Back-to-school time always raises mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, years of being in academia make me see September, not January, as the start of the year (or maybe it’s just a Jewish thing). On the other, the lazy days of summer are giving way to school time’s hectic rush, with my son’s after-school activities, homework reminders and the various other events and paperwork that public education brings in its wake.
My son is starting seventh grade, his second year in the school and seventh in the same district, so I’m not particularly stressing about his adjustment this time around — which is not to say I don’t have a fairly normal amount of concern about the quality of his teachers and the kindness of his classmates. I’m sure it will all be fine, but I dislike the uncertainty.
As a lesbian mom, I also always have a little niggle in the back of my head at the start of the school year about whether my son will encounter any bias or harassment because he has two moms. I try not to dwell on that, however, but to reassure myself with three things.
First, the number of school-related resources for LGBTQ parents, the parents of LGBTQ children and teachers is growing ever larger. Two new items this year deserve special attention.
“Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools” is aimed at helping administrators, teachers and parents provide “safe and supportive school environments for transgender students.” Co-authored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Spectrum, the National Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, it discusses basic concepts, general guidelines for meeting the needs of transgender youth, specific issues impacting them, best practices and the legal landscape. Download it free at genderspectrum.org.
Not LGBTQ-specific, but of use because of the high incidence of bullying based on real or perceived LGBTQ status, is “Bullying and The Law,” a guide by Adele Kimmel of Public Justice, a national impact litigation group. Kimmel describes the options parents have when students are bullied. She also provides information on what parents can reasonably expect from schools in those situations, and what the options are when schools don’t do enough. The guide was created for the Bully Project, an anti-bullying initiative inspired by the award-winning 2011 film “Bully.” Download it at www.thebullyproject.com/bullying_the_law.
Other long-standing school resources parents should know about include:
Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools project covers family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying. Its website includes a section just for parents and caregivers as well as for teachers and administrators, with book recommendations, ideas for building community, suggestions for productive discussions and much more; welcomingschools.org.
Family Equality Council’s Inclusive Schools page offers sample letters parents can send to teachers to start conversations about LGBTQ inclusion, suggestions for making school forms more inclusive and book ideas for all ages; familyequality.org/get_involved/inclusive_schools.
GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect Toolkit has tools and lesson plans for elementary-school teachers, covering name-calling and bullying, family diversity, gender-role diversity and more; glsen.org/readysetrespect. GLSEN also has extensive safe-schools materials for both educators and students in higher grades, including information on its educator-training program and starting gay-straight alliances, as well as research about the impact of homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, GLSEN manages a number of programs and events to engage school communities of all grades throughout the academic year, including Ally Week, ThinkB4YouSpeak, the Day of Silence, No Name-Calling Week and the Safe Space Kit; glsen.org.
PFLAG’s Safe Schools for All: Cultivating Respect program has similar materials (in English and Spanish) for making schools safer, reducing bullying and providing comprehensive health education. They also offer a certification program for PFLAG members who want to assist with staff training and policy creation in local schools; community.pflag.org/safeschoolsforall.
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network has great materials for starting or sustaining a GSA; gsanetwork.org.
In addition to taking comfort in the resources available, I am also grateful that the school year gives us opportunities to build bridges as we work towards equity for all. For example, one new study, by Abbie Goldberg of Clark University, has shown that many adopted children, with both same- and different-sex parents, experience stigmatization in preschool. This is sobering — but also a chance for us to work with non-LGBTQ adoptive parents on solutions. In doing so, we can also find ways to be allies across the many aspects of all our varied identities.
Finally, I have faith in my son and his own sense of self-confidence and self-worth. He knows his family is as good as anyone else’s, even if its structure is different from most in his school. I have to trust that he’ll stand up for himself when needed and that he’ll come to my spouse and me if things escalate beyond where he feels he can handle it alone. I also hope he will be an ally to those of identities different from his own, and that many of his peers will be allies to him in turn.
A new year is full of new possibilities. I’m optimistic it will be a fun and exciting one for our family. I hope it is for yours as well.