June is Pride Month, and that means we get the supreme privilege of dedicating it’s entirety to the honoring of the history, legacy and activism of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Up until now, the weight of responsibility to educate the general public on matters of equity and inclusivity has fallen on them and despite the gross negligence, outright denial of their story and their often unrecognized efforts. The needle has been moved this past March with the NJ A 4454 Act. In short, this bill requires all school districts in NJ to provide a curriculum inclusive and representative of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, we already know that in order for us to raise our children to be the kind of allies all of our families need, we need to start the education at home. Here are just some of the ways we can do that, in order to build a more inclusive world for everyone.
Gender Inclusive Play and Language
I always like to be careful concerning the concept of gender-neutral toys. Originally, the term stemmed from the barrage of frilly, lacy pink things being given to little girls and bold, angular, primary colored toys being given to boys which landed us in the era of yellow and green nurseries for at least a decade. I would challenge this concept; colors or toys of any kind are not the issue, it’s the manner of which we speak about them that matters. Children will undoubtedly develop connections to gender-signifying colors and toys. Whether it be the influence from grandparents or other family members, from school, or elsewhere there is going to be an instance where the dreaded phrase, “That’s too girly” will come out of their mouths in reference to a specific color or toy.
Begin by listening and making observations about your own, individual child’s preferences when it comes to play. Do they always gravitate toward playing, “house” ? Provide toy kitchens, dolls and so on. Do they seem to have an unlimited reserve of physical energy? Focus on toys that support their physical needs like bats, balls, trampolines, skateboards, bicycles. We have allowed gender to dictate and shape interests for far too long. After providing toys based on interest, we can work on opportunities for conversation. This is your divine opportunity to swoop in and gently correct:
“Pink is for everyone! Sunsets are pink! Flamingos are pink! Daddy has a pink polo shirt he loves to wear, see him in this picture?”
Let’s continue to provide a frame of reference where gender does not dictate play-preference.
Normalize Pronoun Introductions
I’m sure you’ve noticed the growing amount of people providing their pronoun preferences at the end of emails, atop their social media accounts and on their handles for virtual meetings. It’s such a simple step, but such a powerful one for promoting inclusivity. As a High School English Teacher, I have pronoun preferences as part of my, “Getting to Know You” Google Form at the beginning of each year. Along with certain questions like, “What have you loved about your previous English classes?” I always have an open-ended question slot asking what their preferred pronouns are: and if they would like them to be public knowledge, or just kept for my own personal correspondence with them. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve begun to hear pronoun introductions in real time, and in person. Perhaps some of the good that may have come out of us all being a little rusty in the social interaction department as we, “re-enter” society on the other side of a pandemic is that we can change the norms a lot more easily now.
Why not start by normalizing pronoun introductions? Generally, kids love to introduce themselves. That first stage of development is all about the socialization and the making of friends. It isn’t difficult to add, “When my Mom tells people stories about me, she says, ‘she’” at the end of a name introduction and it could mean the world to a child whose pronouns might not be as evident as others.
Representation in Home Libraries and On Screens
It’s time for a good home library overhaul: both with books and the entertainment we consume. I know we’re climbing out of a period of time where books and movies have saved us and our children. What better time to take a serious look at your shelves and your watch list to make sure our LGBTQIA family is represented in there, too?
There are a plethora of LGBTQIA inclusive literature, television and film floating around that is age-appropriate for our kiddos, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to look. Lucky for you, I read books for a living. Here’s a brief starter based on age/developmental stage to get you going if you find you’re severely lacking in the representation department.
Book: And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Film/Television: Arthur (PBS kids)
Book: Pride; The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders
Film/Television: The Loud House (HULU)
Book: Drama, by Raina Tegemeier
Film/Television: Andi Mack (Netflix)
Book: Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Film/Television: The Half of It (Netflix)
Find Ways to Invest In Your Local LGBTQIA Community
Lastly, but certainly not least, is bring your kids along to invest in your local LGBTQIA community together. Find ways to support local business owners, non-profits; volunteer in local schools and community centers. Being an ally means showing up- with words AND actions.
Little Hoboken will be offering a wide variety of pride merchandise in store for this very purpose, and a portion of all Pride purchase proceeds will go to Hudson Pride Center for the entire month of June.
“Hudson Pride Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community-based organization situated in Jersey City, one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in this country and home to the largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) community in New Jersey. Hudson Pride was established in the early 1990’s to serve as an advocate and social service provider for both the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities in Hudson County at a time when few organizations in our area were willing and able to do so, and more than 25 years later, we continue to deliver a wide array of services, programs, and events to meet their on-going health and social support needs.” (https://hudsonpride.org/)