Let’s say you’ve got a 6-year-old kid. And one of that kid’s aunts – your sister, or the other parent’s sister – is gay. They have a long-term same-sex partner. What do you tell your kid? Are you upfront with the fact that the two women are a couple? Or do you water it down and tell them, “that’s… er… that’s your auntie’s special friend”?
I think the responses to that question underline the stickiest part of this ongoing debate over whether primary school kids should have a quick lesson on the bare basics of diversity; giving them a heads-up on the different types of people they will encounter in their day-to-day lives as they grow up. Obviously you’ve got outright homophobes shitting themselves over the whole thing, but there’s an emerging number of ostensibly “sensible” voices resisting it, too: the people who say they’re all good with the gays, they just think kids that age are too young to have this stuff thrust upon them.
They’ve missed the point.
Y’see, the basics of love, romance and coupling-up are put into kids’ heads from age zero – from cartoon fairy tales with princes and princesses, to parents cooing “is that your girrrrlfriend?” when a little boy makes friends with a little girl. It’s not that kids are too young to handle the stripped-back, base-level ideas of relationships. It’s that queer relationships are seen as a bit too dirty. A bit too complicated. Inappropriate.
But gooood God, take it from the queers themselves: you’ve got to normalise this stuff early. As things stand – as things have always stood – kids go into secondary school seeing queerness as “other”. Negative, shameful. Something to absolutely avoid being seen as. ‘Gay’ is still a playground insult. Homosexuality and gender-queerness are still ideas that groups of mates tease each-other over. “Lewis is a gay boy!” “[Giggles] No I’m not!”
That’s why – trust me! – queer teens grow up facing everything from deep-rooted shame to extreme depression and, in far too many cases, suicidal thoughts. It’s also why straight cisgender kids make life hell for them – because they’ve grown up with queerness as this boogeyman; an alien, weird, freakish handicap. If you just nip that in the bud at primary level; casually teach kids that LGBTQ+ people exist (and are normal!), you stand a much better chance of making life easier for EVERYONE further down the line.
I’ve gotta say, it’s been telling watching people lump this all in with “sex education”. I first noticed it with Gloria Hunniford on Loose Women ages ago, and – in the extreme – that far-right troll who got famous off The Apprentice has been banging on via Twitter about how despicable it is for us to be “sexualising” the young. Sexualising!!!!! Nobody’s teaching them how to use Grindr, for fuck’s sake! Teachers aren’t showing them gay porn! It’s literally just normalising the fact that, every once in a while, kids will encounter a queer person. Someone who has relationships with people of the same gender. Or someone who doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes at all. These notions are only weird and inappropriate if the parent fundamentally believes LGBTQ+ people are weird and inappropriate – in which case, sorry, they’re homophobic.
We’re living in an age in which some children have same-sex parents, and many more have queer aunts and uncles, or cousins, or family friends. Or teachers! Has that knowledge “sexualised” those children? Of course it hasn’t. I’ve been with my guy for eight years now, and as far as I know, my cousins’ many, many children (who vary in school age from primary to early secondary) all know that we’re a couple. Just like their straight mums and dads and aunts and uncles. And as far as I know, their heads haven’t exploded. Their world didn’t end. They are quite literally fine with it. Maybe they were a little confused at first, but they’re kids – a few years ago they didn’t even know what a breakfast was. They’ve adapted!
If you teach kids to normalise something, they will. It’s not about “promoting homosexuality” – because, as I trust we all know by this point(!!!!), your sexual orientation isn’t something you can just decide to change. It’s about promoting acceptance and stamping out bullying.
It’s an age-old fact but it’s true: homosexuality is present in (I think) every single animal species. Homophobia is only present in one. Homosexuality is biologically natural; homophobia is taught. Kids have the capacity to grasp this. Why don’t parents?!