A flurry of rainbows filled my feeds while sitting at my laptop today. I burst into tears and let them flow for all the friends, family, colleagues, and students I’ve taught who’ve faced discrimination in their lives for their sexual orientation, gender or identity.
I thought of the parents who phoned my colleague and I to accuse us of turning their 15-year-old daughter into a lesbian after we taught a lesson about using gender inclusive language in the classroom. I remembered how she shined when we approved her project to educate middle school students about LGBTQQ (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, questioning) awareness for our humanities class final project, a far cry from her severe depression, falling grades and tears from earlier in the year when she came out as a lesbian and her parents would not accept her for who she was.
I took pause to mentally high-five all the students whose journal entries and personal essays spilled over with anger and hurt over the bullying and harassment their two dads or moms faced in this country.
I mentally hugged the teachers and colleagues I’ve worked with in both public and private schools, who’ve never come out in their professional settings because of fear of harassment from parents, students and other colleagues.
Today was a small victory in this fight for inclusion and equity in our country.
On the other hand, I know despite this ruling we have much work to do to continue to create loving and supporting environments for the LGBTQQ youth in our country.
I’m a parent and educator. Wherever you stand of the spectrum of understanding and acceptance, I urge you to consider some facts about how LGBTQQ (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, questioning) children are treated in our schools.
- 84.9% heard the word “gay” used in a negative way, and 91.4% reported feeling stressed over hearing this language.
- 71.3% heard other homophobic language and remarks frequently or often.
- 61.4% reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression like (“not acting man enough” or “crying like a girl”) frequently or often.
- 56.9% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks by teachers or other staff members in schools.
- 63.5% of students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation at school.
- 81.9% were verbally harassed (called names or threatened) in the past year due to their sexual orientation.
- 38.3% were physically harassed (pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
- 18.3% were injured or physically assaulted (kicked, punched, harmed with a weapon) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
According to the American Psychological Association, LGBTQQ youth have increased absences from school and are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. As parents and educators, we’re obligated to teach our kids to be more inclusive and accepting regardless of our beliefs. People are people, and love is love.
Here are some things you can do as a parent or educator to help create safer more supportive environments in schools.
1. Use Inclusive Language. You can do this when talking about relationships, love, book characters or movies. Avoid assumptive and generalized statements. Rather than saying to your daughter, “When you start dating boys when you’re older…” it’s as simple as saying “If you start dating when you’re older…” If you practice inclusive language with your kids, you’ll teach them to not marginalize others by the statements and assumptions they make about sexual orientation.
2. Be Inclusive in your Actions. Practice what your preach. For example, don’t divide boys and girls at a birthday party when playing a game or in the classroom for a competition. This can be very confusing and isolating for kids who question their gender. Don’t give all the girls pink party favors and all the boys blue party favors. Let kids choose their own colors.
3. Talk about LGBTQQ families with your kids. I remember when my daughter was in preschool there was a little girl with two moms in her class. She came home and said, “That’s weird. She has two moms.” My reply was, “No, it’s not. Everybody’s family is special and unique. Some kids have one mom or one dad. Others have two moms and two dads. Some have a mom and a dad. And some kids live with other grown-ups. Every family is special and unique.” She never questioned the sexual orientation of her peers’ parents again. The biggest mistake you can make is avoiding your kids’ questions about sexual orientation. By avoiding their questions, what do you teach them?
4. Find role models. Expose your kids to LGBTQQ characters in books, television shows and movies. I headed to my local library last summer and asked the librarian to help me find examples of picture books that had LGBTQQ families in them to read to my daughter. We also watch Modern Family with our daughter, which includes a family with two dads. Find real-life role models too. There are artists, musicians, politicians, doctors and other historical figures who are queer heroes. And you don’t have to go far to find friends, family members, teachers or other queer youth. Our seven-year-old daughter doesn’t question sexual orientation because she spends time with queer youth and adults on a regular basis.
5. Be an Ally. If your child is in school, he or she may witness microaggressions or bullying and harassment of LGBTQQ youth. Talk to your child about not being a bystander and standing up and advocating for others. If your child comes out to you about being LGBTQQ, you can help support them with resources and your acceptance and love.
6. Educate yourself. Times have changed and terminology has changed. This guide from the University of Michigan is a good place to educate yourself on vocabulary you may not have heard in your education.
I, for one, am over the moon about today’s Supreme Court Ruling. It’s one step closer to making this world a better place for my students and kids in this world. But we have an obligation to keep making this world a better place for LGBTQQ youth every single day in our homes and classrooms too. Let’s continue the work of the SCOTUS and start now.
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