This resource is intended to help early years and primary teachers use a range of picture books to talk about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender identities in the classroom. It follows the NEU’s earlier It’s Child’s Play which looked at how gender stereotypes can be challenged through reading.
It goes without saying that schools should be talking about the full range of ethnicities, faiths, abilities and other differences that are present throughout our society and the families that we work with. Sadly, LGBT+ people are still sometimes left out of these conversations or presented in tokenistic ways that don’t help to promote inclusion. Every child has the right to see their family represented positively at school and all children need to have their future sexual orientation or gender identity endorsed from an early age. If we only talk about heterosexual identities or ignore transgender people when talking to young children, we are denying future generations of LGBT+ teenagers the positive messages they need to grow up feeling happy and confident about themselves and their relationships. And, of course, every child needs to know that being LGBT+ is as valid as any other identity.
Using literature is one of the most effective ways of promoting inclusion around all forms of diversity and this resource discusses books suitable for all children from nursery to Year 6. As with many picture books, they can be returned to at intervals and the stories they contain explored more deeply as children develop and mature.
Work on LGBT+ inclusion is most effective when it takes place as part of wider conversations about all the many differences and similarities that we share. It is for this reason that we have selected books that also challenge stereotypes about gender and include a range of ethnicities, abilities and other differences in their text and illustrations. Take time to notice all the people in each story, all their differences and what they have in common. Encourage children to think about how we all share something with all the other people we know. We are all special and unique in ourselves – there is nobody who is just like us – but also nobody with whom we have nothing in common.
In order to demonstrate that it is OK to talk about different kinds of families and relationships – but also that LGBT+ people are no more or less special or unique than anyone else – it’s helpful to use books that both foreground and clarify these identities alongside stories in which they feature as part of a wider narrative but where their identities are not directly relevant to it.
These complementary approaches are often referred to as explicit and implicit inclusion and we have included books that present LGBT+ characters in both these ways.
Some people are still not as well represented in children’s books as others. See the section on diverse families for more on this. Trans people also occur less often but talking about the gender stereotypes that constrain all of us is a good starting point for breaking down rigid ideas about what it means to be female or male. Look at some of the books included in It’s Child’s Play and use them alongside the trans-related books highlighted in this resource to open
up discussions about sex and gender that can benefit all children. To this end, it is useful if teachers are clear about the difference between sex and gender and use the terms appropriately. Sex is biological and we are all assigned one at birth. Gender relates to a person’s sense of identity and how it is expressed. A trans person’s gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. However, many people who aren’t trans also feel constrained by gender stereotypes – and this can be particularly true of LGB individuals who, by their very nature, will defy some gender norms.
Our society is still very heterosexist – many of the messages we receive still imply that all human beings are either male or female, both in sex and in gender, and that sexual and romantic thoughts and relationships only occur between people of different sexes. It takes effort to make room to affirm other identities but small actions like thinking about the language you use (a simple example would be substituting ‘our families’ or ‘the people who look after us’ for phrases like ‘mummies and daddies’) helps to affirm that families come in all shapes and sizes. Also, try to avoid using language that implies that everyone will have a partner of a different sex when they grow up.
Some colleagues may still be concerned that talking about sexual orientation inevitably leads to talking about sexual activity. Remind them that we talk about heterosexuality all the time (how many fairy stories end with a wedding?) without talking about sex. Questions that children occasionally ask – such as ‘how can two men have a baby’ – are thoroughly and age-appropriately answered in the books discussed in the following pages (for example, through adoption, surrogacy or the formation of new, blended or stepfamilies). Similarly, while individual trans children may have concerns about puberty and their bodies, most pupils will be more interested to discuss social transitions – how some people may change names, pronouns and how they dress, for example. That is not to say that what are, for some adults, more challenging issues shouldn’t be confidently explored – but they are not likely to come up spontaneously when you are reading And Tango Makes Three or Julian is A Mermaid.
Teachers work in an increasingly challenging environment but they retain the capacity to enlighten, enrich, support and reassure every child with whom they come into contact. I hope you enjoy reading and discussing the stories in this resource and that they inspire, inform and entertain you and the children you work with.