themed young adult books, see the blog I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? by Lee Wind, a young adult writer himself, who knows the genre far better than I.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask someone you know who is LGBT to help you explain LGBT matters to your children, or to answer questions you may have. While most LGBT people don’t appreciate prurient or nosy questions from strangers, many of us would be happy to answer those asked with genuine interest and respect. None of us alone can speak for the entire LGBT community, but we can offer our personal perspective and stories, and sometimes that is better for building understanding than even the best books and articles.