Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

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Raffles
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Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Raffles »

Hello! I think this is my first post under Sex, Culture, and Politics. Not sure if it quite fits here, but it seemed the closest. Heads up that this story has some pretty intense homophobia in it.

For some background: I'm a summer camp counselor in a swing state/district, but the kids tend to come from wealthy, conservative families. The kids are anywhere from 6-12, but this group was mostly 7 and 8. I--a definitely not straight or cis? person--am not out. A few of the kids had been making mildly misogynistic comments, one of whom was a girl from a very religious background.

Today was our last day, and at the end of class a few kids were talking during the movie. This is the conversation that went down.

Boy: I'm only friends with boys.
Girl: Are you gay? Or just friends.
Boy: Just friends.
Another kid: What's gay?
Girl: It's boys kissing boys and girls kissing girls.
Most kids made "yuck" noises or faces
Me: That's okay! There's nothing wrong with being gay.
Girl: Well, it's against the Bible. I'd rather die than be gay.

I was so shocked that I didn't know what to do or say, and I really wasn't sure what I could legally say as a teacher. I have a different group of kids next week, so that was the last time I interacted with that group. Anyone have any advice for what I should do in the future?
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there, Raffles.

I'm so sorry that this happened to you today! I totally understand feeling shocked and freezing up or just not being sure what to do in a moment like this. It's a lot to try and figure out in the moment!

Legally, it's unlikely you can't be pretty plainspoken in moments like this and say the same kinds of things you might say had any children in your group been disparaging say, poor people, immigrants, disabled people or people of color, things like that it's not kind or okay to disparage any group of people, that we all need to speak kindly and compassionately about each other, and that even if people have different ideas about that, any ideas we might have that any kind of person isn't okay as a person isn't something we say to someone else, because there IS something wrong with that.

Had you been able to, obviously, it would have been great to talk about the impact those kinds of statements can have on gay people, someone saying they'd rather die than being gay, and whether or not that was a conversation you had alone with that kid or with the whole group would have been your judgment given the kid and the group dynamics. But again, it's hardly surprising you were in shock.

It might be a good idea with this new group next week to establish some ground rules ahead of time about this kind of thing, like how everyone needs to treat and talk about one another: that we all accept each other as people, and need to speak about each other in ways that reflect that, and anyone who doesn't will be reminded of that rule gently, and asked to leave a given activity if they can't abide by that, etc. How does that sound?
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Raffles
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Raffles »

I'm unfortunately in a state that prohibits discussion of same-sex relationships in a positive light (not that that stopped any of my high school teachers).

My manager suggested that I say something like "You have your own beliefs and that's okay, but we should think about how it might affect people with those identities." I think I could try that next time (if there is one).

The funny thing is that we did establish some ground rules on the first day. In fact, she was the one that suggested that we don't make fun of others and basically the "treat others how you want to be treated." They're a bit young to be connecting the dots yet and being self-aware about their own behavior which has been challenging for me.
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Heather »

The thing is, it isn’t okay to say it’s better to be dead than gay. Not at all. Personally, I would not say it’s okay to anyone to believe that. I also wouldn’t say to a child it’s okay to believe it’s wrong to be gay just like I wouldn’t say to a child it’s okay to believe it’s wrong to be disabled. That tells them it’s okay to be bigoted and cruel. And it’s not.

I do think that saying something like I suggested says nothing that stands counter to laws like that because you literally are not saying anything explicitly about same-sex relationships, IMHO.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Marisha »

Hi Raffles,

I COMPLETELYYYY know that struggle! One summer when I was teaching middle school kids, a majority of the kids were Spanish-speakers, and I know enough Spanish to be able to tell when the kids were using homophobic slurs. It would catch me up a little bit - how do you communicate to such a young child the depth and impact of those words? At the time I would just tell them to "chill" - a quick and easy way to correct/check behavior without nagging. But still I wonder.

It's great that your manager was able to offer that suggestion! I have no idea how much the "treat others the way you want to be treated" line reaches younger kids, but I think the line they suggested is closer to being direct without getting you in trouble. Maybe adding something about how 'using our words to love others rather than to hate?' Or something along those lines?
Raffles
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Raffles »

I hear you. I tend to believe that pretending like all sides of an argument are equal can be pretty harmful (like appearing to say that homophobia is okay). I'm definitely struggling to toe the line between shutting it down and not getting fired. I think that taking a no-hate approach and comparing it to other identities that you mentioned might work though.

This is kind of dumb, but I'm really bad at being able to come up with phrases that I can use easily. Do you think "It's not okay to hate people for being gay because it's just like any other identity like our age, gender, or ability" would work, or do you have any other suggestions?

I'm not sure that she understands that what she said is considered hateful/discriminatory because to her, anything outside of the Bible doesn't matter. I'm not religious in the slightest so I have no clue if this would work, but I was thinking about (at least in this specific instance) quoting "love thy neighbor" and explaining that you have to accept people even if they are different from you.
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Re: Educating young kids on LGBT+ identites

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

I feel you on the struggle to come with phrases you can use easily, especially when things feel sudden or involve something like your job. I think what you came up with would work fine, since the main thing you're trying to communicate is that it's not okay to be hateful to people because of who they are (and I feel like "don't be mean to whole groups of people" would be a hard thing for someone to try and go after you for if they heard you saying it). Even if she doesn't fully grasp why, or still believes it deep down, if you can get her to a place where she's not saying it out loud you've made the space safer overall for any LGBT kids or staff.

Given that she's still fairly young, I'd steer clear of wading into the religious side of this, especially if it's not a place where you have a lot of knowledge or experience to draw on. In my experience, the kinds of faith practices that produce "I'd rather be dead than gay" involve a lot of "the bible says X, end of story." That kind of conversation can be hard to navigate even when you're not worried about what you're allowed to, so getting into it might be extra stressful for you with pretty limited results for her.
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