Group sees support for raising kids free from gender stereotypes

Group sees support for raising kids free from gender stereotypes

TACOMA, Wash. – From an early age, we are told blue is for boys, pink is for girls and so on.

But what if the interests your child shows don't fit those stereotypes?

In Tacoma, Wash., Morgan, age 7, likes to play with toy robots. And a makeup kit.

He also paints his nails - and wears a leather vest. At the same time.

If you spend just a few minutes with Morgan, his personality shines through. Morgan likes all kinds of activities and not just toys geared towards boys. He also likes traditional girl toys.

For many parents, a 7-year-old boy showing interest in traditionally girl-oriented activities might be a cause for concern.

"My favorite thing to play with is my makeup box," Morgan said as he rifled through a box in his room filled with makeup, rings and nail polish. Morgan said he likes to keep his nails all one color when he paints them.

Morgan’s parents say they support his interests – whatever they may be. Now, there are growing resources for parents raising kids free from gender stereotypes.

Parents Lisa and Dmitri said when Morgan was around 3 years old, he dressed up as Tinkerbell.  "We thought it was a phase,” Lisa said. “We just laughed and thought ‘well, it doesn't hurt anything.’ And it never stopped."

They said they support him unconditionally.

“If it was football, I’d be ‘great.’ If it was bicycle racing, it doesn't matter. He should just be happy. He's a kid," Dmitri said.

“He’s exceptionally creative and artistic,” Lisa said.

Even though he's only seven years old, Morgan is very clear about who he is. "He's always said ‘I am a boy.’ And when he introduces himself, he’ll say ‘I’m a boy that likes girl stuff,” Lisa told KATU News.

Sheryl Rindel is a counselor with Transactive, a Portland non-profit helping transgender and gender non-conforming children – including kids who don't follow stereotypes about what boys and girls like.

She said the organization is seeing a steady rise in participation.

"We're getting probably one to two families every week. It’s growing rapidly," Rindel said.

Rindel said the group is helping more than 80 families through support groups and counseling, including a play room where kids as young as 4 years old can use play therapy to share their feelings.

“Like, if they're getting bullied for instance. They might choose, like, a lion" to help illustrate their situation and feelings while in the play room, Rindel said.

She said that providing support early for kids that show interests in things outside the typical gender activities could change – and save - lives.

Rindel said that if kids aren't supported many end up attempting suicide.

Lisa said she couldn't find any resources for children as young as Morgan in Tacoma.

“We just knew he couldn't possibly be the only child" that was interested in non-traditional gender activities," she said.

So Lisa she started her own Facebook group called My Purple Umbrella. In just a few months, interest and participation is growing.  Lisa said the group’s focus is to let kids know “this is my place, my group, where I get to be exactly who I am."  

The page has over 200 "likes" on Facebook.

Among other activities, kids make flat versions of themselves that they can carry with them to feel safe. Morgan decided to make a flat version of himself as a ballerina in a pink tutu.

 "We're not asking people to approve of our family. We’re asking people to accept these children as children and as humans," Lisa said.

"I refuse to see that it's anything other than loving, to let him be exactly who he is,” she added. “I just want him to be happy. He's very happy. He’s such a great kid."

Lisa hopes her story will start more conversations about the differences between sexuality and gender identity.

She also plans to expand My Purple Umbrella to cities across the Northwest.