Meet them where they’re at.
Perhaps your children are old enough to be on social media and follow the news. Maybe, all they know is that some states are passing laws that limit who can play which sports. Either way, meet them where they are at and keep things there.
Opening up this conversation might feel challenging, but it can be as simple as, “I saw the news today about a bill that bans some kinds of books. Did you see that?” or “Have you heard anything about the Supreme Court at school today?”
Then, follow their lead.
If your child is not aware of current events, but you want to make sure that they’re informed, break it down in terms they understand. A “book ban” might be better explained as “rules about what books can and can’t be in our school library.” Criminalizing healthcare for trans youth can be referred to as laws about what kind of medicine doctors can give transgender people. Discussions around marriage equality can be talked about as debates people are having about who is allowed to get married.
Often for children, it helps to frame things in terms that are already commonplace in your family. Have you talked about the importance of LGBTQ+ families being represented in picture books? Let them know that those are the books that aren’t being allowed in school libraries.
Be honest about your feelings.
Don’t just focus on the facts. Be honest about how you feel, because it’s important that our children hear us talking about our feelings.
For some, this might feel tricky. But rest assured: We can name our feelings without adding to their stress. We don’t have to go into detail about our heartache, but we can let them know that it makes us sad that leaders are debating our ability to marry or that transgender youth might not be able to live authentically. Being honest about our own feelings can signal to our kids that their honest feelings are not only okay but also worth talking about.
If you are living in a place that is currently in the middle of adapting these harmful laws, or if you or your children occupy identities that are being directly targeted, your feelings might be amplified or more raw. Don’t shy away from that, but maybe read the following paragraph a few extra times.
Give Your Children Their Own Resources.
Of course, our children love us and depend on us so much. But, they also deserve to process, feel, and understand separate from us. It’s so important that we encourage our child(ren) to carve out time and space for authentic self-care. Gift your child a new journal. Let them know that there’s time for an extra-long bath tonight. Encourage them to go on a walk before school. By outwardly supporting their self-care habits, we are signaling that making space is not just “acceptable”—it’s essential.
In addition to caring for themselves, our children need their own community. From in-person meet-ups to virtual support groups, there are so many options out there for our children to build connections! Remind them about their local GSA, write down the meeting days and times of your local LGBTQ+ youth group, or connect them with COLAGE, the only organization serving children of LGBTQ+ people.
Jess Venable Novak
Director of Family Formation
Jess is a queer, non-binary educator, organizer, and parent living in rural Vermont. Jess began working with Family Equality first as the Midwest Children’s Programming Intern from 2010-2012, then returned as the Data & Training Intern in 2019 and the Family Week Fellow in 2020. They are grateful to be returning to Family Equality as the Director of Family Formation after having served as the Family Engagement Manager for several months. Originally from the Midwest, Jess has been living and working in Vermont for several years, most recently serving as the Statewide Director of Education at the Pride Center of Vermont. Jess brings with them years of experience working at the intersection of education, facilitation and community building within the non-profit sector as well in state-level politics. Presently, when they aren’t crossword-ing with their sweetie or doing art projects with their kiddo, they consult with schools, employers, and organizations to facilitate conversations about how we can build a culture that supports and celebrates LGBTQ+ people.