Back-to-school time can be daunting for any parent, as we leave our children to the care of others and subject to peer circles that we can’t fully control. LGBTQ parents may have particular concerns, too, about how welcoming and inclusive the administration, teachers, coaches, and students will be to our children, especially in states with school-related anti-LGBTQ laws. I’m not here to tell you it will all be fine, because I can’t make such guarantees, but I will offer some advice based on seeing my son through 12 years of public school and into college.
Remember that much education happens at home. Perhaps not the academic subjects (although some of us parents can contribute here, too), but definitely the core lessons about values and ethics. If we can convey our values through our own words and actions, we can give our children tools to assess and interpret what they are taught elsewhere, even if that differs.
We can also make our homes inclusive even if our schools are not, buying or borrowing LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books and ones with protagonists of identities that we both do and do not share. Yes, I believe schools should offer these materials, too, so that all students can have a full view of themselves and their world, but when they don’t, we can still do so at home.
Be visible if you safely can, but listen to your kids. LGBTQ parents are often advised to meet with our kids’ teachers and/or school administrators before the start of the year to answer any questions they may have and make sure they will be inclusive of our families. That can be helpful, especially when kids are young and/or starting at a new school — but it’s also not right for every family at every time. Sometimes we may feel it unduly stresses our differences; we may prefer a quieter visibility, such as simply showing up for Parent’s Night and introducing ourselves as our kids’ parents. And as our children grow older, they may prefer to come out about their family in their own time and way. We should always be guided by what our children are experiencing and feeling, though, no matter which path we choose — which means encouraging open communication and letting them know we are always there for them.
Be active in the school community. Kids often benefit from parental involvement in their schools — and for LGBTQ parents, our presence can contribute to an important visibility (though see the tip above on listening to our children here). We can join the PTA or other parent groups, participate in our kids’ classrooms as guest readers and the like, or help chaperone field trips. Right now, too, when anti-LGBTQ policies are being pushed forward in many school districts, participating in school board meetings can be critical.
Nevertheless, sometimes our work schedules or other important obligations (like other children or an aging parent) mean we cannot be as active as we’d like. We shouldn’t feel guilty if we can’t do everything — but we should ask ourselves if there are alternate ways of helping. Can’t attend a meeting? Make phone calls or send e-mails to encourage others to show up. Help another parent prepare their remarks; share helpful resources online. And no matter what, vote!
Pick your battles and plan your tactics. Chances are, there are many ways our kids’ schools could be more inclusive, starting with basic policies for safety and respect, to updating school forms, stocking LGBTQ-inclusive books, incorporating LGBTQ history and biographies in the curricula, and starting a Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA), among other things. If you feel moved to make change, evaluate what is likely going to have the biggest impact on students’ lives and what is most likely to actually happen in your location. These two things may not always coincide, so you’ll have to prioritize; sometimes you’ll want to start small, while other times you’ll want to address a critical immediate need, such as a piece of anti-LGBTQ policy or legislation. Consider, too, what efforts may already be underway, and where you may find allies among other parents and school personnel.
Know that help is available. One excellent new resource is Safe Schools for All (safeschoolsforall.org), a project from GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), GLSEN, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and PFLAG, with information about student rights and what to do if you experience bullying, harassment, or discrimination. And the new Parenting with Pride site (parentingwithprideflorida.org), from Equality Florida and a host of partner organizations, offers tools, resources, and more to help parents and families “create communities where every LGBTQ+ child feels safe, affirmed, and loved.” While intended for families in Florida, much of it is broadly applicable and may be useful to those in other states as well. I also list a range of LGBTQ back-to-school resources at my own website, mombian.com.
A purported concern for children has always driven much anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and schools and young people are on the front lines right now. LGBTQ families have long shown, though, that we can survive and thrive despite the obstacles — and today, there are more resources and more ways of communicating with other LGBTQ families and allies than ever before. I have no doubt we have a difficult road ahead, but I also firmly believe we are up to the challenge.
Wishing your children and you a school year full of happiness and learning.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a two-time GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, plus a searchable database of 1300+ LGBTQ family books.