Lesbian Dad

Back to School, LGBT parent version

Tomorrow’s the first day of school for the girlie, and she is so excited she can barely sleep. Baba is so determined to actually put things in the blog after both the job and the kids are in bed for the night that she is not sleeping. Barely.

IMG_4140First thing to report on is that I combed through and updated all twenty-some-odd links on the LGBT Parenting Resources page I list here at the yet-again-pulled-back-from-the-brink blog (design tweaks still ongoing, as the observant might note).  If you haven’t perused that page, please do. Or if you have a friend who is hunting down a compendium of resources, by all means send ’em there. And let me know if you think I should add more.

Next, in honor of the Back-to-School season, a half-dozen bullet-pointed resources (followed by some anecdotal commentary) that may be of help:

    • Dana Rudolph’s evergreen Back to School LGBT Resource List at Mombian, a compendium of super-helpful links she revised in 2008. And while you’re over there, check out her poll on Back to School Concerns: perhaps not surprisingly, our worry list goes 1-2-3: LGBT-friendliness of teacher &/or school, then academics, then social issues/ adjustment.  It’ll be a bright fall day when we only worry about items 2 & 3, eh?
    • Another PDF gem from Family Equality Council, this one you can give a sympathetic teacher or administrator: Opening Doors: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Parents and Schools. While there’s stuff for parents, sections like “Stories Kids Tell Us About What Happens at School,” “How Educators Can Best Support Children in LGBT-Headed Families,” and “Nonjudgmental Ways to Answer Children’s Questions” are concise and invaluable.
    • Requiring a bit more advance planning than a review of any of the links above, but preposterously valuable are Groundspark’s groundbreaking documentaries exploring how to talk about gay issues in elementary school, It’s Elementary (first aired in 1999) and It’s STILL Elementary (a follow-up with the teachers and students who were in the first film, documenting the right-wing attacks on It’s Elementary and its creators). Each of Groundspark’s films comes with extensive material discussing who should see the film, why address gay issues with children, curriculum guides, and additional resources. Need I say more?
    • Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools: School Bullying Resources, Family Diversity Training and Tools for Educators, a phenomenal and wide-ranging curriculum resource for administrators, educators, and parents. Building a school community where all students feel welcome and see their family a part of it, inside and outside the classroom, takes years of deep commitment. So does parenthood. You’re up for it, and you have more allies than you know. Also, you can always start with baby steps, like your kids did.

I want to finish off with a few anecdotal notes for parents of kids younger than mine, who this fall are looking at the very first launch of their kid into a preschool or elementary school. Your experiences will of course range very, very widely. Ours has been in one of the most LGBT-friendly metropolitan areas we could possibly afford to live in, and still we’ve been a distinctly tiny (if mighty) minority in every schooling situation.  Meaning, never once has our daughter or son been in a class with another kid with same-sex parents (and yep, we just saw the class list tonight: year 3 in the school and yet again, not in the same class with the one other girl her age with two moms). Still, looking at 2nd grade in another 8 or so hours, we’re doing ok.  Or, more importantly, our daughter is. (Here’s some evidence from the end of her Kindergarten year: Open House.)

What has mattered most?

    • For as long as I could, I volunteered like crazy, both at our kids’ preschool and at the elementary school.  I wanted to know everyone and I wanted everyone to know me, and there I was in all my mannish lesbian glory, so no matter whether or not folks (parents or kids) found me, well, undeniably mannish for a woman, there I was, a familiar figure.  Now that I’m working full time, I can’t figure out how to volunteer during school hours, and it’s killin’ me. But if you have the flexibility to do this, doing good for others at your kid’s school is the A#1 fast track way to start easing your worried mind in the best possible way.
    • At the preschool, I basically celebrate Banned Books week and I donate a bunch of great picture books featuring family diversity or kids with LGBT families.  If you can afford one, great. Donating a list of books goes pretty far, too, and is way more affordable.  (The best preschool wish list to go off of? Welcoming Schools’ PDF Picture Books for Students Inclusive of Gay Family Members and Characters.) I’ve been spending years in wonderful conversation with the director and we each are hugely grateful.  
    • Elementary school libraries generally have far more formal acquisition processes, but strike up a conversation with your school librarian and talk with them about this page from the Welcoming Schools Guide on bibliographies (includes sub-pages like “Your Role as Librarian” and subsections with all manner of bibliographies, like “Inclusive of Gay Family Members and Characters” or “Highlighting All Kinds of Families,” ranging from picture books to chapter books).
    • With every new school year, we make it an express point to buttonhole our kids’ caregivers and/or teachers, and really introduce ourselves (this part is the ordinary part), and then ask when it would be convenient for us to say a little more about our family, so that s/he can best know how to refer to us in class.  This is because though we’ve been blessed with progressive-minded folks all along, we will kick in open doors every time.
    • Do not assume that a kindly person will have a clue about such things as:
        •  how you want to be called, and what your kid calls you, or
        • whether and how you refer to how your family came to be, or
        • how you celebrate “Mother’s” or “Father’s Day” (here’s the Welcoming Schools Guide PDF on it, for instance), or
        • you name it.

Do not go laissez faire on this stuff, is all I can say. Do not.

I repeat: a sympathetic soul (the best we often can hope for) does not of itself lead to a clue. Remember, a great many folks who are old enough to be teaching our kids grew up when (a) LGBT parents were completely unheard of and invisible, so therefore so were their kids, and  (b) references to LGBT people of any sort were very, very often pejorative, misinformed, and negatively stereotyped. So it’s not surprising that many can only conceptualize references to gay people as pejorative among kids this age. But our kids are kids this age! “Your mom’s a lesbian” is merely a statement of fact, not an insult.

Anyhow. As Mark Twain (& others) said, sorry this is so long; I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.  Until we see parents’ day greeting cards made by Hallmark and Harvey Milk Day celebrated in all our elementary schools, the onus is on us to educate the educators.  Which starts with educating ourselves.  ***RIIIIIIING*** Can you hear it? School bell’s callin’.

{Any of you-all care to share some of your own Back-to-School tips for LGBT parents new to the whole to school thing?}

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