The annual LesFam Back-to-School primer, revisited*

Recently I had the great good fortune of being asked for advice by a dear friend of a dear friend of the beloved.  We bonded in a hot tub in Idaho, over a decade ago, both there for the wedding of a friend.  Under the stars, we caustically competed for who felt most likely to be shot at by locals (Jewish heterosexual?  or non-Jewish lesbian?  who gets it first?).  

She’s an elementary school teacher now, and she recently learned that one of her Kindergartners has two mommies. At different times, they each made an effort to clarify to her that their girl has two moms. She was very understanding about their concern, and is going to offer to meet with them (a capitol idea!).  But she wanted to know more: how did the beloved and I approach transitioning our girlie into school?  And what would we want her Kindergarten teacher to know?

Well!  So glad she asked!  And good timing, since today’s our girl’s second first day of school.  (The first first one, so, so long ago, is  pictured at right.  Brave little bugger.  God I love her.  I mean look what she’s holding.  The change of clothes, for when, you know.  Could preschoolers get any more dear?)

But back to the business at hand.  I wrote the dear school teacher friend a dreadfully long email, and have poached from it liberally below so as to ensure this is a dreadfully longer post.  

One question I didn’t address was that about how we transitioned our lil’ monkey into school.  When it came to engaging the preschool staff, I erred on the shy side; that is, we didn’t go full-on and have a separate, independent meeting with the preschool director, beyond our introducing ourselves at the newbie orientation she held.  This, even though I would gladly have sat with her over coffee daily for several weeks running.  I simply began to get to know them in a fairly organic way whilst hanging around the school, and then opened up germane topics of conversation when it seemed natural.  The upside is, this route felt more “me” and less “pushy,” which, odd as it may seem, I was worried about being.  (Maybe not so odd, since I admit to being willing to subject the director to weeks and weeks’ worth of confabbing with me.)

The downside of the laissez faire approach is that even when you’ve developed an authentic, mutually respectful rapport, some stuff can fall through the cracks.  For instance, in spite of an email I sent around Mother’s and Father’s days, our girl came home with an art project for her Mama on Mother’s Day (good, good), and then a half-thought out additional one for me on that day (?).  And nothing on Father’s Day (??).  Even though the point of my email was to share that we celebrate Father’s Day as Baba’s Day.  My guess, by the half-bakedness of the art project, was that our girlie was making something for Mama, and then at the end of the project, someone may have asked, “Now how ’bout you make one for your Baba.”  To which she might have thought, Okay, sure.  Whatever, lady.  But she’s not my mother.  

The official Mama’s Day gift was a really sweet framed picture.  Don’t know what the Dads got on their day. I just know that whatever they get this upcoming year, I’m getting one too.

Clearly, this misunderstanding shows that even in a friendly, supportive environment, being direct and clear is not only helpful, it’s often simply necessary.  We are, after all, in quite the minority.  Unless the staff at the school are LGBT parents themselves, it’s safe to assume that they don’t know how you call yourself, what your child calls you, what relationship or knowledge the child has of her/his origins, how you approach the various heterosexual conventions and holidays, and on and on.  In retrospect, I would recommend scheduling one-on-one meetings with anyone possessing even the slightest inclination to chat. The beginning of the school year is a busy time for everyone.  But hell’s bells, we are here to be our children’s finest and fiercest advocates, and when better than at the outset of the school year?  

I would like to think that all our kids’ teachers are just as glad to know more about what makes our kids’ lives unique as we are eager to convey that uniqueness to them.   Certainly some folks do, like this school teacher friend.

In my email to her, I told the school teacher friend that it’s wonderful to have a thoughtful educator welcoming dialog, as she was.  The only thing better than that, I said, would be for that educator to be willing to make the effort educate her/his self further.  I then I heaped on her gobs of links to resources, some external to this site, some internal.  Whether you’re a sympathetic hetero school teacher looking for more info on your kids from LGBT families, or a parent wanting to pass on resources to your kids’ teachers, I hope some of the info below may be of use. 
•  Opening Doors Lesbian and Gay Parents and Schools  is a really helpful publication for educators as well as parents, prepared by the Family Equity Council (formerly called Family Pride).  It’s a PDF document, immanently skimmable onscreen, but it’s so short (24 pp.) that I highly recommend you download it to read.  One extremely valuable resource, for instance, is that it includes things kids say about their experiences in school.  The main issues: INVISIBILITY of their families, and TEACHERS NOT STANDING UP TO BIGOTRY in class or on the playground.  Shuts down the learning process quicker than you can say Bob’s your gay uncle.
•  Another resource, the Welcoming Schools curriculum, is lots more comprehensive.  The Human Rights Campaign has pioneered a K-5 curriculum comprising anti-bullying and family diversity lesson plans.  It’s extremely well thought-out; it’s been piloted and focus-grouped and reviewed in a number of school districts across the country.  You can see some excerpts here at this page, Welcoming Schools Guide Excerpts.  I highly recommend your downloading and printing the material; it’s top-notch.  For instance, the section on Questions Children Ask is thoughtful, framed in terms that  young people conceptualize these issues, and provides simple, honest, answers that are age-appropriate.
I’ve written a handful of pieces meandering around the topic of our girl in school, etc.  Below I’ve culled the more useful ones:
•  A little help?   directly answers the question of a woman who’s daughter’s preschoolmate has two mums. It was a wonderful question, by someone who’s become a fantastic regular commenter here.  The post has a bunch of  links to really good resources (including the Opening Doors publication).
•  Back-to-School Primer, Vol. 2  exerpts some really illuminating statements from national-level folks on the issue of the kids of LGBT families in schools.  One, Beth Teper, thr head of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), the other, Jennifer Chrisler, heads Family Equity Council, the national LGBT family org.
•  Child of the Week  talks about my fears, basically, about our kids’ having (Young Frankenstein alert!) Abbie Normal parents.  
•  A LesFam Primer  provides a copy of the letter I sent out to the parents of our daughter’s schoolmates, right before she was “Child of the Week.”
(Later on this week,  when I post about the topic directly, I hope to drum up some good suggestions of children’s literature inclusive of LGBT families; stand by with your plum recommendations, you bibliophile readers. Meanwhile, I did direct my school teacher friend to scroll to the section on “Kids Books” on my Links page,  where I provide numerous book lists.  Take a peek, if you haven’t yet.)
I left the big-hearted school teacher with the perhaps obvious thought that — at least in my view — the most powerful thing she could do was to integrate references to alternative families, as a matter of course, into the curriculum.  I suggested that she reflect this inclusive understanding in her everyday language; that she try to be as conscious about family diversity as she might be about other ethnic and cultural differences in her classroom (e.g., refer to kids’ parents rather than moms and dads, etc.). Ideally, one could have a unit on families, and ask kids to describe or paint or draw theirs, so on. (Though don’t prod anyone to “out” themselves, if they don’t feel comfortable.)  Acknowledge that there are many family formations, that many kids at school come from many different kinds of family, understand it differently, and so on.  
Of course I forgot to tell her, but I can tell you all now, that the documentary That’s a Family! is a fantastic resource.  It even comes with its own teaching guide.  Not every teacher has autonomy over her/his classroom curriculum, but those who do could obtain the DVD and use it in class.  The filmmakers even include sample letters home (in English and in Spanish) to help introduce the unit and the film.  
Okay!  The best way to close this compendium is to open up the floor: if you had her/his ear, what would YOU like a sympathetic, open-minded elementary school teacher to know? 
*[Later note] Dana just published what I hope will be an annual Back-to-School LGBT Resource List over at Mombian, which includes the above external links and many many more.  Also: stay tuned tomorrow (Friday 5 Sept), I’ll post part deux of the above, the reflective version.  Not in the fluorescent sense, you know.  

2 thoughts on “The annual LesFam Back-to-School primer, revisited*”

  1. Thanks for this. I’m in a teaching program right now – and am the only queer person in the program – and was looking for some resources to recommend folks to. This is a great collection and I’ll be passing the info on.

  2. Thank you, erin. Best of luck in the program. Many of these links lead to more, which lead to more, etc. I’m just making educated stabs in the internet. Anyone else who knows of great resources, either in print or accessible online, please share!

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