For as long as Jules Hoffmann can be remembered, they have been surrounded by music.
Having grown up with musical grandparents and a piano-playing father, Hoffman says they always felt music was a calling. But it wasn’t until their sister gave birth to three children, whom Hoffman lovingly calls “nibbles” — the gender-neutral term for nieces and nephews — that they discovered a love for creating children’s songs.
“I really just wanted to write songs that reminded them that they’re going to be loved no matter what,” says Hoffman.
This experience encouraged them to apply for a job as a co-teacher in a children’s music class. But nearly five years after the gig began, Hoffman is now a co-star of one of the biggest independent children’s programs online — and the center of a major backlash against LGBTQ-friendly content in education.
Hoffman is part of Songs for little ones, a YouTube channel run by teacher and co-founder Rachel Griffin Accurso. But you might know her as Ms. Rachel, the content creator who’s become a parenting staple on TikTok and YouTube. Songs for little ones started as a private class created by Accurso. But thanks to a growing number of students and a desire to reach more children, the group began filming their lessons and uploading them to YouTube. And by 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic has left parents without childcare and desperate to entertain their children, Songs for little ones became a phenomenon. Since the channel was created, its educational music videos have attracted more than 3.12 million YouTube subscribers, 1 billion views and a dedicated fan base of appreciative parents. In January, a trend where parents played Ms Rachel’s song ‘Icky Sticky Bubblegum’ and filmed their babies’ delighted reactions went viral with over 30,000 videos and 38.3 million views. But on Songs for little ones the popularity was not great enough to protect Hoffman, who is non-binary, from a furious wave of backlash against their identity.
Two weeks ago, a TikTok user accused Songs for little ones for including a lesson on pronouns in the show, something they felt was inappropriate for children. “When Miss Rachel introduced they/them/her pronouns so you should stop watching her,” the video reads. The caption reads “Can’t we just make a non-political show for kids?” Several comments below echoed the original poster’s concern. “I haven’t seen it in her videos yet, but if it ever happens, my daughter will find a new show,” read one comment.
There was a reason the commenter couldn’t find it – Songs for little ones there is no lesson to teach children about pronouns. In the channel, Jules and all the other guests are called by their first names. So the main displeasure seems to be centered on Hoffman’s personal TikToks explaining their pronouns and short lessons about the LGBTQ community. On their page @julessingsforlittles, Hoffman sings original songs and plays with dolls, but considers the page, which has 154 thousand followers, to be for adults.
Both Hoffman and Accurso have faced serious backlash over parenting on TikTok, with thousands of comments trying (and failing) to get the hashtag #cancelmsrachel trending, and others saying their kids would no longer be allowed to watch the channel in YouTube. Accurso announced that he would be taking a break from TikTok, saying, “Angry videos and comments, no matter how much attention they get, will not get you what you want. Only love can do that.” (Accurso did not respond to rolling stone’s requests for comment.)
Hoffman tells A rolling stone they have been using they/them pronouns since 2018, which are readily available on their social media and official Songs for little ones website. But they attribute the latest backlash to ongoing antagonistic rhetoric toward the LGBTQ community. In states like Texas and Florida, angry parents have successfully lobbied to remove books about LGBTQ people, history and education from school libraries. And Tennessee recently became the first state to impose restrictions on public drag shows under the guise of child safety.
“There’s such an atmosphere around LGBTQ and trans youth right now,” says Hoffman A rolling stone. “Legislation is being written, terrible bills are being created and some are being passed. I just think of all the research done that shows our LGBTQ and trans youth are at higher risk of suicide. And everything they need is taken away from them. This is costing us the lives of loving children who just want to be seen and accepted.”
Over the past two weeks, Hoffman’s comments have been filled with parents thanking them for their songs. And on TikTok, hundreds of parents and users made videos criticizing conservative parents and telling Hoffman they would stand by them.
“We love you and support you,” said one video, which has been viewed 15,000 times. “Please go on for your little ones.”
“What kind of rock do you live under to teach your kids that it’s okay to judge Jules for [their] identity?” reads another.
“We love [Ms. Rachel and Jules] in this household,” another mom wrote on TikTok. “Always and forever.”
While it was emotional to be the target of such hostility, Hoffman says the overwhelming support proved that parents are now focused on teaching their children to be inclusive.
“I feel loved and supported by my team. So I have to remind myself, “Okay, I’m under attack right now, but who is this for? Where is the lesson? What we want [kids] see?'” says Hoffman. “So I try not to get caught up in the drama because it’s not about me. It’s really about the next generation and even the adults who are watching are finally seeing themselves in the media in a representative way.”
For Hoffman, being an educator isn’t just about teaching the next generation how to speak, sing and read. It’s about preserving the love and acceptance that they think all children have – a society can rob them by focusing too much on labels.
“I’m popping up on the screen. And the kids get it. They are not scared. They’re just like, “Cool. There’s another person like me,” says Hoffman. “I don’t think people realize how much kids absorb us and look up to us and approach us. So how we react and respond to them tells them all they need to know. I just try to be really authentic and true to who I am. And that’s not something I want to hide.”