Once again, the new school year looms, and the back-to-school ads that started at the end of June finally seem to have some relevance. For many of us LGBT parents, the new school year brings with it once again the question of how accepting and inclusive our children’s teachers and classmates will be. Here are four things we can do to prepare our children and ourselves for the coming year.
Connect with our kids
The most important thing we can do to get our children ready for school is to ask them how they feel about it. Are they excited? Anxious? Apathetic? Concerned about particular classmates, teachers or coaches, either because of anti-LGBT bias or anything else?
We may not be able to solve all of their problems — and it is often better to let them discover solutions on their own — but we can offer examples from our own experience, bolster their self-confidence and ensure them we are there to provide emotional support and take action if necessary.
Also, we can make sure to do something frivolous and fun with our kids the week before school starts, so that summer ends on a joyful note!
Connect with the teachers
Sometimes, especially with young children, it may help us to meet with the teacher before the school year to introduce our family, get a feel for the teacher’s commitment to inclusion and answer any questions she or he may have. Other times, we may choose a less-overt method to let the teachers know we are an LGBT-headed family. In a two-parent family, for example, we might both take our child to school on the first day or go to a start-of-year parent gathering, making a point of introducing ourselves as “so-and-so’s parents.” A third approach is to wait until any issues arise, trying to let the children (especially older ones) take control over how and when to come out about their families.
Should we need to offer schools a hand in being welcoming and inclusive, there are many resources to help us do so.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools project (welcomingschools.org) and the Family Equality Council (familyequality.org) offer useful guides for parents of elementary-school students. Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s Ready, Set, Respect tool is great for schools that don’t have the capacity for a full-school program (glsen.org/readysetrespect).
For families with older children, GLSEN (glsen.org), Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (pflag.org), the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (gsanetwork.org) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (nclrights.org) have extensive materials for both educators and students.
Teaching Tolerance’s guide, Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate,” is a useful compact reference for classrooms of all ages (tolerance.org/lgbt-best-practices).
Gender Spectrum’s education section (genderspectrum.org/education/) has classroom-discussion ideas, information about teacher training, policy suggestions and more related to gender identity, as does TransYouth Family Allies (imatyfa.org).
Groundspark (groundspark.org) produced a number of excellent LGBT-education films for students of varying ages.
GLSEN’s Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, Athlete Ally (athleteally.org), and the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights all offer resources on being inclusive on the field and in the locker room.
At the end of the day, however, our best resources for LGBT-related school issues may be other LGBT parents and parents of LGBT children — but also families who may have similar concerns about exclusion and/or harassment. And we may find unexpected allies among “traditional” families.
We want our children’s teachers and classmates to be allies to LGBT families, so we have a responsibility in turn to be allies to those with families and identities other than our own, however we each define “other.” Teaching Tolerance (tolerance.org) has a plethora of resources to help teachers and parents approach diversity and inclusion.
We can also read books with our children (or suggest them to older kids) about different families, cultures and identities. Some good places for book recommendations include the Children’s Book Council’s diversity site (cbcdiversity.com; especially the resources page) and Diversity in YA (diversityinya.tumblr.com).
We should also remember that much learning happens at home, and that our children are resilient, sometimes surprisingly so. We shouldn’t ignore problems if they arise — but nor should we discount our children’s ability to handle them, sometimes better than we can.
Here’s wishing all of our children — and ourselves — a school year full of learning, laughter and love.
For a fuller list of back-to-school resources and links, visit mombian.com.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.