I was writing an epic-length response to a great question someone asked, and realized that I had better give it a whole different lease on life as a post, the better to tempt more of you astute readers to add to my answer. So here was the question Sheri Bheri posed, in a comment on the previous post:
Do you have any advice for the other parents in a preschool, to make it easier on the children of lesbians?
In a nice turnabout, by “other” parents here, she means “hetero.” She’s asking from the standpoint of a supportive straight parent:
I want my daughter exposed to more diverse people than *I* was. Because Iâ€™ve found myself â€˜handicappedâ€™ later on in life, because I have a hard time knowing the right thing to say and do.
I’m going to answer with that kind of reader in mind, and hope that all you all chime in with your own suggestions.
First, to external resources: Dana Rudolph, of Mombian wrote an indispensable post entited How To Respond When Meeting Lesbian Moms. It’s concise, good-humored, and covers all the essentials. I’m indebted to her for including “Baba” as a potential parental counterpart to “Mama,” too, thus opening the conversation to include parents like me who slide to the “genderqueer” midpoint on the gender continuum. [Added later: Dana commented that her post, “Back to School Conversations” (now in the sidebar as a “Mombian Essentials” link), includes a list of more than a dozen school-related resources from LGBT organizations. Extremely valuable! And posted during my week away from the computer, thus my egregious oversight.]
Family Pride (the national LGBT family organization) published a guide for those interested in improving school conditions for kids of LGBT families. Opening Doors: LGBT Families and Schools [opens PDF] is written for LGBT families and educators, but the really dedicated ally who looks through it would come away with a rich appreciation for issues facing kids in LGBT families. It’s only 24 pages and a quick read, chock full of useful material. On page 16, for example, they list “Answers to Questions Children May Ask.” And the stuff that kids in LGBT families say at the end is very eye- (and heart-) opening. Yet more proof, out of the mouths of babes, that it’s not the LGBT family life that is hard on these kids, but the homophobia and heterosexism in the world around them that is. Yet more proof, in other words, that allies and potential allies like the gal who asked the question above are INDISPENSIBLE to making a better world for all our kids.
I recently did a post-long advert for Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which provides page upon brightly-colored page of occasions for parents to discuss (or simply answer questions about) family diversity with their kids. Just about every stripe of family difference is noted in the book. Which is why it’s a great resource: kids with two moms, or two dads, or two parents of the same sex (whatever they may call themselves) are just a few among many different kinds of families. (Loud/quiet; messy/clean; live nearby/live far apart; look like each other/look different from each other, and so on.)
The Safe Schools Coalition site is filled with resources, references, and more. You can become a one-gal speaker’s bureau just by reading their material, and Family Pride’s.
Now on a more personal level: in some ways, it’s hard to improve on Dana’s “To Do” list, which is really is fantastic. I’m among those folks in her third-to-the-last bullet list item, the kind that feel glad to be able to talk about our familiy experience. Not everyone does; some feel put on the spot, or irritated about doing what might feel like elementary, maybe sometimes repetitive consciousness-raising work with others. Me, I figure it’s totally parallel to what my own mom did, becoming active and ultimately becoming a minor legend in my sister’s and my school district. Part of the work of being a feverishly dedicated parent is to work to make our kids’ life conditions the best they can be. Sweeping out the cobwebs of homophobia, heterosexism, or just plain ignorance — that’s a part of that work that I welcome. So at any rate, I’d be inclined to suggest would-be allies to directly ask LGBT parents at their kids’ schools whether there’s any way they can help make their kid’s experience any better. Simply being asked that question by anyone would make me topple over backwards. When I recovered myself, the first thing I’d do would be to thank the would-be ally profusely.
Then I’d probably say that the best thing anyone could do would be to join us in advocating for a welcoming school environment for our kids — namely one that recognizes and includes our families. Help us ask for more inclusive language in schools’ intake forms, say, and a rich curriculum on family diversity. Be there with us when we ask, or better yet, do the asking yourself that films like That’s a Family be shown to your kids, and discussed. And most of all, pass on your thoughts about family diversity with your kids. This next generation will swing the nation out of the dark ages of systemic, legally-sanctioned and culturally tolerated homphobia/heterosexism, into the enlightenment on the other side of that. When they know better, kids of enlightened hetero allies will be the ones not only not teasing ours, but sticking up for them on the school yard.
Today the school yard, tomorrow the world.
[The conversation is continued here, at Back-to-School Primer, Vol.2.]