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Mom, what does gay mean? Add to ...

"Between the book launch wait lines and extended Halloween costume hunts, being a parent of a Harry Potter fan has always required a hefty commitment," The Globe's Tralee Pearce writes today in her article A teaching moment for parents

"But after J.K. Rowling revealed Friday that one of the series' most beloved characters, Dumbledore, is gay, there may be one more to-do item for Potter fans' parents: the sex and homosexuality talk.

"While it may provoke some anxiety, Dumbledore's new gay icon status presents a 'teaching moment' that parents should seize, experts say.

"With more children being raised by same-sex parents in communities across Canada, more kids are learning about two-mommy or two-daddy families earlier. Still, parents are often caught off guard when the subject comes up."

To help you broach the subject with your kids, and to give you insight into how much information is enough, Michael Ungar, a professor at Dalhousie's school of social work and a family therapist, was online earlier to take your questions.

Your questions and Mr. Ungar's answers appear at the bottom of this page.

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., has worked for more than 20 years as a social worker, and as a marriage and family therapist.

Now a professor at the school of social work at Dalhousie University, Prof. Ungar is the author of dozens of peer-reviewed articles and five books for parents, educators and helping professionals, including his most recent, Too Safe for their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Rasha Mourtada, Globe Life web editor: Good afternoon, Prof. Ungar, and thanks for joining us today. What's your take on J.K. Rowling announcing that Dumbledore is gay? How should parents handle this?

Michael Ungar: When I heard this news, my first reaction was, "Is this a joke?" Dumbledore is a fictional character, after all. His sexual orientation is only mildly hinted at in the books. Why this revelation? Thinking about it further, however, I wonder if Rowling is trying to make a point, a point that she has been trying to make all along. We need to show tolerance towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to look carefully at whether we are creating prejudice against people based on differences that are their's alone to define. Your readers might be interested to know that others, like David Nylund, a family therapist in California, have already written that youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) find the stories of Harry Potter inspirational. They see in his experiences of exclusion and prejudice at home with the Dursley's something akin to what they experience because of their differences.

I can imagine many young people having one of two reactions to this 'outing' of Dumbledore. Many will celebrate. It will be another way that we as a society can demonstrate concretely our tolerance for differences. That will be nice to see. As nice as watching Nova Scotian youth dress in pink shirts to protest the bullying of a young person some weeks ago who was taunted with slurs just because he wore pink.

Many other youth, however, like my own son, will respond with an eye roll. "So what?" they'll say. It's not apathy. It's wonderment at why something like this is newsworthy. On this issue, I think the kids are way ahead of us adults. They've been raised amid gay pride and same-sex marriage. They, for the most part, make me proud of the tolerance they show to each other.

So, what should parents say to their kids? I think it is important we ask the kids what they think first. Find out if they are the type to celebrate or ignore. Find out if they think it's weird or normal. What is normal anyway? One thing Rowling has done is give us all an opportunity to discuss values with our kids, over dinner, during a drive to soccer, wherever is convenient. Now it's up to us to listen.

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