by Rachel Manwaring (also published at http://ldslights.org/teach-children/)
“What do you teach your children?” is a question that I often get asked when someone finds out that I have a gay brother-in-law and many other gay loved ones, as well as 5 young children. Usually that question is followed up by, “Won’t that be confusing for them?” I think these are great questions to ask, and ones I’ve asked myself at one time, as well. Every family is different and needs to find ways to navigate what works best for them. Today I wanted to share what our family’s experience has been.
We found out that my brother-in-law, Jamison, was gay long before the rest of the world did. Because of that we had lots of time to ponder and pray before we were faced with such questions. As time went on and we witnessed the peace Jamison felt as he slowly began the coming-out process, we knew a time would come when we would be telling our young children. We wanted to do it right and really prayed to be guided by the spirit and I believe with all my heart that we were.
We began by talking in general terms about gay people. We started asking questions around the dinner table like, “Do you know what ‘gay’ means?”, “Have you ever known or seen anyone who was gay?”, “Do you think that anyone would choose to be gay?”, “How do you think Heavenly Father feels about gay people?”, “Have you ever heard someone being called ‘gay’ and made fun of?”, “How does that make you feel?”, “How do you think that makes Heavenly Father feel?”, “How would you feel if you were gay and you heard mean things said about about you?”, “How would you feel if you had a gay family member or friend?”, “What would you want them to know?” There were many, many other questions that we would ask, but you get the gist. Our children’s answers were always spot on and we were taught every time they opened their mouths. I was reminded of all the scriptures that admonish us to become as little children and I felt like I had an even better understanding as to what that meant in those special discussions.
We also decided to focus all of our family home evening lessons on the Savior. We put strong emphasis on His ministry of love and service and His call for us to do the same for all of our brothers and sisters. We would speak about the beauty of differences and how everyone has special gifts and what a sad place it would be if we were all the same. We felt blessed that we had already filled our life with people who were different from our family in many ways, whom we could refer to and ask the question, “Wouldn’t our life be so sad without them in it?” We also talked about all the ways (the important ways) how we are alike.
When it came time for us to tell our children, we weren’t scared. We were confident that we had prepared them with direction from the Lord. Jamison had made a YouTube video to share with extended friends and family since there was no way possible to speak with everyone. We gathered our children around and watched his video. They were unfazed and were just happy to be seeing his smiling face. I thought it was really sweet when our 6 yr old son asked, “Do we have to watch ALL of this?”. To me, that meant how much things didn’t change for him and how his favorite uncle was still the same person in his eyes.
Shortly after that experience I remember getting on my knees and expressing my gratitude for the lesson we had been taught and that we were able to teach. The thought quickly came to my mind, “what a beautiful gift we are able to give our children by knowing and loving their gay uncle.” What a gift for them to be able to see people for so much more than their sexual orientation. You see, gay isn’t scary to them. Gay isn’t yucky. Gay isn’t the only thing that defines a person. Gay isn’t some issue they are trying to solve. Their reference point of “gay” is their favorite uncle who they love and who they know loves them more than anything, who reads them books and makes them laugh. Gay to them is the many people who often fill our home with laughter and friendship, the person who plays primary songs while they sing at the top of their lungs, who comes over and takes our family to ice-cream and lets them get whatever toppings they want, who plays games with them, who takes time and asks about their life, who brings their children over to play with, who wants to watch them put on dance shows, who brings them gifts beyond belief, who teaches them how to “jewel” a grapefruit, who brings their puppy over for them to play with, who will talk with them about samurai swords for hours, who makes the best cookies they’ve ever had, who goes to football games with them, who shows them YouTube videos about silly animals… on and on and on. Our gay family members and friends bring to our home something that I could have never dreamed and our family is richly blessed. What a gift.
There is nothing confusing about gay people to our children….they know they are amazing people that have so much to give. The only thing that is confusing to them is how anyone wouldn’t want them in their life. For me the question of, “What do you teach your children?” could more appropriately be changed to, “What did your children teach you?”