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‘Homophobes aren’t scared of kids discussing sexuality – they’re scared of them not being straight’

As Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill is passed, dad-of-two Damian Kerlin reflects on how heterosexuality is thrust in children's faces from the moment they're born.

By Will Stroude

Words: Damian Kerlin; Image: Damian (left) with husband Andrew and their two children (Supplied)

This week Florida lawmakers passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill banning discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools. The bill has strong echoes of Section 28, the 1988 law that prevented local authorities in the UK from promoting sexuality.

To put this into context, this would mean my children, once at school would be limited in what they could tell their classmates or teachers about us, their parents. Their family would become a topic deemed too inappropriate to talk about.

I think people forget how recent Section 28 was. I’m only 31 and part of my schooling was conducted under it. When we act like recent wrongs are ancient history, we prevent ourselves from tackling the social and cultural conditions that allowed such bigotries to flourish in the first place.

It didn’t only impact LGBTQ+ people either but cis-het people who continue to carry the attitude that queerness shouldn’t be spoken about or is ‘adult’ – that is a Section 28 hangover.

If you think the law didn’t affect you because you’re straight and/or cis and so weren’t personally oppressed by it, please consider the above. You were still impacted by what you weren’t taught and by the culture of silence and fear that was sustained by government enforcement.

What do you really mean?

Stop saying “kids are too young to be discussing sexuality” when that isn’t what you really mean. Our children are not born knowing heterosexuality is the only acceptable way to be. We teach this. From young. In countless ways. The media they consume, the clothes they wear, the toys they’re given all reinforce the heterosexual lifestyle parents prescribe them.

Parents, are you really afraid of your children discussing sexuality or are you afraid of them not being straight?

I can’t tell you the number of times my boys have been described as ‘heartbreakers’ or how they are going to be ‘ladies’ men’ when they grow up. A girl has kissed out every tooth, which given my son’s current smile would mean he’s been busy.

Damian (right) with husband Andrew and their two children

Heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. If a child knows a mum and dad, husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend they know something about sexual orientation. The topic of sexual orientation is in my children’s faces everywhere every day.

Do I want to take that away from them? Ban it? Absolutely not. The learning of this allows my children to have a greater understanding of relationships, difference, acceptance and love. Where one is not championed over another. Where one is not more ‘normal’ or ‘common’.

The consequences of our actions

Queer people do not inherently struggle with mental health: we develop higher rates of mental health issues as a result of being mistreated by a society that does not attempt to understand us.

When you ask an LGBTQ+ person about their struggles with their identity, most will tell you not that they’ve hated themselves, but that homophobic and transphobic pressure created by unsupportive environments, family, friends and religious groups made loving and accepting themselves an impossible task.

I don’t know who needs to hear this but to parents across the world who honestly believe that gender and sexual orientation are choices our children can make or unmake and that hearing about these things at a young age might influence them. Not only is this not true, but also, if your kids do not feel safe expressing who they really are deep down inside, the statistics are stacked against them.

Don’t let your ego blind you from seeing your own truth about yourself and the continued suffering you will inevitably cause. As parents, we can all have that same moment of panic when our child is something we can’t identify with, something we don’t know first-hand, something that we don’t know the answers to before anyone bothers to ask the questions. We get scared and we don’t know what to do.

But we choose to be parents, we are taking on the responsibility, obligation and honour to love the children we adopt or create. This statement does not come with an asterisk at the end. You get to parent your children and everything that comes with that.

Your children need you and your unconditional support. Put yourself aside and put your child first. Because you are a parent. Because it’s your job.

The truth is, we live in a dangerous world. We live in a world where people are proud of their hate. They’ll face enough of it in their lifetime. They don’t need it from you. You are your child’s strongest advocate. You may be your child’s only advocate.

Your child is perfect exactly the way they are.

And to our children. Don’t give up!

Damian Kerlin is an LGBTQI+, family and lifestyle blogger. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.