Pride and You(th)
Pride Month 2020 is coming to a close, and there is, as always, much to celebrate. There is also much to mourn, including the lives of Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, two Black transgender women murdered on June 9. Riah Milton was a 25-year-old home health aide who studied at the University of Cincinnati. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells was a 27-year-old dancer and artist who had dreams of returning to school to study fashion.
There are many ways to honor Pride Month, and one vital way is to donate to causes that support Black trans women. This list is a favorite of mine; it features dozens of organizations—from bail funds to youth programs—that promote “Black trans liberation and survival.” I urge you to give what you can—this month and every month—and to read more about Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, and the 14 other transgender people reported murdered in 2020.
Another way to honor Pride, one particularly dear to us at EPIC, is through education. This education includes children (and I’ll get to them soon), but in order to educate them, we need to commit to lifelong learning and continuously educate ourselves. For some adults, that might mean starting by reading up on the basics of gender identity and pronouns. While I feel pretty well versed in these subjects, I’m currently working to learn more about BIPOC queer history that I, as a white queer person, have not read nearly enough about.
For a slew of bigoted reasons, there has long been a stigma surrounding children and the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re an adult in 2020, no matter how you were raised, there’s a pretty low chance you grew up talking about gender identity and sexual orientation in an open, normalized way. Because these types of conversations weren’t modeled for us, initiating them with children can seem impossibly complicated, even for committed allies and LGBTQ+ adults themselves. At their core, though, these issues are all about identity, authenticity, and inclusion, concepts children of any age can, and should, understand.
Earlier this month, we read our students Theresa Thorn’s It Feels Good to Be Yourself. I love this book because it exposes children to a wide-open range of gender identities in a totally matter-of-fact way. I particularly appreciate that it explicitly introduces the concept of cisgender identities—a character named Xavier’s parents thought he was a boy, and when he got older he told them they were right—instead of assuming it as the default. Ideally, kids will walk away from the book having learned a simple message: Everyone has a gender identity, every identity is equally valid, and it’s perfectly fine if those identities change. It was a message our students certainly seemed to internalize. In their video responses to our read aloud, each one gave a brief, articulate explanation of their identity and shared some thoughtful ideas for how to better include others.
Equally important are children’s stories that feature diverse LGBTQ+ characters going about their lives. This doesn’t mean a character’s LGBTQ+ identity can’t be part of or even a primary focus of the story. It just means their lives and worlds must extend beyond that, that they have families, friends, interests, and other identities that make them who they are.
Characters like these are still grossly underrepresented, but there are, thankfully, an ever-growing number, many in books written by LGBTQ+ authors. While Kyle Luckoff’s When Aidan Became a Brother begins with Aidan’s family affirming his identity as a trans boy, the story quickly moves on to Aidan’s more pressing concern: preparing for the birth of his baby sibling. Alex Gino’s George follows the protagonist through the week she comes out as a trans girl, but lots of other things happen that week, too: George goes to school, hangs out with her best friend Kelly, and rehearses for her class’ production of Charlotte’s Web. There are many other great books that fall into this category. This list highlights some of them.
I’m thrilled to be living in a time when the world is finally willing to talk to kids about Pride, to acknowledge that many children are or will be LGBTQ+ themselves. I’m even more thrilled to be working at EPIC, where we actively engage children in the exact kinds of conversations I wish I’d had as a kid. Pride Month may be ending, but the celebration must continue, and that means bringing your children along to learn, to listen, and to fight for every member of the LGBTQ+ community.