The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

When Kids Learn Homophobia

A couple of months ago I posted about study claiming that children learn racism by the time their three years old. I was reminded of that post when, via Damn Straight, I came across this article about nursery schools in the UK teaching about same sex relationships, which included the idea that kids learn homophobia as early as they learn racism.

Many gay parents of nursery school children are reluctant to "come out" for fear that their children might become the target of homophobic bullying, said the union.

Young boys at primary school are also bullied and called "gay" if they do not conform to perceived male stereotypes – reflecting the union's belief that homophobic prejudice should be addressed at an early age when children are in nursery school.

The NUT said: "It is particularly important to begin to make three to five-year-olds aware of the range of families that exist in the UK today". That would includes families with single parents or those with "two mums" or "two dads", the union said.

The union added: "There will be parents who are gay or lesbian who will want to be reassured that that their children will be safe in the setting."

I'd say that's about right. In the past year it's become clear to me that Parker is aware of differences like gender and race. (Do kids learn sexism at the same age they learn racism and homophobia?) About a week ago Parker turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "Daddy, you're brown like me." I didn't say much more than "Yes, I am," but it was clear to me that he was aware of color even if he didn't appear to assign any value judgement to it. I know that somewhere down the line he'll learn that some people do assign a value judgement to race. I just hope I'm prepared to help him deal with that and be OK with himself.

The same goes for having same-sex parents. Needless to say, something like proposal mentioned above for nursery schools in the UK would probably go over like a lead balloon in a lot of places in the U.S., complete with protests, angry school board meetings, and probably even an emergency session of congress to pass some legislation preventing it.

That's why we chose to live in a community progressive enough where that's not likely to happen. So far, so good. We haven't had any problems being recognized as a family in our community. The parents and kids at Parker's day care all know he has a Daddy and a Papa, and on Father's day he makes two cards. The families in our new neighborhood are just as accepting. When we lived in D.C., nobody in our babysitting co-op batted an eye at us or the three other sets of same-sex parents. None of the kids appeared to think anything of it. One little girl did ask me about it when I was babysitting her, and it was a pretty easy conversation.

“Where’s Parker?”

“He’s at home with his Papa?”

“His other daddy??

“Yes.”

“How come Parker has two Daddies?”

“Well, there are lots of different kinds of families. Some have a mommy and a daddy. But some have two mommies or two daddies, or even just one mommy or just one daddy. It’s kind of like ice cream. There’s lots of flavors, like vanilla or chocolate, but it’s all still ice cream.”

“You forgot strawberry ice cream.”

“Well, then, there’s strawberry ice cream too.”

“My birthday is coming up, and I’m going to have strawberry ice cream and vanilla cake.”

And that was it. If kids learn homophobia as early as three, my experience suggests they learn it from their parents. If the parents are cool with it, so will the kids be.

What's strange to me is that there would probably be an outcry if a program like the one in the UK was proposed here. Because the reality is that gay people have kids, even moreso now that in years before. Kids are going to learn about same-sex relationships anyway, because they'll live next door to and go to school with our kids, and we'll be active parts of our kids lives as parents.

Basically, it boils down to this. We exist. We aren't going away and we' aren't going to be invisible. Kids can't help but see that. What they learn about it, and how they treat us and our families as a result, depends largely on what they're taught. If you ask me, teaching hate to a child that young constitutes abuse; or it ought to.

5 Comments

  1. I have fears like you describe, about bad incidents my daughte rmight encounter because her family is different.

    But like you descibe, every family, every school faculty, everybody everywhere has never batted an eye and at least openly, never been negative.

    So then why won’t these people legislate our families with the same protections? It’s confusing and it’s maddening and it hurts. Everybody smiles at us, plays at the park with us, (I read this from gay parent blogs across the country) and then votes to amend their state constutition to strip us of protections? What is it, America? It’s frustrating beyond belief.

    The acceptance our families encounter is what encourages us to reach out for equality. Then we get slapped back down? What are we supposed to feel?

  2. I like to think we’re making a difference little by little. Every once in a while I get clues that we are.

    A couple of weeks ago, Parker’s day care had family picnic and the hubby and I attended. Now, I don’t think any of the workers there had seen a gay couple as parents before, but we’ve been there for over three years now and they’ve gotten to know us and see Parker develop from an infant to a happy healthy little boy.

    While we were eating and watching Parker play, one of the daycare workers suddenly said to us, “I am so proud of you guys. You’ve done a really great job with Parker, and I can see he love you very much.”

    I wasn’t sure what to say in response, so I just smiled and said “Thanks,” but it occurred to me later that maybe the next time someone mentions banning same-sex marriage or denying our families protection, this woman will think of my family and respond differently than if she never knew us.

  3. terrance,

    thanks for sharing your experiences – it makes me realize that, even in the heart of the burbs, there are progressives still around….

    i just need to search more of ’em out here in mid prince georges

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