British Columbia

Talking to toddlers about gender diversity is welcome, says advocate

A Kelowna group is using Family Literacy Week to urge parents and care providers to welcome kids' conversations about gender at any age.

Childcare advocacy group encourages parents, care providers to welcome gender conversations at any age

Drag queens read, sing and dance with kids during Drag Queen Storytime at the Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Regional Library on Sept. 14, 2019. (Freida Whales/Facebook)

The director of a Kelowna, B.C., childcare advocacy group says conversations about gender can and should happen at any age.

Melissa Hunt, the executive director of the Childhood Connections Okanagan Family and Childcare Society, encourages parents and care providers to be open to the topic, even with younger children. 

"It is a question that the children will have,"  Hunt told Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

For B.C. schoolchildren, the province's sexual orientation and gender identity policy promotes inclusiveness around sexual orientation and gender identity.

But Hunt says conversations about gender should not be limited to the K-to-12 classroom.

Stigma and suicide

The ability of children to have open discussions about gender issues is of critical importance, she said.

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"We want to reduce those stigmas and really, down the line, reduce suicide rates of young teens and youth."

The childcare society held a public talk Jan 29 during Family Literacy Week titled Supporting Children's Gender and Cultural Awareness Through Storytelling. Each presenter brought a storybook to spark conversation.

"In early-years education, often these conversations will start with a story," Hunt said. 

She said the talk was inspired in part by a Drag Queen Storytime event at Kelowna's downtown library last fall

Local drag queens were invited to come read stories to young children during their storytime hour. The Okanagan Regional Library website says the program "helps children develop empathy, learn about gender diversity and difference and tap into their own creativity."

But the event drew criticism from the regional library's own CEO. In a memo, Don Nettleton called it "offensive to a significant segment of our society" and said presenting it to children aged three to six was inappropriate. 

A sense of belonging

Hunt said it is important to give children at any age a sense of belonging, "because feelings of isolation are difficult."

Hunt said she thinks it is uncomfortable for many adults to discuss gender diversity because they did not have conversations about the subject when they were younger.

"Introducing it earlier is going to make it easier for those conversations to be just natural and part of our daily life," she said.

With files from Daybreak South