In June we celebrated Pride Month, when many countries around the world celebrate LGBTQIA+ and promote their rights. In the UK, some Pride marches were postponed due to coronavirus, but that didn’t mean we had to halt our smaller celebrations!
Most people are familiar with the rainbow flag, which has represented the gay civil rights movement since the late 1970s. The rainbow was chosen because it represents all colours and all genders. This year, the rainbow had even more significance as we have also used this symbol in the UK during the pandemic to represent hope and feeling connected to one another during a very tough time.
I found myself talking to an educator the other day about whether we should celebrate Pride in our settings. I feel very strongly that we should acknowledge and celebrate the diversity that exists within our families and children and many children in our settings may be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Celebrating Pride is a way of enabling these children and families to feel included and welcomed. Many settings that celebrated Pride did so by creating rainbows together using a variety of different media or reading stories that represent different sorts of families. We did some rainbow baking in our house to celebrate.
The new Birth to 5 Matters non-statutory guidance document has a really useful section on inclusive practice and equalities. It states, “A child may also be part of a family which is LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, plus other variations). Early years settings have an opportunity to prevent prejudices from occurring by ensuring that these children and their families feel welcome and valued. In practice, this means that settings should ensure that their environments are welcoming and supportive and actively celebrate the value of diversity. Ultimately, supporting children to embrace and celebrate differences between them, their families and others, is “a crucial part of doing equalities work and fostering inclusive practice.” (Birth to 5 Matters, 2021, p25)
Here are some suggestions of how we can actively celebrate diversity and LGBTQIA+ in our settings:
- Ensure children can see themselves and their families reflected in the learning environment
- Include books, posters and small world play materials which depict a range of families (for a list of books, look at the LGBTQ Early Years website resources section)
- Display photographs of all the children and celebrate the unique child and their identity
- Talk about differences and similarities in families, for example, mummies and daddies, single parents, same-sex parents, grandparents raising children or adopted children
- Challenge prejudice and discrimination and try to avoid tokenism
- Allow children to play in gender-flexible ways, for example allowing a boy to wear a princess dress
- Provide role models who have some of the same identity features as children and families, for example, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or languages spoken
It is my hope that early years practitioners will not shy away from talking about LGBTQIA+ with their children and families. However, we need to be aware of how we use language describing gender and ensure that it remains positive. Terminology changes over the years and the most inclusive way to acknowledge this is to ask the person what language they would like us to use to describe their gender. Commonly used terms are explored below.
Understanding terminology LGBTQIA+:
- L – Lesbian – a woman who is sexually attracted to other women.
- G – Gay – a homosexual person, usually used to describe a man who is sexually attracted to other men.
- B – Bi-sexual – a person who is sexually attracted to both genders.
- T – Transgender (trans) – umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not match their sex as assigned at birth.
- Q – Queer – umbrella term for people who might identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. In the past this term has been used in an offensive way, however, it is now being used by some members of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive way.
- I – Intersex – a person who is born with a body that does not fully fit into either male or female.
- A – Asexual – used when someone isn’t sexually attracted to others of any gender.
- + Plus - this means that the LGBTQIA+ acronym intends to be inclusive and include everyone who doesn’t feel they fit in with the typical male/female or heterosexual groups. In addition, some people may add an additional letter, e.g. a second Q for Questioning their identity, a P for pansexual, when someone is attracted to another due to their characteristics rather than gender, or an additional A for Ally, meaning someone who supports the LGBTQ+ community. The plus sign encompasses all variations.
Other terms used:
- Gender – gender is a social construction describing masculinity and femininity, this is different from sex.
- Gender identity – this is referring to which gender a person identifies with and uses to describe themselves.
- Pansexual – this refers to people who are attracted to other people regardless of their sex or gender identity – so they might say their romantic attraction is not based on sexual orientation but rather on who they fall in love with or have an emotional connection with.
- Sex – a person has a sex assigned to them at birth according to their reproductive organs.
- Heterosexual – a person who is sexually attracted to a person of the opposite gender.
- Homosexual – a person who is sexually attracted to a person of the same gender.
- Non-binary – this term is used when a person feels that they cannot describe themselves as either male or female.
- Cisgender – a person whose gender identity matches their sex as assigned at birth. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender.
- Gender dysphoria – a person who experiences distress because there is a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex as assigned at birth. This term is often used in relation to children who are exploring their gender identity and do not feel they fit into their birth sex.
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant, author and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and loving. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.
Tamsin has written four books –
"Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children, School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning", "Calling All Superheroes: Supporting and Developing Superhero Play in the Early Years" and "Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years: How Love Fits with Professional Practice". She is currently working on her next two, "Supporting Behaviour and Emotions" and "Self-Regulation in Early Childhood".