In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando (49 people killed by a gunman in a gay night club), the internet has been swamped with people talking about how to explain to their kids that gay people were killed -- presumably because they were gay or friends of gays. This has also led to more discussion about whether or not schools should mention the existence of LGBTQ folks to children.
Look, it's really not that hard to explain to kids, folks. Let me give you an example:
It's 1995 and a gay couple in my dance group, Bart and Thom (both white), have just adopted an infant girl, Eliza (black). Although I have been around gay men in various dance groups for years at this point, I have never heard of gay marriage before and have had no clue that a gay couple would even want to adopt a child. (I will learn much in the years that follow.) Nevertheless, I like Bart very much and try to like his (understandably, in retrospect) rather defensive partner, Thom, and I wish them happiness -- even as I wrap my mind around a new concept.
It's their 3rd time bringing their new daughter (some 5 or 6 weeks old at this point) to rehearsal, and I happen to be standing nearby as Thom is picking up her things, preparing to leave, when the 7-year-old son of a straight, white, Mormon man in the group stares at baby Eliza and says, "Where's her mom? How come she doesn't have one?"
Thom looks up and our eyes meet. He and I have never been super-friendly at this point (we will get over this in the future), never allies -- as he has too much resentment for Mormons and the Church's intolerance of gays. However, I see he's a panicked new dad; he has not yet figured out how to answer this awkward question in the 1995 world of intolerance. There is a split second of silence between us, during which I realize that my experience as a teacher needs to override his right as a father -- just this once, until his feet are more firmly planted in the role.
"Oh, she has a mom," I say confidently. "Everybody has a mom. But Eliza's birth mom knew that she would not be able to take care of her, give her a safe home and a good education. So when her birth mom found out that Bart and Thom wanted a baby to love, she was very happy to know that her little girl would be going to a good home."
Immense relief floods Thom's face. "Exactly!" he says, smiling. (I can tell he plans to use my explanation the next time a child asks him.)
"Oh," says the boy, and he runs off to do something else. He is satisfied. He has no problem with the baby's having two fathers. He has no problem with her being a black child of white parents. He has ABSOLUTELY NO ADULT HATE OR HANG UPS over the situation at all. That's it.
More than 20 years later, it's easier, not harder, to explain this stuff to kids. Not everybody has the same kind of family. It's not that hard, folks. Stop getting so worked up about it, and just tell kids the truth on a level that's right for their age. The 7-year-old wasn't asking about gay sex; he just wanted to know where the mom of the baby was. An 11-year-old would probably have more questions and need more explanation.
So, how do you explain to kids about the tragedy in Orlando? Well, you tell them there are scary people in the world, people filled with hate of those who are different from themselves or different from what they think people should be like. And sometimes these scary people set out to hurt and kill. This time, gay people were the target. Yes, it's scary. And, yes, we do need to be careful. But we don't need to hate; that will only make it worse.
Hiding stuff from kids will only make them suspicious and afraid. Just tell them simply and truthfully, but not hatefully.
Oh, and just so you know, Bart and Thom are still together now. They live in a different state, so I'm not sure if they're married or not, now that it's legal. But they raised Eliza and Andy (adopted a year or so later) into great young adults. Their family -- which worked just fine -- was the main reason I never picked up on the Mormon hatred of gay families. By the time such stuff began to be preached in Church, I already knew that a gay family wasn't all that much different from any other family, and certainly was nothing to fear.