I recently watched This Is Us in its entirety. It’s a charming show with many tender moments, but it was a five second interaction during the Christmas episode that really stuck with me as an educator. In the episode, Randall’s biological father William brings his partner to the family’s Christmas Eve festivities. Randall appears perplexed, but fortunately, his young daughter Tess is there to clear things up for him. It goes something like this:
Randall (to wife Beth): Has William ever mentioned Jesse before?
Tess: It’s just like the book with two dads from school.
Tess: Grandpa’s gay, Dad.
And she goes on her merry way. I know it’s a fictionalized conversation, but as a teacher, I thought there was a lot to unpack in terms of implications for diversity education, specifically efforts to be LGBTQ-inclusive.
First, it’s important for students to have books that provide both mirrors and windows. That the latter has been provided by her teachers is apparent in Tess’s reaction. Children’s literature provides insight into the lives of those who are different, and that’s key to developing understanding and empathy. When teachers share books like A Tale of Two Daddies and Heather Has Two Mommies, they expose kids to diversity and help them see the common thread through all families: love!
Next, kids need the vocabulary to talk about difference respectfully. Many school-age kids use “gay” as a put-down, often to mean “stupid.” When they understand what the word really mean (“a man and a man or a woman and a woman who love each other”), they’re less likely to use it as a slur. Just like Tess did, armed with the necessary terminology, kids can not only name difference (which is developmentally appropriate, by the way) but start to appreciate it.
Finally, elementary kids are not too young to learn about LGBTQ topics. The themes of family, respect, and love are completely appropriate for young children. Sex, for those who are worried about it, is not discussed beyond “who you love.” It was easy for Tess to accept her grandfather’s partner because she’d been provided accurate, matter-of-fact information about LGBTQ people. å
What I love most about this snippet is that what is a huge revelation for her father is positively shrug-worthy for Tess. And this is the case in schools throughout the nation. Kids are more concerned about fidget spinners and lunch menus than they are about gender markers and bathrooms (unless we make those an issue that they do have to worry about). As adults, we have a lot to learn from the open minds and hearts of children — kids like Tess who teach us that Grandpa being gay is no big deal.