Tips for Making Classrooms Safer for Youth with LGBTQ Parents
A guide created by the Youth Leadership Action Program
“In middle school when I made my family tree, my teacher told me it couldn’t have two women. I was told it could either have one of my moms’ sides, or I could “make up a father.” The teacher chose to pass on ignorance and intolerance, instead of using the opportunity to teach my classmates about diversity.” -14 year old daughter of a lesbian mom
“I wrote a report for school about my friend Stefan who has a lesbian mom and a gay dad. While presenting my report to the class I mentioned his parents’ sexuality and everyone went into an uproar. I slunk ashamedly back to my seat without finishing my report.” -16 year old daughter of lesbian moms
“When I was in 3rd grade, I was absent one day and my teacher decided to out me to the class. I came to school the next day and was horrified. I was teased for the next 4 years until I moved to a different district.”- 15 year old daughter of a lesbian mom
“One time, some seniors who had seen the rainbow sticker on my mom’s car threw me into a garbage can and called me homophobic names.”- 17 year old son of lesbian moms and a gay dad
In the United States alone, there are millions of people with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) parent(s). While research shows that there are no significant developmental differences or negative effects on children of LGBTQ parents, these youth do report facing significantly more prejudice and discrimination because of societal homophobia and transphobia. Youth report that schools are a key place where they face intolerance—from peers, teachers, school administration, and school systems that are affected by the homophobia in our society. The following tips attempt to introduce teachers to the topic of safety and respect for youth with LGBTQ parents in schools. Developed by a group of youth with LGBTQ parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, these suggestions are first steps in making your classrooms and schools more affirming and safe for students from LGBTQ families, as well as all students affected by homophobia and oppression.
1. Always intervene whenever you hear or see anti-gay language or actions. At the beginning of the year, set classroom rules that include making it clear that racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. comments are not welcome in your classroom. Send a clear message that homophobia will never be tolerated. In addition, try to link homophobia to other types of oppression—teach students that hate in all of its forms is wrong.
2. Do not make assumptions about any student’s background. Create a classroom where each student is able to share freely about their identity and families.
3. Visually show your support. On your walls include a poster about diverse families (perhaps the COLAGE poster) or other images that show you are an ally to LGBTQ people and issues.
4. Challenge heterosexism in your assignments. Some examples: In language classes asking youth to describe their families, often youth with LGBTQ parents have been reprimanded for using the wrong gender pronouns. However, often the fact that they are using he and he to describe two dads is correct. If you assign family origin or family tree projects, allow youth from alternative families to make their own decisions about how they portray their families, whether it is two parents of the same gender, or multiple parents who co-parent them, etc.
5. Include Topics about Diversity in your curriculum. Study different kinds of families and famous LGBTQ people (and when someone you are studying anyway is a LGBTQ person, mention that), have speakers, and use videos and books to show students that diversity is something to be celebrated. Perhaps use events such as National Coming Out Day, Pride Day, or a Unity Week as reasons to incorporate LGBTQ issues positively into your classroom.
6. Never out a student with LGBTQ parents. The only person who should make the decision to share about their family is the student when they feel safe and ready to do so.
7. Do not make assumptions about youth with LGBTQ parents. Youth from alternative families report that people often assume certain traits will apply to all youth with LGBTQ parents. For example, do not expect that a student who has LGBTQ parents will also be gay. Research shows that there is no higher incidence of homosexuality among people raised by LGBTQ parents.
8. Make your classroom accessible. Do not rely on forms that ask for signatures from mother and father. Instead use the terms Parent/Guardian. On Back to School night, or during parent teacher conferences, expect and welcome LGBTQ parents.
9. Work with your administration to make sure your school is safe for students with LGBTQ families. Suggest that the faculty at your school does an LGBTQ sensitivity training, or an in-service about LGBTQ and diverse families. Discuss protocols for dealing with anti-gay or anti-gay family harassment on school-wide or department levels so that all teachers are equipped to address homophobia.
10. Educate yourself. Learn more about LGBTQ families and issues. Not only will this allow you to be informed when students raise questions or need resources, but it will help you be better equipped to address incidents of homophobia in your school and to include LGBTQ content in your curriculum. As a starting point, use the resources at the back of this guide for suggestions of books, movies, websites and more.
11. Be involved. If your school has a Gay Straight Alliance or other type of club, attend meetings when possible to show your support. You can also offer to be the faculty advisor for such a club if students are trying to start one in your school. If you are involved in your school’s GSA, Rainbow Club, or other diversity club, ensure that LGBTQ family issues are included and that youth from LGBTQ families are welcomed as participants.
*For the full “Tips” sheet with definitions and resources, please email email@example.com