Blogging for LGBT families

Are lessons about LGBT families appropriate for young children?

Posted May 28, 2011

This week there were several news stories on the backlash and concern around lessons on these issues in elementary schools. For example, a school in Oakland, CA introduced a day of lessons about gender from an organization called Gender Spectrum for students in grades K-5. This initiative caught the attention of a local conservative legal group who then got involved. The Pacific Justice Institute opted to offer counsel to parents who wanted their children to opt out of this instruction. Their spokesperson explained, "this instruction does not represent the values of the majority of families in Oakland." He reported that three families chose to keep their children home from school that day. Hmmm...my math may be off, but I don't think three is a "majority."

In spite of this public resistance, the principal talked about her support for the project: "Really, the message behind this curriculum is there are different ways to be boys. There are different ways to be girls." Shocking, right? It gets worse: one of the students explained what he learned during the lessons: "I think it's about how it doesn't matter who you are," he said. "If you're a girl who likes girl stuff, or a boy who like boy stuff, it just matters if you're human." I can't imagine the trauma of subjecting children to such a radical lesson (insert ironic tone here).

The Fox News coverage highlighted a blog post from a conservative media group Media Research Center, that wrote how the plans were the latest example of a "gender-bending" agenda infiltrating mainstream culture, "This is only the latest example of what seems to be a New-Age, gender-bending agenda pushed into the mainstream media by those who refuse to accept the traditional sex differences between men and women." Fortunately, the principal stood by the program and was not cowed by the threat of media scrutiny and parental backlash. Too many educators are immobilized by these kinds of threats and their inaction and silence result in a hostile and harmful climate in many schools.

As I point out in my book Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools - this resistance is common, but it shouldn't prevent educators from doing the right thing for their students and their schools. The backlash is particularly strong when this information is introduced in early childhood and elementary education settings. However, this is exactly the right age and place to talk about these issues. Most early childhood and elementary curricular programs include talking about families, relationships, and understanding the self as central to the learning goals for elementary-age students. If the school is silent about certain kinds of families, certain types of relationships - such as families that are parented by or include bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people - then children quickly learn that their families are not valued or welcomed at school. This message subjects children to discrimination from the school and their peers that can include bullying, harassment, exclusion, and discomfort at school.

Research in Canada and the United States has documented the discrimination experienced by youth from LGBT families in schools.

  • 64% of LGBT youth and 61% of youth from LGBT families felt unsafe at school
  • Youth from LGBT families were 3 times more likely to skip school because they felt unsafe (40% vs. 13%) (Taylor et al, 2011)
  • 40% of youth from LGBT families had been verbally harassed because of their family
  • 20% of youth from LGBT families had been discouraged from talking about their family at school
  • 20% felt excluded from classroom activities because of their family. (Kosciw & Diaz, 2008)

These findings underline the importance of proactive measures to talk about gender and sexual diversity at all ages in school. I applaud the efforts of these schools and these teachers (and all others who didn't make the news) who work to teach inclusively about gender and sexual diversity issues. All families deserve full inclusion and respect in school.

References:

Kosciw, J., & Diaz, E. (2008). Involved, Invisible, Ignored: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Parents and Their Children in Our Nation's K-12 Schools. New York: GLSEN.

Taylor, C. P., T., with McMinn, T.L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schachter, K. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.