dr. kathryn bass

Helping kids to understand – and grow – during Pride month

Jun 18, 2021

June is recognized as Pride Month across the United States and in many other places around the world. It commemorates and celebrates LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) activism and culture, both historically and in modern times.

Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ community, or you have friends or family that are, this month presents a natural opportunity to discuss the many issues that surround this demographic group with the children in your lives. This can vary from relatively straightforward topics such as what kinds of language to use and behaviors to exhibit to make others feel accepted and included, to more challenging conversations to have with kids such as gender identification and sexual orientation.

As our society continues to evolve and members of the LGBTQ community become more routinely represented in our day-to-day lives via entertainment, advertising and other media, all children are encountering LGBTQ people at younger ages than ever before. Today, even preschoolers can and should expect to meet and treat members of this community with dignity and respect. From Sesame Street episodes to Disney productions, LGBTQ representation in children’s programming is occurring at increased rates too (although not yet as major, central characters, which continues to draw criticism).

As you’d expect, this increased representation – and with it, the wider cultural presence of LGBTQ members across our globe – leads to a heightened amount of questions from children. These queries may come from observing a classmate with two moms, or be introspective, as a child begins to consider his, her, or their own identity.

The medical community is trying to lead the way in helping families prepare for and have these conversations. The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) recently published a position paper on pediatrician guidance for initiating this discussion before puberty, especially among racial minority groups. It’s also become routine for healthcare professions to receive training on how to best care for and interact with LGBTQ patients. The American Medical Association provides guidance, best practices, FAQs and more to help physicians and others to best care for this population and not offend them.

Too often, LGBTQ members report having discouraging interactions with healthcare providers, which can cause them to avoid getting care altogether – and lead to poor outcomes. This is because the risks and stakes can be especially high among these communities, according to the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center, due to a number of disparities, including:

  • LGBTQ youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STDs, especially among communities of color
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STDs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide, and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals
  • Elderly LGBTQ individuals are often more isolated and lack social services and culturally competent providers
  • LGBTQ also populations have very high rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use

Advocates encourage proactive practices like creating committees to review LGBTQ patient care, allowing patients to self-identify in their health records, and creating guidelines for providers about transgender patient interactions, to name a few.

So, what can you do to help your children understand Pride Month and the broader topics it represents?  For starters, you can educate them about the basics. Try explaining that people who choose to be life partners and raise a family together can be two men, two women, or a man and a woman. Answer questions that arise at the age appropriate level over time.      

History lessons are also great teaching tools. For instance, many people are surprised to learn that the six-color rainbow flag — the internationally recognized LGBTQ symbol — is made up of colors that each have their own meaning. Red embodies life, orange signals healing, yellow symbolizes sunshine, green represents nature, blue stands for harmony and purple denotes spirit.

The flag’s history itself is a fascinating story. It was created in 1978 by political activist Gilbert Baker — an openly gay U.S. Army solider well before the don’t-ask-don’t-tell-era. He did so in response to a challenge by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, to design a symbol of hope for the gay community. Milk – a New York native – was assassinated later that same year. Baker’s original design had eight stripes, including pink for sex and turquoise for magic. It later was reduced to the six stripes most commonly seen today.

This year, in the wake of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements, the flag was altered to show solidarity with the nation’s protests. Black was added to represent diversity, brown to signify inclusivity, and light blue and pink — the two colors removed from Gilbert’s original — were added back, as they are prominent tones within the trans Pride flag.

Then there is the question of why is June Pride Month? It actually commemorates a time when police used to routinely raid and “break-up” gay bars and events where LGBTQ members would congregate in an attempt to feel safe and accepted. Finally, on June 28, 1969, patrons of The Stonewall Inn, a popular New York City gay establishment, had enough. They fought back, creating The Stonewall Riots, which lasted for days. The very first Pride parade followed one year later.

Ironically, 2020 would have marked the 50th anniversary of Pride parades in America, although the pandemic forced many alterations and outright cancellations, creating yet another barrier for LGBTQ community members to overcome.

This June, talk to your children about the LGBTQ community and help remove some of those barriers that no one should have to deal with in a nation where all people are created equal.