In 2005, seven months into their role in The 519’s EarlyON program, Jerry Lee, Child and Family Support Programs Coordinator, shared some thoughts about their experience so far in The 519’s newsletter. They talked about the role of community in bringing up a child, and the joy they’ve found in supporting kids in their growth and development.
Now, 18 years later, we checked back in with Jerry about the state of inclusive childcare and how they’ve come into their own as an early childhood educator.
“I have such a clear image of what I was missing as a child, and so now in my role I’m able to say, ‘Young Jerry would have needed a positive gay role model,’ so here I am, being a positive gay role model, or ‘Young Jerry would have really loved someone who sang music circle as if they really meant it,’ Jerry says. ‘Because the music circles I attended as a child were boring as sin, so now I put on a damn rock show every time and I sing until my voice hurts!”
Childcare and parenting have changed remarkably since 2005. “20 years ago, it was about good enough parenting. You went to school. You had clothes on your back. You had a roof over your head. They may not have asked you how your day was or how you’re feeling, but that was good enough parenting,” Jerry says. “Now we’ve progressed and learned so much about social, emotional development. We’ve learned how important it is to play with your child. Now it’s about taking a part of yourself and re-immersing it into childhood when you become a parent or childcare professional and finding the childhood and family values to connect with kids.”
But in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, “family values” can be a loaded term. It’s been weaponized against queer and trans communities to exclude them on the premise that family values are a framework we don’t fit into. “In here,” Jerry gestures to the EarlyON centre around them, “families define themselves,” they say. “Family values are values and actions driven by love, and believing in the good in everyone who walks in these doors.”
Jerry believes this to be true even when it’s tough. As a queer and trans positive EarlyON program, they’ve come up against ignorance before. “I remember once I read a book to the kids about a character with two moms, and some parent told staff after how they thought it was inappropriate,” Jerry says, noting that occasionally a parent will bring their child to The 519’s EarlyON centre without fully understanding the values of our programming, even when they’ve been explained to them.
“If a three-year-old knows the names of all the Pokémon, or all the dinosaurs, they can know about different kinds of families or about different genders,” Jerry says. “Not to mention most of the families of kids here bring them here specifically for progressive programming.”
“At the end of the day, I just want to be that source of happiness. I don’t know where these families are coming from. The story I read them may be the only story that’s ever read to them. That may be the only time they get to sing because they live somewhere they’re not allowed to make noise,” Jerry says. “I want to be the embodiment of love wherever I go and no matter what I do.”
The 519’s EarlyON Child and Family Centre is a supportive space for families of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and configurations and their children (ages 0 to 6). Our Glitterbug 2SLGBTQ+ EarlyON Mobile Program is a unique mobile program that works with EarlyON Centres across Toronto to promote inclusion and affirmation of gender and sexual diversity among children and families. Email Glitterbug@The519.org for more information.