The only way to combat homophobia is by taking pride in educating our children in the fight for equality.
I did not have a strong gay influence growing up, I was uneducated about many issues regarding queer history; and in my opinion, many essential teachings on LGBTQ+ history. Until secondary school I did not know that it was possible (let alone allowed) for the same sex to be in love, in my opinion society had already installed in me that this behaviour was unacceptable, meaning I kept my own sexuality a secret, tried to hide it. I was in no way ashamed, but instead scared of the reaction it would create. Society telling me that no gay person or LGBTQ+ allies would be welcome with open arms.
Looking back, I’m curious as to how I would be different had I been informed and educated about LGBTQ+ history. Would I have stopped my fellow classmates using the term ‘gay’ in a demeaning manor? would I have enjoyed the celebration of pride as a child (Had I known what it was)? Would I have embraced gay icons? When thinking back, I can not pinpoint the first time I understood what the terms LGBTQ+ represented, but I know, and I feel THAT I was educated too late. By this time, for me, societal norms had been ingrained, stereotypes exaggerated, and limitations built.
Understanding this I began to ponder on what the children who surround me (my nieces and nephews) understood. Did they know about the meaning of Pride having attended themselves? was they aware of this diverse and eclectic society that surrounds them? This was something I wanted to address, so I began by gathering my nieces and nephew together, all of them ranging in ages (my nephew 4 years old, Nieces aged 7, aged 8, two aged 9, and aged 16). I was aiming to find out their level of understanding about LGBTQ+ history by asking several questions. Might I mention, they have all attended London Pride last year and other pride celebrations over the years.
Before attending we discussed why and where we were going, so they understood the meaning and celebration which pride represented. I would also like to add my family is open in discussions on LGBTQ+ issues with all the children.
This being said I had high hopes of the level of knowledge they had on the topic. However, to my amazement only two of my nieces (One aged 9, and one aged 16) shared an understanding of the meaning of the terms Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and the meaning of pride. The questions which I asked them included, Do you know the meaning of the term LGBT? Do you know anyone who is part of the LGBT family? And, What do you think the event pride is celebrating?
With most of them having heard the terms before, yet no understanding of their meaning, I began to understand how we, as educators can often think we have taught enough and move on, meaning children can often grow up uneducated about such pressing issues. It’s often easier to gloss over subjects which can change our views and test ourselves, but surely this is essential in our young ones learning.
Although some might say a four-year-old is too young to attend pride, Pride has now become a yearly event which ALL children can look forward to, whether it be watching the parade, dancing in the streets, or meeting an array of bright fun people. So yes, they may not directly know the ins and outs of LGBTQ+ history but as long as we continue to make a conscious effort to include children and educate them continuously then surely we can’t go wrong.
We should be focusing on making children our LGBTQ+ allies. After all these are the next generation who can continue the fight for equality and justice of the LGBTQ+ community! By installing courage and power into these tiny humans, knowledge becomes power. By choosing not to educate children we are putting them at a disadvantage, not only are we denying them an education of a vital part of history, but also as adults WE are not preparing them for adulthood.
My main focus on this issue being, as adults we need to ensure we are stepping up and educating children on issues and history which yes, in some cases may seem uncomfortable or at this point in their lives irrelevant, but these children will be growing up in a more culturally and sexually diverse society than we have. Be the educator that children need, educate children on how to overcome and deal with issues that present themselves, teach them acceptance, teach them pride, teach them steps towards a society which no longer inhabits homophobia.