Hurricane Irene raged up the East Coast this past weekend, sending people scrambling to the stores for bottled water and canned tuna. Of course, hurricanes weren’t the only thing I prepared for this week. Back-to-school time is here, so I’ve been buying pencils and erasers alongside the flashlight batteries. And because I am an LGBT parent, I’ve also been thinking about the "emergency supplies" we should have as we navigate the sometimes-stormy weather of our educational system, in case our children encounter anti-LGBT prejudice, bullying, or simply exclusion.
Some of the most exciting new school-related resources this year are about sports, long an area where homophobia and transphobia have reigned. A 2008 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that some students with LGBT parents were told they should not do sports, or had their athletic abilities questioned, because they had LGBT parents. And GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey found that over a third of LGBT students avoided locker rooms, making them the most feared place in the school for these students.
But GLSEN in May launched Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, backed by a coalition of athletes, journalists, and sports figures. It features "Game Plan" resources for athletes, athletic administrators, coaches and parents, inspirational videos about people making a difference, and the Team Respect Challenge pledge "for teams to commit to treat all teammates with respect." The San Diego Padres in July became the first professional team to sign it. (www.sports.glsen.org)
Athlete Ally, launched in January, offers individuals an online pledge to reduce homophobia in sports. Founded by Hudson Taylor, a straight, three-time NCAA Division I All-American wrester, now a Division I wrestling coach at Columbia University, the site also includes a weekly "Ally’s Playbook" video with suggestions for how non-LGBT athletes can help reduce homophobia. Hudson is also seeking high school and college students to be "Athlete Ally Ambassadors" to promote the pledge and participate in future initiatives. (www.athleteally.org)
And the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), launched in 2001, has long been a powerhouse of advocacy and education. It also offers legal assistance for LGBT athletes and coaches. (www.nclrights.org. Go to Issues & Cases: Sports)
Sports aside, there are also a number of more general resources to help make schools safe for students from all types of families.
For parents with children in elementary school, the Human Rights Campaign’s An Introduction to Welcoming Schools guide is perhaps the best single resource. It aims to help elementary school administrators, teachers, parents and guardians address family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying, and includes a bibliography of books on all kinds of families, LGBT and not. (www.welcomingschools.org)
The Family Equality Council’s "Back to School Tool" is a useful short guide for LGBT parents on how to make our children’s schools safer and more inclusive. The organization also offers "Opening Doors," a short but helpful booklet with tips for educators and others. It discusses the kind of prejudice children of LGBT families may face, how educators can support them, and how they can answer questions other children may have about them. (www.familyequality.org Go to Resources: Publications.)
Many resources aimed at older students focus on LGBT youth, but most also have applicability to children of LGBT parents, whatever the children’s sexual orientation or gender identity:
GLSEN has extensive safe-schools materials for both educators and students, including information on its educator training program and starting gay-straight alliances. (www.glsen.org)
PFLAG’s Safe Schools for All: Cultivating Respect program has similar materials (in both English and Spanish) for making schools safer, reducing bullying, and providing comprehensive health education. They also offer a certification program for PFLAG members who want to assist with staff training and policy creation in local schools. (www.pflag.org, Go to Education & Programs: Safe Schools for All)
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network has materials for starting or sustaining a GSA, as well as the guide "Beyond the Binary: Making Schools Safe for Transgender Youth," a joint project with NCLR and the Transgender Law Center. (www.gsanetwork.org)
NCLR has additional safe-schools information, including samples of anti-harassment policies and memos to school boards. (www.nclrights.org. Go to Issues & Cases: Youth)
The American Library Association’s Rainbow List offers LGBT-inclusive children’s and young adult books chosen by a committee of librarians for quality as well as content. (www.rainbowlist.wordpress.com)
Groundspark’s series of LGBT-inclusive diversity-education films includeThat’s a Family, for elementary school students, about different family structures; Let’s Get Real, for middle schoolers, about name-calling and bullying; It’s STILL Elementary, for and about educators discussing gay issues in schools; and Straightlaced, for teens, about the pressure of gender stereotypes. Curriculum guides make the films easy to incorporate into diversity and anti-bullying programs. The films are also available for individual screening online: $4.99 for 90 days of on-demand viewing. (www.groundspark.org)
Of course, as in a storm, often our best resources are our neighbors and friends. When it comes to LGBT issues in schools, this could include other LGBT parents and parents of LGBT children-but also families who may have similar concerns about exclusion and/or harassment because of their family structure, race, ethnicity, religion, or other reasons. It could also include "traditional" families who know that LGBT families are as much a part of communities across the United States as anyone else-and that we’ll even share a few cans of tuna during the next hurricane.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. She can be reached at email@example.com.