“I am not gay!”
…the cry came from behind the swings. Then the young man came streaking across the playground toward the tall trees. “I am NOT gay! I AM NOT GAY!” Screamed with the terror of trying to outrun the boogie man, a cloud of cooties, a wild black bear and the abominable snowman all at once.
This summer, I am teaching third grade students. They are 9 or 10 years old. This is one interaction I witnessed this week on the playground.
I started the calm walk over to talk with him and the other boys who had been taunting him.
“What is going on?” I asked them. The conversation quietly began. One sheepishly admitted to calling another one gay. The one who used the word hung his head as he fessed up.
I hear over and over again that if we talk about gay families or students in elementary school, we are exposing them to this content way too early. Here’s the thing this playground taunt reminded me: THIS SO-CALLED “MATURE CONTENT” IS ALREADY THERE. It is already in our schools.
Some of our students have same-sex parents. They have siblings who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, not to mention aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Then there are relationships they see in the media. Some of our elementary students even know they are in one of these groups, even if they don’t have the words for it yet. The vast majority of kids in our schools already know about this through observation and experience, just as they know about heterosexual relationships from a huge variety of sources.
Here’s what I know: if adult professionals in schools avoid talking about this topic at all, it is allowed to run rampant with misconceptions and ignorance. When I told these young men (really, they are boys) that being gay is not an awful thing, it’s just how some people are, their eyes popped and their jaws dropped. I could tell they had not heard that before.
I can’t allow students to run around on playgrounds and call people gay as if that is the worst thing they could be. How would a gay classmate feel, or a classmate with same sex parents?
Is it any wonder the rate of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts is higher among LGBTQ young people if their identity is used as an insult? And adults just stand by and watch it happen?
I get it…It’s not always easy to talk about for people of many ages. One of my daughter’s friends who came out in the past couple of years saw me at a party recently. She said “Miss Beth, you forgot to wish me a Happy Pride Month!” I hugged her and wished her Happy Pride Month with a smile. I love seeing her come into her own and embrace her truth.
Then I showed her my watch face, which made her eyes light up. I have my Apple Watch set on one of the new Pride faces. It may seem little, but even small signals to young people that they are seen, accepted, and embraced for who they are matter. And I will continue to say it and show it in whatever ways I can.