How to Be an Ally Parent
June is LGBTQ Awareness Month, and across the country, picnics, parades, and workshops celebrate gay pride. They also provide an opportunity to support members of the LGBTQ community and educate your children on different family structures and backgrounds. If you or your child want to be an ally but aren’t sure how, here are some tips from experts:
You may worry that your child isn’t mature enough to handle conversations about LGBTQ awareness, but this usually isn’t the case. Instead of lecturing kids, Karen Graci (she/her), president of PFLAG Charlotte, recommends using car rides or bedtime to have conversations about diversity. Consider reading bedtime stories that include families with two moms or two dads.
Ross Murray (he/him), senior director of the Media Institute of GLADD, says kids need to know that a wide range of families exist. “Parents can do this by discussing gay and lesbian couples in the same way they would heterosexual couples, using direct, not coded language that is developmentally appropriate,” he says. “When parents withhold this information from young children or introduce it as ‘this is very special,’ they are making a value judgment.”
Model Support, Withhold Judgment
If your child comes out or has questions about their sexuality, offer them support without judgment. “Silence can often feel like rejection and cause a young person to feel like they have nobody who understands them,” says Chris Bright (they/them), director of public training for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth.
Instead of overwhelming them with questions, allow them to lead any further conversation. “Listen, listen, listen,” Graci says. “Love them and support them.”
Remember, too, that coming out is very different than it was 20 or 30 years ago. “We have to recognize that it is not the same world,” Murray says. “Identity is complex. Labels are hard. What is most important is that parents promote open communication. Sit back and listen to your child. Let them know that you will both learn as you go along.”
Recognize Your Subconscious Biases
Our society introduces children to gender stereotypes from the time they’re born, and it can reach far beyond the pink and blue clothing they wear as babies. How many well-meaning friends and relatives have given your daughter dolls and makeup kits, or your son building blocks or matchbox cars? Avoid casting children in traditional “girl” and “boy” roles; show them that boys can do dishes and girls can take out the garbage.
“We don’t want to create boxes for our kids,” Graci says. “There are huge ranges in behavior and gender expression—it’s all okay. Allow your child to explore what they like without being inhibited or made to feel ashamed.”
Lead By Example
Look for ways to show your support as a family for the LGBTQ community: attend Pride rallies, volunteer for LGBTQ organizations, and speak up for your LGBTQ friends when they’re not around. Model the kind of behavior you want your kids to emulate when you hear derogatory comments, or when someone uses the word “gay” in a negative context.
Remember it’s not just about what parents say to their kids about LGBTQ issues—it’s how they act and react in the real world. “Kids follow our lead,” Graci says, “so as parents, we need to show up as allies. Our actions matter, our language matters.” Adds Murray, “Kids are always watching their parents’ behavior so set a good example. Be kind and be inclusive.”
RANDI MAZZELLA is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, teen issues, mental health, and wellness. She is a wife and mother of three children. To read more of her work, visit www.randimazella.com.