Recently, a controversy has arisen due to the Reverend Jerry Falwell's claims that the purple
Teletubby (Tinky Winky), of the popular children's television show of the same name, is gay. The large amount of
media attention that the Reverend's statements have drawn- in both print and broadcast- means that kids who
otherwise may not currently be addressing these issues will be coming to school, and approaching their teachers,
with questions that teachers may find themselves unprepared to answer.
The article in Falwell's National Liberty Journal notes that "He is purple - the gay-pride
color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle." It also states that Tinky carries a "magic bag" like a purse.
The Rev Falwell followed up the controversial article by releasing a statement on Tuesday, February 9, which said
that the "subtle depictions" are intentional and that "As a Christian I feel that rolemodeling the gay lifestyle is
damaging to the moral lives of children." The corporation that creates the television program, and the highly
successful toys, has repeatedly stated that the characters have no sexuality. GLSEN is concerned about in-class
situations, which may arise. We recognize that despite the controversy, Rev Falwell has provided a unique
opportunity for children to be introduced to the concepts of difference and respect for all. We wanted to make it
easy for teachers to respond.
We've attempted to identify scenarios below, and to offer some simple and helpful suggestions
for appropriate responses.
Scenario #1: Johnny's favorite Teletubby is the Purple Teletubby. He comes to school one day
and, after playing with the other children, says to the teacher, "Why is everyone making fun of my Teletubby?
Everyone says he's gay!" The teacher hears some students calling Johnny (as well as others) "gay".
Scenario #2: A young student asks, "What is 'gay'? Is 'gay' bad?"
Scenario # 3: Cindy is six. At home, Cindy lives with her biological mom, Linda, and Linda's
partner, Marcia, her other mom. Cindy is used to having two moms at home. She knows that her moms are "gay", but
her family is not open about this at school. This week, all the kids at school are making fun of "gay." Cindy feels
hurt, afraid, and becomes increasingly quiet and withdrawn.
1) What is "gay": You could explain that being gay means that a person loves, in a very special way, someone who is
the same gender. Gay men love other gay men. Gay women, or lesbians, love other lesbians. Gay people might choose
to have a special relationship with someone and share their home and have a family together. Some teachers will
find this a difficult conversation to have with young people. It's important for you to find the level you're
comfortable at and as seems appropriate for the age group and school community. Bear in mind that while kids that
age generally do not use know the meaning of the words, they do often use them in a disparaging way as they would
use the word "stupid". It's possible, and in fact likely, that at least one of your students comes from a family
with gay or lesbian parents or relatives. When kids do start making fun of gay in older grades these kids will be
hurt. Parents and teachers have found that discussing these words at a young age prevents stigma later on. One of
the dangers of not introducing this topic to youngsters is that they will be given third-hand information and
horrible stereotypes, without any accurate knowledge and long before they have heard any authority figure use the
words "gay" or "lesbian" in a matter-of-fact and positive way.
2) Purple skin and judging people: Perhaps the most important lesson you can draw from these
issues is about stereotypes and judgement. Unfortunately, potential fallout from all this media attention is that
kids are going to be afraid to wear purple, or draw triangles; afraid they'll be accused of being gay. Talk to your
kids about stereotypes and how they can be used to hurt people. This is an opportunity to remind your students that
one shouldn't judge a person because of the color of his skin, the clothes he/she wears, or any other outward
Explain to your students that it's important not to judge people without knowing them. And
sometimes, people judge things that are unfamiliar or seem strange. Some people are uncomfortable around people who
seem foreign or different, and have a need to label them. But that that's not fair for the person being judged. If
you think your students are mature enough, you can ask them, "Would you like to be judged for what you wear or how
you look? I think it's important to get to know people before we make up our minds about them." Add that people
sometimes seem to find it easier to judge- rather than get to know- people who seem different from them. You might
wish to add that you think that that's a bad thing, and that the world would be a sad and scary place if people did
it a lot.
3) Using your classroom standard for "mean" behavior, identify the name calling as an infraction
of this policy. Kids know when they are being mean, even if they don't know much about the words they are using.
Adults have tended to avoid stopping youth from using words like "gay" or "faggot" because the topic makes them
uncomfortable. Every time an educator doesn't intervene, a message is sent that this is okay, acceptable behavior.
Identify using words in a disparaging way as mean behavior and establish a zero tolerance policy. This is an
effective way to denote saying "gay" rudely as unacceptable, without sending the message that "gay" is by
definition a bad thing. Kids will know what you're getting at, and the child with the purple Teletubby, or with
lesbian or gay parents at home, will feel protected.
4) Talk about different types of families. Your students come from all different kinds of
families. Many do not have two parents at home, or may have cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and stepsiblings
living with them. It's important (as cited in idea #1 above) that different kinds of families be acknowledged at a
young age. If the classroom or school community demonstrates inclusiveness, the child from an alternative family is
far less likely to be ostracized, as he/she grows older. Teachers have found that when there are open gay/lesbian
families in the school, children can learn to be respectful.