Freedom to live

Freedom to live – Why Ruth Hunt is right to encourage children to celebrate being gay and combat homophobia.

Today I gave Mollie her first lesson in gay politics. We were getting ready to go to Brighton Pride and she wanted to know what ‘Rainbow Day’ was all about. We’ve taken her every year since she was tiny but this was the first year she saw it as anything more than a big party and asked questions.
So I told her.
I told her that it was to celebrate all the families that had a daddy and a daddy, or a mummy and a mummy just like us; and all the women who wanted to love and live with other women, and men who wanted to love and live with other men; and all the men and women who were just like her best (boy) friend who wants to wear a dress and be a girl.

And I told her that it’s important to celebrate this because we are lucky that we have the freedom to live our lives how we want to. That, not that long ago, LGBT people didn’t have the right to love who we want to love and be who we want to be and that not everyone thinks we should have that freedom now. I shocked her by saying that in a lot of other countries, people don’t and can’t.

It was hard to tell her that the world isn’t always fair – a bit like greying out some of her innocence-tinted spectacles – but I answered her questions as honestly as I could considering she’s only 5. I hope I was able to explain the importance of celebrating equality in terms that she understood.

I’m glad I tried, because this year’s march was a beautiful mix of the personal and the political. It wasn’t just a big party. We had a wonderful day watching the Pride parade and celebrating with dear friends. We celebrated our freedom to live our lives together. We raised a glass to how far we have come. We put money in the donation buckets to support those fighting to sustain and spread that freedom. And all with Mollie at our sides, looking, questioning, learning.

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We have been lucky that Mollie hadn’t yet come across homophobia and that we have been able to teach her about it in such a positive way. Of course we have attempted to shield her from it as much as possible; we are constantly risk-assessing -where we go, who we spend time with, what we do. We have to. We have tried to fill her life with positive role models – and all the books that I review here – to teach her to celebrate diversity. But as soon as she started school our influence was gone. She was out in the world.

During her first year of school, Mollie has had a fantastic, supportive and liberal teacher who has (with the help of a stack of brilliantly inclusive books) taught Mollie and her peers about diversity in an inclusive way. We have been lucky. But it is luck. We live in a society that still treats LGBT people as less than equal. It’s a sad truth that at some point, directly or indirectly, Mollie will face negative comments about her family.

And that is why Ruth Hunt’s proposal to encourage children to celebrate being gay and combat homophobia is so important.

Ruth Hunt is the newly appointed Chief Executive of Stonewall. She hopes to commission a set of books that celebrates difference and send them to every pre-school. Imagine that! Every child under 5 having access to books celebrating difference and promoting equality. Every child having access to books they can see themselves and their family in. Every child learning that the world is diverse and that that is something to be celebrated. The books that I spend my time talking about and sharing and nudging authors to create, that folk like Inclusive Minds help produce and Letterbox Library help people find… they could be put into every pre-school.

I have been lucky enough to teach my daughter about equality before she came into contact with homophobia. Her class have been taught to celebrate difference. Now imagine a whole generation of pre-schoolers being taught the same. And imagine the roll on effect of that. It truly is powerful stuff.

So let’s all get behind Ruth Hunt and her celebration of difference. Let’s show her she’s right. That inclusive books work and that her idea could change our children’s world.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Norton.

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6 thoughts on “Freedom to live

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  1. I hope that along with the books there will be funding to train teachers to use the books, to feel comfortable with them – it’s a sad fact that many teachers would not use/read such books especially in religious schools, without something to help them understand the need, and to feel confident in reading them.

  2. Absolutely! I believe that is vitally important to teach children about diversity at a young age, while they still innocent and lack prejudice. But to do that we need to be honest (age appropriate) and answer questions they might have. At that age they are accepting of everyone and anyone irrespective of gender/color/sexual preference… And that is such a wonderful quality that many adults could really learn from. We really need to encourage that quality in the next generation. Book can be extremely influential and it’s extremely important to choose the right role models for our children.
    The other day my son was choosing a Thank You card and asked about a little girl and her mummy. He then said “Is there a daddy?” I answered honestly bracing myself for a few more questions to which my little boy simply said “Oh. They won’t like cars then. I’ll look for flowers because they’ll all like those.” I really hope he continues to grow up as accepting of everyone as he is today.

  3. Great post, Carmen. And couldn’t agree with you all more about the need to empower teachers to use these books. Alfred Salter Primary have been doing some fantastic work in this area- with their pre-schoolers/nursery as well. Their work has been so successful they now run training sessions for teachers 3 times a year- books are an integral part of their equalities work. One part of the training is a specific session by their nursery manager on how to use books to challenge gender stereotypes, combat homophobic bullying and introduce diverse families. Another section shows teachers how to counter any objections from parents- especially those from different faith groups. And, my goodness, when you go to their school, you really do feel as if divesity across the board is just effotlessly embedded across the curriculum. We take our lgbt and ‘gender’ titles to each of the training sessions and the Alfred Salter staff (as well as those attending as trainees) buy up pretty much all of the new titles we find in these areas. I’m not saying that to flaunt our books (!) but to stress how brilliant the work they do is and how integral they think books, esp. picture books, are to their work. Fen / Letterbox Library

      1. They’re in Southwark Most of the work was initiated by Deputy Head, Shaun Dellenty who’s on Twitter. It is wonderful indeed. Just walking into that school makes me smile.

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