By Kelly Huegel Madrone, author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens
There’s a lot of talk about how to support LGBT students, but what about students with LGBT parents?
According to 2013 data from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law:
- More than 111,000 same-sex couples in the United States are raising roughly 220,000 children under the age of 18.
- As many as 6 million American adults and children have or have had an LGBT parent.
Even the most well-meaning educators, in their efforts to create open and accepting classrooms, forget that some of their students may have one or more LGBT parents. Here are some tips for how to support these students.
Treat Them the Same
Wait, isn’t the point that these students are different from those with traditional family structures? While kids with one or more LGBT parents may face some different challenges from their peers, at their core, they—and their families—are the same in a basic but very important way: They want to feel safe and welcome in school.
As one friend with a preteen told me, she and her wife just want a sense of normalcy for their son. They don’t want or expect any special treatment, just to be extended the same respect and given the same sense of belonging as every other family in the school system.
Extend Recognition of Diversity
You probably already take great pains to create a classroom and curriculum that recognize diversity based on culture, race, religion, and other factors. Plus, you know families can have a single parent or a student might be in a foster situation or being raised by a grandparent. Just think of supporting students with LGBT parents as an extension of these efforts.
Part of that begins with expanding your own understanding of LGBT family structures. Students may have two same-sex parents, they may have same-sex parents and a parent of another gender (such as two moms and a dad), or they may have one or more parents who are transgender or nonbinary (not identifying as male or female).
If the idea of any of those structures or identities has your head spinning (“But I don’t know anything about what it means to be trans or nonbinary!”), don’t worry—there are tons of resources out there for you. I’ve listed some great ones below, and, of course, there’s always my book, GLBTQ.
Be Sensitive to Outing Students
You may be thrilled to celebrate the diversity among your students, but at the end of the day, it’s up to students to decide what they’re comfortable with their peers knowing about their families. You don’t have to ignore the fact that a student has one or more gay, trans, or gender nonbinary parents, but, rather, be inclusive in a respectful way. For example, if you’re doing a lesson on families and would like a student to share about his family structure, instead of putting that student on the spot in front of the class, approach him quietly at some point before the lesson and give him the opportunity to tell you whether he’s comfortable with that.
Give Options for Assignments
Again, given the fact that you already know that family structures frequently differ from the traditional mom-and-dad model, you are probably already adept at modifying assignments to accommodate for these differences. If you’re making Mother’s Day cards, for example, you can allow a student with two moms to make two cards. Or you can give students the option to make cards for their mother or for another parent or caregiver.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, making these things as normal as possible is the key. Here’s an example of what you might say: “Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, so we’re going to take the next 30 minutes to make cards for our mothers or any other parents or caregivers we’d like to say ‘thank you’ to.”
Have an Inclusive Curriculum
Having a curriculum that is inclusive of all kinds of LGBT people goes a long way toward creating a safe space in general, as well as supporting students with LGBT parents in particular, by normalizing being LGBT.
Make Your Classroom a Truly Safe Space
Safety is the number one concern for most parents, but for LGBT parents, this can take on another dimension. They may be concerned that their kids will be singled out and bullied for being part of a nontraditional family. If you have any indication that this is happening, intervene. The best, most effective way to do this is with compassion for all students.
Among the resources below, I’ve included a wonderful story about how one elementary teacher intervened when she noticed homophobia in her classroom.
Talk to Parents
If you’re not sure how to support LGBT parents, one of the best things you can do is simply ask them. If their child has been in school for a year or longer already, ask parents about the child’s experiences—what has been helpful in the past, and what has not? Then, if any issues come up over the course of the year, you’ve already established a positive connection with the parent(s) and it will be easier to sort things out together.
Be Aware of Language
It’s easy to slip into the old “mom-and-dad” speak, but when you’re talking about parents, maybe it’s best to do just that—use terms such as parent, parents, or caregivers. Instead of saying husband or wife, using the words spouse or partner makes sure your bases are covered with regard to gender.
Here’s an example involving a phone call to a parent: “Hi, Chris? This is Karen Hitchins, Monique’s teacher. I’d love a chance to introduce myself and chat about how I can best support Monique. Are you and your partner available after school next Monday?”
Once you get used to these little changes in language, they become second nature.
If you’re aware of diverse family structures and you understand that LGBT parents want what all parents want—a safe, productive, welcoming, and fun environment for their kids—you’ll do just fine.
Kelly Huegel Madrone is a freelance writer, editor, and educator. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services to LGBT people and their families. The author of two books and more than one hundred published articles, Kelly holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in Colorado with her wife Margaret and their daughter. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her on Twitter at @GLBTQguide or visit her website at kellymadrone.com.
Kelly is the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.
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This Human Rights Campaign project provides a variety of information on creating an inclusive classroom.
“Supporting Gay and Lesbian Families in the Early Childhood Classroom” by Anna Paula Pelxoto da Silva
This helpful article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children includes a list of LGBT-friendly books.
“How I Handled Homophobia in My Third-Grade Classroom” by Ilana Greenstein
This early elementary teacher’s story is instructive and inspiring.