Make Sure Your Child's School Is Safe For LGBTQ+ Students & Families––Here's How

by Chris Tompkins
A digital illustration of three children drawing a rainbow on the street with crayons representing L...
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During a presentation organized by Gender Spectrum, a wonderful organization whose mission is to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens, the facilitator encouraged parents to do a short exercise before meeting with school administrators. They were giving tips on what parents, caregivers, and allies can do when facing an unsupportive school administrator, and they suggested before any meeting to close our eyes and ask ourselves, “If I imagine this going perfectly, what would it look like?”

Meeting school administrators where they’re at is one of the ways parents can begin having open and honest conversations about how they can help raise LGBTQ allies. Especially when it comes to biases and beliefs, people will sacrifice their lives defending what they believe. So more than meeting them where they’re at, speaking to a person’s potential is the most powerful approach parents can take when navigating complex conversations around gender and sexuality.

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The suggestion offered by Gender Spectrum is a beautiful reminder of how holding in our hearts and minds a vision of what we’re hoping to see is a vital part of building LGBTQ-affirming playgrounds and creating LGBTQ-affirming classrooms. A few questions parents and caregivers can begin asking themselves to prepare for the new school year are:

  1. What am I doing to prepare my children (or students) for the new world in which they’ll live?
  2. How am I intentionally, mindfully, and actively raising allies?
  3. How am I accounting for the gender and sexual diversity of all youth?
  4. Is there a way I can take proactive steps to help youth access age-appropriate information?
  5. If I don’t know how to have conversations about gender and sexuality, is there a person or an organization I feel comfortable learning from?

After you begin asking yourself these questions, consider the following tips on how you can easily and effectively ensure that your kiddo’s school is helping create LGBTQ-affirming spaces. While this list isn’t exhaustive or complete and school policies and programs vary greatly depending on state, district, and whether they are public or private, one or more of these tips can be a resource for any school.

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Five Tips For the New School Year:

  1. Have conversations—Ask your child’s school where they stand on matters pertaining to the LGBTQ community. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s the step a lot of parents and caregivers don’t remember they can ask.
  2. Student and/or parent groups—Are there GSAs or other LGBTQ-affirming student organizations at your child’s school? Are there LGBTQ-friendly parenting groups?
  3. Visibility matters—Is there signage or stickers that teachers can display in their classroom to let students know they’re in an LGBTQ-affirming space? In Los Angeles as an example, Los Angeles Unified School District has “OUT Safe School” badges that school administrators can wear. It’s a great way to let LGBTQ youth know they have safe people they can talk to. It also lets non-LGBTQ youth see allies.
  4. Visibility matters—if your child’s school doesn’t currently have LGBTQ-related children’s books, would they be interested in getting some donated? Two organizations that donate LGBTQ-related children’s books to schools are: Gender Nation and Hope in a Box. It’s a proactive step any parent and caregiver can take in getting LGBTQ-related books into more schools across the country. In California alone, Gender Spectrum has donated LGBTQ-children’s books to San Diego Unified School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Fresno Unified School District.
  5. Advocacy and accountability—Teachers have a responsibility to not make assumptions about their students’ identities—and that includes their sexual orientations and gender identities. We also live in a fast-changing world and a lot of teachers in schools want to help, they just don’t know what to do or where to begin. Ask if your child’s school is interested in having an LGBTQ teacher-training.

One of the things I’ve come to realize throughout my years teaching is how many parenting conversations, especially surrounding child and adolescent development, are heteronormative.When more teachers can have open and age-appropriate conversations with youth and include same-sex relationships and other LGBTQ experiences, we prevent inaccurate information from being introduced to a young person. We also stop pushing LGBTQ youth into the shadows, which reinforces heteronormativity and perpetuates shame and stigma.By taking action and incorporating the suggestions found here, parents and caregivers can do their part to help teachers raise LGBTQ allies both inside the classroom and on the playground.For more information, check out Chris’ new book, Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground. It’s also a great resource to share with your children’s school. Gifting books is a fun and creative way to ensure all youth learn about the diverse world in which they live. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.