How to Talk to Your Kids About Pride

Two women at Pride

Mixmike / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Pride Month is the perfect time to talk to your kids about what it means to be LGBTQ+.
  • Experts recommend asking open-ended and empathy-building questions.
  • Remember, it's a conversation that will continue as your child grows.

Pride Month is celebrated in June each year to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, which was a huge turning point for the U.S. Gay Liberation Movement. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it can provide a great opportunity to start a conversation with a child about what it means to be LGBTQ+. 

There are a few approaches you could take when bringing up the topic of Pride. Perhaps it's sparked by their questions about a friend's two moms or dads. Or consider the iconic rainbow flag that's been a symbol of the gay community since the 1970s—and is typically seen everywhere during Pride Month. It could be the perfect jumping-off point to start your discussion.

“The only people who love rainbows more than the LGBTQ+ community are kids,” jokes Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, LMSW, Youth Leadership & Education Manager at The LGBT Community Center in New York City. He suggests drawing a rainbow with your kid and putting it up in your window, or even creating your own Pride cheer. 

Another “in” to a wider discussion about LGBTQ+ identity and issues is to engage your child in the important discussion of civil rights. “You can explain that LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. had few civil rights until they organized in rebellions such as the Stonewall riot in NYC and began to fight for their rights for equal treatment under the law,” says Adam D. Blum, MFT, a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, the largest private therapy provider for the LGBTQ+ community in the US. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions (i.e. those that require more than a "yes" or "no" response) make the process easier because they relieve adults from needing to have all the answers, says Winn-Ritzenberg. 

“Questions engage kids around their own knowledge base, reveal where kids are in their own thinking, and can help adults avoid making speeches,” he explains.

Examples of simple, revealing questions include:

  • What does a rainbow represent to you?
  • What does it mean to have pride?
  • Have you ever stood up for somebody else?
  • What would it be like if everybody was the same?
  • Do you know what any of the letters in LGBTQ+ stands for?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt different?
  • Who do you consider to be in your community?

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, LMSW

It’s vital that any kid sees a trusted adult model love, respect, and non-judgment toward the LGBTQ+ community and toward the kid themselves.

— Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, LMSW

It’s important to take your child’s age and maturity level into account when deciding what questions to ask. And as great as questions are, Winn-Ritzenberg says what’s more important is your overall message.

Winn-Ritzenberg provides language to use when discussing this with your kids: “If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or anything that you feel makes you a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I want you to know that l will be your biggest supporter. I want you to know you can always talk to me.”

Remember, It’s OK to Not Have All the Answers 

Winn-Ritzenberg points out that some gender identities are complicated, even intentionally so, and that’s an important thing to respect. “It’s OK for anyone, kid and adult, not to fully understand,” he says. “Adults can model what it is to be excited by all the beautiful diversity the human experience has to offer.” 

It’s also natural for a child to have internalized some of the negative messaging about the LGBTQ+ community that, unfortunately, exists in our society. 

Adam D. Blum, MFT

Homophobia is taught. Infants do not hate people for being different. They learn it from their family, culture, and friends.

— Adam D. Blum, MFT

“It’s vital that any kid sees a trusted adult model love, respect, and non-judgment toward the LGBTQ+ community and toward the kid themselves,” Winn-Ritzenberg explains. “A reply to a negative reaction or confusion could look like, ‘It’s okay to think something is a little strange, that’s an understandable feeling especially when we see something that is new to us. And you know what, everybody is different, and everyone is deserving of love and respect.’” 

Winn-Ritzenberg suggests asking “empathy-building questions” to explore both confusion and negative responses during your conversations about LGBTQ+ issues.

Example of Empathic Questions

  • Have you ever felt like a label or term didn’t exactly fit you?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt like people were judging you?
  • Has anyone ever told you to wear something that you didn’t want to wear?
  • Have you ever been called by the wrong name?

Encouraging empathy can help make the topic of LGBTQ+ experiences and identity easier for children to understand, agrees Blum.

“They may have their own experiences of being left out, bullied, teased, or lonely,” he says. “Help them understand how those experiences are similar to what it feels like for any person who is shunned for being different.”

What This Means For You

Lots of online resources are available to help you define LGBTQ+, such as The Trevor Project, Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). You might want to look at these resources together with your child—it can help to open up the space to questions and reactions.

Remember, this should be the beginning of a conversation that can continue over many years, growing with your child.

Be Affirmative and Positive  

It's possible that you're the only LGBTQ+ affirming adult in a child's life, which makes you a resource, a safe space, and a role model. "For LGBTQ+ kids, this can literally be life-saving," Winn-Ritzenberg says. "For all kids, lessons about showing love and respect for other humans have limitless applications."

Be careful what you say around your children, even babies. "Homophobia is taught," Blum adds. "Infants do not hate people for being different. They learn it from their family, culture, and friends."

When you speak to your child about Pride Month and LGBTQ+ issues, it's possible that they've not even started to embark upon an exploration of their own sexual and gender journey. But this is something you can't predict or control.

"You will regret exposing your child to your own discomfort with the LGBTQ+ experience if they ultimately are LGBTQ+ themselves," Blum warns. "LGBTQ+ children who are exposed to LGBTQ+ prejudice in their own families grow up worrying that they are unlovable. And no parent wants their child to believe they are not deserving of love."

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.