Back-to-School Linkorama

Each fall I’ve been updating a post full of links of use for LGBT parents as they approach the new school year. Below is the most recent, from August 23, 2012: Back to School, LGBT parent version (2012 edition).

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IMG_4140A week from tonight, our family will be on the other side of a ginormous milestone: both kids’ first day of school at the actual same school.  So whilst I’m on vacation, otherwise blithely posting pictures of our leisure hours at nearby mountain lakes, I need to update and re-post  last year’s Back to School round-up.  Broke links fixed, some of last year’s references are trimmed out, and a few new notes sprinkled in.

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LD All-Purpose Parenting Resources Page o’ Links

Last year I combed through and updated all twenty-some-odd links on the LGBT Parenting Resources page I list here at LD.  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.

A Dozen Really Helpful School-Specific Resources

Below, a compendium of some of my favorite resources, with accompanying commentary. The first several listed can help inform your conversations with your child’s teacher or school administrator, or provide book lists for your school’s librarian or a teacher looking to supplement reading for units throughout the year. The Groundspark documentaries can be screened for a PTA or a school committee or (in the case of That’s a Family!) a classroom.  And the Welcoming Schools resources really form a broad-based family diversity (and anti-bullying and gender diversity) curriculum that could be reviewed and implemented anywhere from the level of a single classroom lesson plan to a whole school or school district’s supplementary curriculum. Because my kids are elementary school-aged (aaak! both of them now!), most of those listed below are primarily K-6 resources.

  • 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 resources you can also provide any educator or caregiver working with your child.
  • Requiring a bit more advance planning than a review of any of the links above, but preposterously valuable, are Groundspark’s groundbreaking documentaries.  
    •  It’s Elementary (for K-12 teachers and youth service providers; 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).  It’s Elementary explores how to talk about gay issues in elementary school, and comes with extensive material discussing who should see the film, why address gay issues with children, curriculum guides, and additional resources. Fantastic material for any PTA-school administration group working on family diversity and inclusion at your school.
    • That’s a Family! (for grades K-8), explores a multitude of family formations, including mixed race, adoptive, single parented, divorced, and lesbian or gay-headed. It also comes with a teaching guide and training curriculum on how to use it with young children.

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.

Some Notes On the Whole Shebang for the LGBT Parent Back-to-School Newbies

Finally, 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 (next week, with two kids in the same school, and one in it for the fourth year now, we shall see if our multi-year losing streak continues). That is par for the course, and still we count ourselves lucky for the family diversity friendliness of the preschool and elementary school our kids have been in.

So, what has felt like it has made the biggest difference in our comfort level with our kids’ schools?

  • 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 (still, 1.75 yrs into the job) 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.  Next option, which doesn’t expose you to the other kids as much, but does provide connection to other families and school folk, is to find the school improvement opportunities that exist on the weekends.  That’s my main option these days, and it’s better than nothin’.
  • With every new school year, we make it an express point to buttonhole our kids’ caregivers and/or teachers and introduce ourselves (this part is the ordinary part), and then ask when it would be convenient for us to meet to describe a little more about our family, so that s/he can best know how to refer to us in class and in any family-related school work.  This is because though we’ve been blessed with progressive-minded folks all along, we will kick in open doors every time. It is our job to do so, and it is definitely as important as providing our emergency phone numbers to the school. Do not presume that a kindly, even progressive-minded person will have a clue (nor should they, necessarily) 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 formed, 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.
  • Whenever possible, I have connected with the educators for my kid (preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade; I fell off the wagon last year due to day job overwhelm) and, as our connection created the authentic opening for this, offered book recommendations with family diversity options to flesh out ordinary teaching units.  At the preschool level, this is a lot easier, since there are usually fewer state-imposed oversights, and directors usually have a great deal of latitude about determining curriculum. If you can afford to give a gift of some of your favorite picture books during Banned Books Week (Sept 30 – Oct 6, 2012), great!  (The best preschool wish list to go off of? Welcoming Schools’ PDF Picture Books for Students Inclusive of Gay Family Members and Characters.)  Elementary school libraries generally have far more formal acquisition processes, but don’t let that stop you. Strike up a conversation with your school librarian and talk with her or him 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).  Find out what you can do to help improve your child’s school library holdings.

Parting words on why educating your child’s educators is so important: remember that 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. 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 mama’s a lesbian” is merely a statement of fact, not an insult.  Your kid’s teacher may not really get this until she or he is staring at you, warmly being some kid in their class’ lesbian mama. Or baba.  That’s where it all begins.

[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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