Lindsay Amer is a natural with young kids. In their web series aimed at 3- to 7-year-olds and their parents, Amer delivers cheerful educational messages alongside a stuffed sidekick, Teddy, in a way that’s playful but not condescending, authoritative but warm. The set is simply decorated with colorful alphabet blocks, crayons, and a rainbow-bedecked chalkboard. For sing-alongs, Amer, 27, wears footed unicorn pajamas and plays a ukulele. But these songs aren’t about washing hands, picking up toys, or counting apples. Instead, Amer sings about what it means to be gay, lesbian, and bisexual. The blocks on the desk spell out words including “nonbinary” and “trans” and “intersex.” Sweet Teddy, Amer’s actual childhood teddy bear, asks guests which pronoun they prefer (Teddy and Amer both use “they/them”).
The series, Queer Kid Stuff, is designed to help young people make sense of what all the letters in LGBTQ+ mean and destigmatize issues around gender expression and sexuality identity. Amer explains terms in matter-of-fact ways and accepts them all with equal consideration and kindness. It’s fun, lovely, and informative (and not just for kids; I’ll admit to being unclear about some of the vocab words myself!). It has also, of course, attracted haters who believe that Amer is “brainwashing children into the homosexual lifestyle.” Amer doesn’t like to feed the trolls, so we won’t delve into the specifics, but you can read their take on it here.
In the meantime, we talked to Amer about her background as a queer kid in NYC, why she developed Queer Kid Stuff, and how children are more open-minded than adults.
What Should We Do: What inspired you to create Queer Kid Stuff?
Lindsay Amer: I had been working on queer stories and storytelling in theater for young audiences when I started getting frustrated with the limitations of theater. A play I directed for kids with queer themes [about a young boy who likes to wear dresses] got canceled at a school and I wanted to figure out how to get this content in front of the kids who were being “protected” by gatekeepers. I was studying in London at the time and started watching more LGBTQ YouTubers because I was homesick. I got interested in YouTube as a platform and how I could adapt what I was doing in theater to a digital platform. I Googled “what does gay mean?” on a whim and found that the only things that came up were a dictionary definition and resources for parents and teachers, but there was nothing specifically made for kids. I felt like I could fill that gap.
Being gay or queer wasn’t really something I thought I could be. It was OK for other people to be gay, but it took me a really long time to see that it was something that I could be, too.
WSWD: How did you learn how to talk to kids and their parents about sexual and gender identity?
Amer: I’ve been working in theater for young audiences since I was in undergrad. I have my degree in theater and gender studies, and I wrote my thesis on queer storytelling in theater for young people. Then I got my master’s in theater and performance studies, where I continued refining that specialty. I used to work at a preschool, and now I teach music to young kids. So I’ve spent the better part of the last six-ish years working at the intersection of media-slash-storytelling, early childhood development, and gender studies.
WSWD: How do you respond to people who might say kids ages 3 to 7 are too young to talk to about LGBTQ?
Amer: It is scientifically proven that children have an understanding of their gender identity by the age of 4. There is an increasing number of children growing up in queer families. These are facts. It is never too soon to talk to kids about LGBTQ topics.
WSWD: How was it for you growing up as a queer kid?
Amer: I definitely struggled growing up queer. My family is and always has been very accepting and liberal, but being gay or queer wasn’t really something I thought I could be. It was OK for other people to be gay, but it took me a really long time to see that it was something that I could be, too. I had a particularly hard time with it in high school and ended up coming out later in college.
WSWD: Do find that kids are more open to learning about LGBTQ people and issues than adults?
Amer: Yes, absolutely! Adults have all these preconceived notions of gender and sexuality, and kids just haven’t been exposed to it in the same way. For kids, anything is possible because they don’t know otherwise. With adults, there’s so much you have to undo. The idea that being gay is shameful isn’t inherent, it’s learned. Adults have to unlearn that; kids don’t!
The idea that being gay is shameful isn’t inherent, it’s learned. Adults have to unlearn that; kids don’t!
WSWD: What are kids’ most common questions for you? How do you answer them?
Amer: I try to answer as many questions as I can, but it’s hard to keep up with the emails sometimes! The hardest questions are always about how to deal with the big stuff: coming out and dealing with “haters.” I never feel like I have a great answer, because I’m not always sure how to deal with all that myself, but I give the best advice I can. I usually provide links to resources that deal with those things better than I can. Everyone Is Gay is an amazing resource for teens, and The Trevor Project is a really, really important space for kids and teens who need a bit of community or someone to listen to them.
WSWD: Yes, I see you’ve collected a number of online haters. I’m really sorry. How do you handle their criticisms and negativity? Do you ever get scared?
Amer: At this point, honestly, I try to ignore them. I have a great therapist, and taking care of my mental health is a top priority. And staying connected with my community is really helpful; it reminds me that I’m not alone in dealing with this, whether it’s other online creators or my friends and family. I definitely get scared; we’re living in a really scary time. But we can’t let that stop us.
WSWD: What kind of positive response have you received?
Amer: It’s been amazing! I get emails and Facebook messages and even a few snail mail letters. I hear from teachers and parents and queer folks who wish they had QKS when they were kids. It’s been truly amazing to see the positive reaction.
I definitely get scared; we’re living in a really scary time. But we can’t let that stop us.
WSWD: Do you think New York kids and families are ahead of the game when it comes to understanding LGBTQ? How can they do better?
Amer: Hmm, this is a tough question, particularly as someone who’s from NYC. I think, on the whole, yes. New Yorkers are a bit ahead of the game, but not by as much as they’d like to think. There’s a difference between holding a belief and acting on a belief. It’s cool and great to be liberal and vote Democratic and take your kids to the Women’s March, but it’s another thing to call out misogyny at work, to talk to your kids about gender when they get confused about a trans woman or nonbinary person on the train, and recognizing systemic racism and working against it. It’s about really digging deep and acknowledging our privileges and oppressions and acting accordingly to shift the status quo to achieve equity. That’s a hard thing to do! I think New Yorkers can get stuck in liberal ideology instead of moving into meaningful action in their lives.
WSWD: Tell me about Teddy.
Amer: Teddy is my actual childhood bear! They’ve been with me since we were the same size. When I started thinking about making QKS, I knew it couldn’t just be me on camera; that’s boring. I needed a cohost and I needed someone or thing to represent the child’s voice. And I immediately thought of Teddy. I will say, it’s quite a trip to watch your childhood stuffed animal come to life.