One reason there are so many incidences of anti-gay bullying is a simple lack of understanding. Introducing kids to LGBT topics at an early age, in a comfortable and open environment, rather than allowing them to discover the subject at a later age where they may also pick up prejudicial and inaccurate information can help prevent such violence. This approach can also help LGBT children–or those with LGBT family members—feel safer and more accepted within the classroom.
The key to fostering tolerance and understanding is integrating age-appropriate materials that flow with the curriculum. When completing a unit on family, for example, include family groups that feature same-sex parents. In the primary grades, picture books, such as Mommy, Mama, and Me, The Family Book as well as And Tango Makes Three, help illustrate different families. When making felt boards, create a display for a two-father or two-mother household as well.
Valentine’s Day festivities can include Charlie Brown hoping that the little red-haired girl will notice him. It can also incorporate the adventures of a prince who is only interested in another prince, in King and King. Discussions about animals are often great ways to discuss the different ways we love, since children love their pets so much. Many may even have two cats or two dogs of the same sex who are much in love, as we do in our home.
Many districts, however, miss the opportunity to include such natural introductions to sexual orientation because of restrictive school district policy. Educators affected by these restrictions must be more careful–and creative–about how they approach this topic. While the above books may not be available in some schools, the discussions about their message of inclusion can still take place. Subtler literature, such as It’s Okay to Be Different or The Sissy Duckling can be read. Using terms like “parents” instead of “mommies and daddies,” during conversations about family can help children avoid developing stereotypes.
And when children ask, “What does gay mean?” it is important to keep the answer simple. One mother recommends explaining both definitions: “It can mean happy, or two boys who love each other, or two girls who love each other.”
Context, however, is also important; if the child heard the word used in a derogatory manner, you could say, “Some people use the word gay to mean something bad, but that’s not the correct use of the word.” For older students, this Teaching Tolerance activity illustrates the concept. For younger kids, simply saying that it’s a form of name-calling, and that it’s hurtful, should be sufficient.
Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Missouri.