Schools can be a great place to build understanding, tolerance and compassion. For non-traditional families facing specific issues and biases, partnering with schools helps cultivate positive change in a heteronormative world where LGBTQ-headed families sometimes feel erased and their children feel alienated.
As LGBTQ parents, you don’t have to take the mantle of ambassador while navigating math tests, science experiments, and parent-teacher conferences, but you can take simple steps to create allies and empower your children. Here are a few ways to build community support for students and their “nontraditional” families:
Engage teachers and administrators
Adults at school are there to both educate and protect their students – including (and perhaps particularly) those who are at risk for bullying. Talk to the principal, guidance counselors and teachers at the school to help build a community of allies. While these educators may be looking out for bullies already, having a dialogue about your specific concerns may also prompt them to make their classroom more inclusive. Many teachers simply haven’t thought about how their lesson plans, projects and school culture may alienate the children of LGBT parents. Engaging them upfront and even providing some resources about how to educate their students about the many forms a family can take can help ensure all children feel included, and it can also build awareness and sensitivity among their classmates.
Advocate and teach kids to advocate
Parents do many things to advocate for their kids, from ensuring they get into the programs that meet their needs to intervening when bullying or mistreatment gets out of hand. It’s no different for issues affecting LGBTQ parents: Showing your children support can help them feel safer and more comfortable at school.
Children of LGBTQ parents may be subjected to uncomfortable questions or, worse, be targeted by bullies. After all, kids can be cruel, and intolerance can be passed along on the playground. While parents can’t control other children’s actions, you can equip your kids with words and tools to defend themselves and, perhaps, educate others. The Human Rights Campaign developed a tool to help kids answer tough questions, and COLAGE, an organization that supports children with queer parents, has resources aimed at the kids themselves to help them stand up for their families.
Be present and be proud
Ultimately, every kid needs their parents to be around. Parental involvement has an enormous positive impact on a child’s personal development and academic success. That means showing up for school plays and PTA meetings or volunteering to chaperone field trips or coach sports teams. Parents’ presence in the school community not only reinforces that they have their children’s back, but also can have a positive influence on the community itself.
Often, hate is fueled by a sense of difference and distance that breeds discomfort. Most stories of community and national leaders changing their minds, from Utah’s Lieutenant Governor to President Obama, start with getting to know someone in the LGBTQ community and realizing they’re human, just like everyone else. They also love, laugh, live, work, parent, and bleed. LGBTQ families don’t have to be role models with perfect lives to change hearts and minds. Rather, the shared values and experiences that bring everyone together, particularly in our schools and around our children, can build connections that tackle hate, break down prejudice, and, we hope, create safer spaces for the next generation.
Sarah Rose is the Social Media Associate and LGBTQ Issues Advocate at Care2 and The Petition Site. Additionally, she has been an outspoken advocate for the past 10 years in both the Atlanta and Washington, D.C., queer communities. She has previously worked in marketing for various nonprofits, as well as serving as an assistant for U.S. Congress.