Parent Creative Arts Charter School & James Lick Middle School
Q: As a parent what have you done to create a safer climate for LGBTQ youth and their families?
As a parent advocate, I did a lot of work with our elementary schools to help them look at diversity issues in the school, and to create a diversity taskforce made up of parents, teachers, the principal and other school staff. And as a group we looked at how we could make the school more inclusive. And we could support families with LGBTQ parents and caregivers. We implemented a curriculum. We did a training with “That’s a Family” for the teachers. We did a parent forum with showing “That’s a Family.” Every one or two weeks all the teachers did lessons around family diversity. That included LGBTQ families. And then we did a pride assembly. And I’ve pretty much done that at every school we’ve been at. Just trying to give the teachers and staff in the school an opportunity to learn more about our family and also to be the adults in my daughters’ life, who address the issues, so they didn’t have to, so they were the ones saying there’s lots of different kinds of families and it wasn’t my kids having to say that. I began asking the adults in their lives to take responsibility for that.
They were amazing. I know my daughter’s kindergarten teacher read Todd Pars book, “There’s All Kinds of Families.” Then there was a bilingual school for Japanese and English and what was really amazing was that the two teachers came together to talk about, when we teach families, how can we make sure we’re including two mom and two dad families. It was really amazing. I want to make sure our kids are feeling safe and included. But not everyone does that.
Q: What’s a fun activity you’ve done for LGBTQ?
We did our pride assembly and that was really amazing. One of the things that each class did was they had a color that was a stripe in the rainbow. They colored it and helped to put together this big rainbow flag that was hung in the cafeteria. There was a sort of a promise to be inclusive and respectful of everyone, and all the kids in the school would go up and sign it. So it was really sweet.
Q: What are some of the challenges or barriers to your work?
It was hard initially to get folks to make it a priority, especially teachers. In their busy, busy schedules with so much they feel like they had to teach. And until they got to that place of actually acknowledging this affects all of our students, and this is important for our school to have an inclusive respectful safe climate, that then I think they really understood the importance of it. And also I felt like they really needed to know what they could do—to have tools or teach specific lessons.
One of the things that have been problems in the past is not having an administrator who’s really supportive. So, if the teachers didn’t feel like they had a principal who was going to support that effort. As soon as we did go to a school where there was a principal who was really supportive, it changed everyone’s sort of commitment to it.
Then the other thing has been lots of amazing parents have supported us. There have been lots of parents who really had a hard time with it. Being angry, asking why are we doing this? Why do you have to teach this to my kids? It required lots of conversations. The principal was amazing. She said if you have questions come to me. Don’t take it out on anyone else, I’m here, I can answer those questions for you.
Q: What inspired you to do this work?
My kids. When my first daughter went to a cooperative nursery school, I taught at this school, like most parents. And we would read stories to the kids around lunch time, and one of the other parents who’s straight was reading a story called “We’re Alike and We’re Different.” And she was saying sometimes we have hair that looks the same, sometime it looks different. And sometimes we have houses that look the same, but they’re different. And in the book of course it doesn’t say sometimes we have two moms or two dads, but she adlibbed the story and said sometimes the families are different, sometimes you have one mom or one dad, or mom and a dad, or two moms and two dads. And my daughter’s best friend almost fell out of her seat, saying, “that’s my best friend Olivia, she has two moms.” And it was at that point when I saw my daughter’s face that I discovered how important it was for her that there were other adults bringing it up, not me. That I realized I needed to really encourage that in her life and other kids’ lives. If my daughter was feeling that way, there had to be other kids who were feeling that way, regardless of their family structure. If they weren’t feeling included in the conversation and so I just felt like that was what was important, is to make sure that the adults in children’s lives know they have a huge impact, and have an opportunity to really be inclusive and help kids feel like they’re part of the conversation and part of the class.
I always wanted it to be proactive and preventative as opposed to having to intervene or deal with slurs or deal with hate. You know, it was already being brought up, so it was part of the conversation. And it turned out that that is exactly what happened. I mean, I can see the results of it. My daughters have friends that would stick up for them and who can verbally say that’s not okay, you can’t say that. So in the world they just become these really confident people who care and respect each other.
Q: What’s the reaction to the work you’ve done in the school community?
I’d say interestingly overwhelmingly positive. I mean, I feel like I get to travel across the country and work with folks in lots of places. So rural Iowa, West Virginia, urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco and L.A. And I mean, people are trying, you know? I feel like overall, the educational pieces and sort of the way in which educators are willing to struggle with it, has been positive. There are definitely folks who are struggling with their own personal beliefs, and sometimes it’s based on their faith, or religion that’s really strong for them. But I think that when they hear their ultimate responsibility is to see the students in their classroom and it’s about teaching respect and valuing difference, and celebrating one another. That they’re able to say okay well I still have my own judgments, and I realize I need to do something, I need to make sure my classroom and my school is safe. And the only way to do that is really teach what’s best. So that piece I can do. And I just think if we continue to reach out and help folks open their hearts and really open their minds, they’re able to have those conversations. And then you work from there. It’s about meeting people where they’re at.