Teaching Our Children to Stand Up to Homophobia

by Katharine Swan

Homophobia is a concern for many gays or lesbians who are – or want to become – parents. Many GLBT parents feel guilty about putting their children in a position where they could be the target of homophobic behavior. Unfortunately, in our society homophobia and discrimination is common, so the question becomes not whether our children will have to deal with it, but how they will deal with it – a question that you, as your child’s parent, can help answer.

Is Homophobia a Problem for Children of Gay or Lesbian Parents?

Homophobic organizations love to claim that gays and lesbians are not fit to be parents, but they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Studies have shown that the children of gay and lesbian parents are no worse off than their peers – in fact, some of them show better adjustment levels than children who are raised in heterosexual homes.

Happy Kids

However, your parenting skills are probably not what you are worried about. You know that being gay or lesbian doesn’t compromise your ability to parent effectively – but how will societal forces, which you have no control over, affect your child? Unfortunately, the evidence isn’t conclusive yet. Although many experts claim that being the target of homophobic bullying can cause issues with self-esteem, school attendance, psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse, other studies indicate that children from GLBT families rate their experiences with bullying as no worse than do other children.

The fact of the matter is that virtually all children experience bullying, and as unfortunate as that may be, substituting homophobic bullying doesn’t necessarily make a stronger impression on the child. Still, just as children from heterosexual families need to know how to deal with teasing and bullying, you need to teach your children how to stand up to homophobia.

How Can We Teach Our Children to Stand Up to Homophobia?

As with many aspects of parenting, teaching your child to stand up to homophobia requires a multifaceted approach. Like many adults, children respond best when they have a strong, secure foundation from which to act. Honest communication, modeling, and encouragement are the best ways to ensure that your child is comfortable enough in his or her life to not be embarrassed or ashamed by homophobic bullying.

Communicate with Your Child

Although gays and lesbians are becoming more open about their lifestyles than they have been historically, there are still many unresolved issues in society that cause many GLBT parents to wonder if they shouldn’t hide their true identities to protect their children. However, although this approach may seem to resolve a lot of problems on the surface, your child may still discover “the truth.” Being dishonest with your child could send the message that a LGBT lifestyle is something to be ashamed of, or that you couldn’t trust your child with the truth – both of which can be upsetting perceptions for a child.

As with many issues parents face, honesty and open communication is often the best policy with your children. Even when children are young, you can be honest with them by simplifying your explanations to an age-appropriate level, gradually adding more information as they develop understanding of the issues at hand. Don’t wait for your child to experience homophobic bullying firsthand before you start talking to him or her about GLBT issues – instead, take advantage of discussion opportunities in day-to-day life, such as references in children’s books or on television.

As when talking to your child about other issues, such as sexuality, it is important to use accurate terminology. However, you should also explain why some terms are positive, while others are used negatively or out of homophobia. For instance, many school-age children use the word “gay” to mean “stupid,” as when they say, “That’s so gay.” It is important to explain to your child the difference in meanings.

As you discuss LGBT issues and homophobia with your child, you will have an opportunity to foster greater understanding and acceptance in your child. For example, you can explain how GLBT families aren’t the only type of family that’s not “normal” – how many kids have more than just one mommy or daddy, whether it’s because they have step-parents, adoptive parents and birth parents, or GLBT parents. Or, if your situation is as a single GLBT parent, you can explain how divorced or unwed parents also make single-parent homes. However you explain it, the important concept here is that what most homophobics view as the “normal” family – a mommy, a daddy, 2.5 kids, and a dog – is actually a minority in our society.

Finally, don’t forget that your other responsibility in an honest and open parent-child relationship is to listen. Your child may have questions or concerns, particularly as he or she begins to encounter homophobia. It is important to create an environment where your child feels comfortable voicing these thoughts, which you can do by listening carefully and answering any questions that come up.

Be Active and Involved

You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do.” In fact, children do much of their learning by observation and imitation, meaning your child learns how to handle homophobia in part by watching how you handle it. Therefore, it is important for you as a parent to actively combat homophobia in both you and your child’s lives.

One of the primary places your child will encounter homophobia is at school. In fact, studies have shown that many teachers do not try to stop or prevent homophobic bullying, either because he or she is too uncomfortable to intervene, or because the school does not have a strong enough policy against homophobic behavior. As a parent, you can work with teachers, administrators, and the PTA to educate them about homophobia and help create a more accepting environment for your child.

Find Outside Support for Your Child

Even if your child follows your lead and attempts to educate his or her peers and teachers, homophobic bullying is probably unavoidable. Although you, as the parent, play a huge role in your child’s life, there will still be times when he or she needs friends who are experiencing the same difficulties. Organizations such as Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) provide support groups for children of GLBT families, helping your child to get the additional support he or she needs to learn to withstand homophobia.

Can Growing Up with Gay or Lesbian Parents Be a GOOD Thing?

Believe it or not, most children of gay or lesbian parents have good things to say about their upbringing. They often report that they are more accepting of diversity than their peers, and find it easier to empathize with others. Children of GLBT families also tend to recognize at an earlier age that if their peers tease or bully them, they aren’t real friends. In other words, while you may be worrying about whether your child is having a hard time dealing with homophobia, chances are he or she is handling it better than you think – and may actually consider him- or herself a better person because of it.

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