No one of us is ever going to be an “expert” on everything. That’s why I love sending my girls to diverse and inclusive schools. We all have expertise to share about our own experience and we all have new things to learn.
We are all experts and idiots
As a mixed-race Black mom, I have a lot of knowledge about what it means to be Black (and White) in this country. When it comes to conversations about race, I feel very adept in handling some of the complexities of racial identity in America. I’m not perfect, but I feel “competent”. I’ve gained a lot of my expertise through reading and study, and also through the personal and professional experience and exposure. Being bi-racial Black, has enhanced and deepened my experience.
On the other hand, as a straight, cis woman, I am not as versed in what it means to identify as a gay or trans person. My privilege as a straight, cis woman has given me lot of advantages in school, work and life. It has also made me ignorant to many of the struggles, complexities and benefits of being a member of the LGBTQ community.
Being privileged means, I don’t HAVE to learn about other communities in order to navigate everyday life. Nonetheless, if I want to live in a more just world, it’s important to use my privilege to uplift and amplify the voices of those who aren’t privileged in the same ways.
Additionally, when we learn about “others” it gives us the opportunity to questions why we “are who we are”? Learning about trans and gender fluid people has allowed me to questions why I’m “like a girl”. Gender and sexual identity can define us in positive ways (I LOVE being a “Mom” for example.) but it can also confine us. My own limitations about what it means to be a girl, have prevented me from trying activities I might have enjoyed and excelled at as a kid (like skateboarding.) If I am not aware of these limitations, they may even prevent me from encouraging interests and aptitudes in my own kids.
In this way, learning about other communities isn’t just being a good person because it helps me behave in more equitable ways. Learning about others helps me expand my understanding of myself and the world around me. It makes me a better person all the way around.
But, lets face it. Learning about a community that you aren’t a part of can be difficult and often uncomfortable. I don’t know what I don’t know. What if I ask a dumb question? say something stupid? … or worse yet offend someone?
The first step in being an LGBTQ ally/advocate is educating oneself in the ways straight, and cis people can either help or hurt folks in the LGBTQ community. And, because language matters, the first step in learning how to support a community is actually learning the language of that community.
On a very basic level, one of the most powerful acts I can take as a parent, is to simply teach my kids respectful language to discuss issues in our daily life and in the media. Because talking about the LGBTQ community has been such a taboo in our culture, even gay and transgendered parents may struggle to define terms we use talking with kids about the LGBTQ community.
When we don’t have the right words, we may avoid important conversations. Here’s a great resource to teach your kids proper terms for the LGBTQ community.
Some questions you can ask:
I urge you to share this video with your school-aged kids, and talk with them about why the language of identity is important. You can use the following questions as your guide:
- How do you describe yourself? (e.g. tall, short, light-skinned, dark-skinned, creative, smart, etc.) Have you ever heard yourself described by others? What are some of the positive and negative ways language can be used to describe people?
- Have you ever been given a name (e.g. nickname) or been called a name you didn’t like? How did it feel? How would you feel if someone gave you a name/slur you didn’t like?
- There are many different terms used to describe gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Some of these terms are hurtful. If we don’t learn respectful terms for talking about people in the LGBTQ community, we might say or do hurtful things without meaning to. What kinds of names do you hear kids or adults using about people in the LGBTQ community?
- What questions do you have?
This is not an exhaustive list and is just the start. Remember, we are all “experts” on the communities of which we are a part. And, acknowledging our ignorance is the first start in learning about other people. We may think that by “not talking” about difference we are preventing our kids/students from labeling others. In reality, they are more likely to “learn” uninformed and often stereotypical things about themselves and others through peers and the media.
Teachers and parents, what advice do you have for talking about the LGBTQ community with kids?
Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.
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