I was reading Dana Rudolph’s recent piece Of Ducks and Penguins, a rumination on her son’s launch into preschool this past week, and about ducks, penguins, family diversity curriculum in early childhood education, and homophobes on the march in Lexington, MA and Evesham Township, NJ. Astute and thought-provoking, as usual.
At the top of her piece, which was originally published in Bay Windows (New England’s LGBT newspaper), Dana provides links to two other vital back-to-school interviews published in Bay Windows. One is with Beth Teper, executive director of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), the other is with Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Pride (the national LGBT family organization). Both of those interviews are so chock-full of valuable info that I couldn’t help but amend highlights of them to the ongoing conversation about how to support our kids in school. And our kids’ sense of safety and inclusion in schools is obviously a HUUUUGE issue for us. Right up there with legal protections for our families.
I hope the highlights from the interviews below entice you to go ahead and read them in their entirety.
First, from the Bay Windows interview with COLAGE’s Beth Teper:
“Really what I have learned and heard even anecdotally is pretty much as early as children are even two, two-and-a-half years old, they are negotiating, are determining if it’s safe to come out or not,” said Teper.
Parents, teachers and peers can take steps to make the children of LGBT parents feel more comfortable coming out about their families. For parents and teachers, working to make sure that there are books and classroom materials about LGBT families available in the school can help send the message that the school is LGBT-friendly. In the younger grades many schools have curricula focusing on families, and making sure that lessons are LGBT-inclusive can help shore up the confidence of children that their family will be accepted.
For students, starting or participating in a gay/straight alliance (GSA) can help promote the message that children of LGBT parents will find support among their peers.
And from the Bay Windows interview with Family Pride’s Jennifer Chrisler:
I think the two biggest things that our children face, first is a sin of omission. In most elementary, middle and high schools across the country our families are rarely discussed, they’re almost never incorporated into the curriculum and there are very few books that are available to students in their classrooms and in their school libraries. So nine times out of 10 what our children have to deal with more than anything else is just not being included in any way, shape or form in the overall school culture or curriculum or conversation.
The second, obviously, is that they’re not immune to the harassment and bullying that happens in schools. When taunts like “faggot”and “homo”and “sissy” are thrown around, those impact our children just as severely as if they themselves identified as [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender].
I can tell you that what our parents have found is that being active and engaged in their children’s school communities, trying to pave the ground for them by having conversations with teachers and administrators and other parents really can help cut down on the amount of explaining that they have to do, the lack of inclusion in the curriculum and the level of harassment and bullying that may take place in the school environment.
…of all the pieces of advice that we give to parents, that is the single thing that I think is the most important, that you need to be proactive. You need to schedule meetings, you need to have conversations, you need to educate early, you need to enlist the support of other parents and faculty and administrators in this conversation so that when you get to the point that you can include books and materials and diversity book bags or lessons in classrooms, [showing] films like That’s a Family you’ve done the work. It will help make sure you have support in place should a single set of parents or a small minority of parents decide to make it an issue.
We are going to be our children’s single best advocates. We have a natural reason to be involved with schools when our children are in them and we have our own sets of personal experiences that can really inform and guide policy makers and administrators and teachers when they’re thinking about how to address these issues. So I’m not sure there will ever be a day where I don’t think LGBT parents should not be involved in their kids’ educational process, but I hope there comes a day where it’s part of the rich fabric of parents making a school community worthwhile for children, as opposed to a necessity to protect their kids.