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Jules Hoffman, nonbinary co-star of Ms. Rachel videos for kids, has message for queer youth

(Photo: Songs for Littles – Toddler Learning Videos via YouTube)

Jules Hoffman, a popular guest star on the YouTube show for kids called Songs for Littles, says music has always been a healing tool in their life.

“I’ve always loved songwriting. When I was 5, I wrote my first song, which was about a crush, about love,” Hoffman, 30, tells Yahoo Life with a chuckle. “I use music as a tool to express a wide variety of emotions, like a compact piece of art.”

Hoffman, who uses they/them pronouns and identifies as “nonbinary, trans and queer,” put those skills to task in late February when parents raised concerns about the musician’s queer identities.

The show, helmed by schoolteacher Rachel Griffin Accurso (known as “Ms. Rachel” on the show), has over 3 million YouTube subscribers and features interactive songs and conversations for children.

Hoffman has been a cast member since its inception in 2019, when it first started as an in-person music class to help Accurso’s son (who had a speech delay) before moving online to “give access” to a wider audience.

And on Feb. 23, one mom took to TikTok to criticize the show for spotlighting Hoffman because of their use of pronouns: “When miss Rachel introduces they/them/their pronouns so you have to stop watching her,” the post read. “Can’t we just have a non political kids show?”

The response to the post was swift on both sides, with some commenters agreeing with the mom’s point of view and others rallying in support of Hoffman.

“I haven’t really seen it in her videos yet, but if it ever happens my daughter will be finding a new show,” one user’s comment read, which received several affirming replies.

The majority of commenters countered the mom’s argument, with one supporter writing, “I’m so thankful for Ms. Rachel for creating content that has helped my speech delayed child immensely but also being inclusive and kind.”

Hoffman, a long-time advocate for the arts and children’s literacy, took the backlash to heart.

“I knew I needed to respond, but I didn’t know the right way to,” they explain. “I had to sit with it for a few days. I had to sit with my values and who I am and what I want to teach. I kept coming to: Who is this all for? It’s for the kids. It’s for us, it’s for them. And so, I came about it in the best way I knew how.”

On March 2, Hoffman took to TikTok to respond to the controversy in a kid-friendly way.

“I didn’t know how to respond to everything that is going on,” they captioned a video showing them interacting with a puppet named Poppy. “I want to address the [elephant] in the room in the best way I know how — by teaching kids about love and acceptance.”

In the video, Hoffman asks Poppy if the puppet has ever heard anyone say anything mean about itself, to which the puppet replies that that some people make fun of its voice.

“Just because a few people don’t like your voice, that doesn’t mean that everybody doesn’t like your voice,” Hoffman says in the video. “Poppy, love is always going to be stronger than hate, and I love your voice.”

The songwriter says their hope with the video was to remind others that they, too, “have control over how to respond” to online hate.

“I wanted anyone watching to know that you’re gonna be loved and accepted, no matter what,” they say. “In talking to Poppy, I was trying to talk to myself. I was talking to every kid listening, every parent or adult that maybe had not received the same love I did growing up.”

Following the backlash, Accurso also took to her personal TikTok to announce she was taking a break from social media to focus on her mental health: “Hurtful videos and comments, no matter how much attention they get, will not bring you want you want. Only love can do that,” she captioned the post.

The host returned on March 6, thanking her 2.6 million followers for the support in a heartfelt video: “I am here to serve children and their families every day and to share the love and kindness that we want to see reflected in the world,” she said. “Thank you so much for all the love.”

Coincidentally, the controversy happened around the same time Hoffman was set to undergo surgery for a health condition, which, they say, allowed more time to reflect on the things that matter most in their life — including the immense support they’ve received from friends and family.

“The importance of having a support system is life or death for some people,” says Hoffman, who last week posted a heartfelt tribute to their supportive dad. That’s more important than ever, they add, given the slew of “hurtful and hateful” anti-LGBTQ legislation happening across the country — most of which impact the transgender community.

“Having adults, people that are going to protect and show love and acceptance for their children saves lives,” they say, pointing to research from the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide-prevention organization, finding that 60% percent of LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17 were reported to have “poor” mental health, while 73% reported to have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime.

“We make a positive impact for [trans] children when we use their pronouns and treat them like a human, when they show you who they are,” they say.

Even more important, Hoffman adds, is to help queer youth find each other.

“When I found friends and people that were like me, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, you are queer like me!’adds Hoffman, who came out to their parents at 17. “It was amazing. It opened up this space to be so authentically me, which I didn’t get to be in college, I didn’t really get to be in high school or middle school. Finding people that are like you, and that you feel safe around, is life changing.”

Above all, Hoffman hopes the controversy will ignite a broader conversation about how to talk to kids about LGBTQ issues.

“You are not alone,” they say to queer youth. “There are people out there that are like you and that see you. And we [at Songs for Littles] see you for you and love you for you, too.”

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