Welcoming Diverse Families:
What LGBTQIA+ folk have told us they want from their ECEC service
“An ally is when a person uses their position in society to counter discrimination of marginalised groups” (University of Melbourne, 2022)
About 4% of the Australian community identifies as LGBTQIA+ and family diversity is becoming more visible with changes to the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act (2013), easier access to assisted reproductive technologies, and general evolution in culture and society. There has been a 5-fold increase in the number of families that identify as having members with diverse genders or sexualities since 2010 (ABS, 2021).
Over the past few months, we’ve been speaking to LGBTQIA+ families to learn more about how early childhood services can offer more of does what work for their family, and less of what doesn’t. We’ve also been talking to early childhood professionals so we can support them to be a strong ally for LGBTIQA+ families and their children in their service, and advocate for change.
Families used words such as ‘respected’, ‘represented’, ‘welcome’, ‘included’ and ‘safe’ to describe how they wanted to feel at their child’s service. One family even told us they wanted to feel ‘safely hidden and invisible’.
This encouraged us to look a little deeper and see if families always disclose their sexuality or gender identity to their child’s service, or if some kept it private. To our surprise, only 60% of families we spoke to did disclose their gender identity and sexuality to all of their children’s services! This means that for every 3 LGBTIQA+ families in your service that you know about, there’s 2 more that you don’t! Or for every 3 services that know they have a LGBTQIA+ family, there’s 2 services that doesn’t!
What this means is we need to make LGBTQIA+ families feel respected, represented, welcome, included and safe whether we know they are there or not! Chances are, with 4 folk in 100 being LGBTIQA+ (and this is conservative), there’ll be two parents in each group of 25 children who are; and 1 child who is, even if they’re not exploring gender or sexuality yet.
So, how do we help families feel respected, represented, welcome, included and safe?
They told us there’s a bunch of things you can do:
Be an ally – use your voice: intervene when other families or professionals use homophobic or transphobic language, comments or behaviour inside the service (or even in the community)
knowing the unique ways each child refers to their parent(s) within each family (mamma, mummy, pa, dada, daddy, ZZ – whatever it is – this goes for all children!)
having a good selection of books, posters and other displays representing family diversity (ECA and Rainbow Families have recently released a package of children’s books that share family diversity)
review all policies, procedures, forms and their philosophy to promote inclusion and use gender neutral language and that which doesn’t assume family structure
consulting with them on celebrations for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day (and making sure to include non-binary parents in these celebrations)
asking broad questions such as “What are your goals for your child?” “How do you want your child and your family to feel at the service”, “How can we make sure this happens?” “Is there anything you’d like me to know about you, your child and your family”. (really – this should go for each child and family, not just those in different family structures)
If you do all these things, it is then fabulous if you fly a rainbow flag, wear pronoun and ally pins and have all the symbols that you’re a safe space.