Safe and Welcoming Schools
This post was written for a different publication on October 1st, 2014. This year our daughter has a 3rd grade teacher that celebrates and welcomes diversity. We are grateful that her teacher is teaching acceptance and tolerance; however we know that not all teachers are equipped to handle these difficult and somewhat uncomfortable conversations. Because of that we must continue to advocate for programs such as Welcoming Schools that will help eradicate the bullying and discrimination that happens in our schools on a daily basis.
One of the scariest days of my life was taking our 5 year old daughter to her first day of Kindergarten. I was scared and apprehensive because of all the usual reasons but I also knew that I could no longer shield Avery from taunts that she may receive by having two moms. I now had to trust that her teachers, her administrators, and her friends would be supportive of her family dynamics and stop the insults in which she may be the target.
Avery, now a 2nd grader, has experienced name calling and hurtful words at the hands of her classmates. When asked how her teacher helped her handle the situation, Avery many times would explain that her teacher did not know the name calling even happened. As we know, most bullying happens out of sight of adults and because Avery did not want to be accused of tattling she often attempted to handle the name calling and insults herself. I find myself asking, “Why did Avery feel like she couldn’t confide in a teacher or administrator? Why did her instigators feel that Avery was an easy target? Did her teachers feel comfortable in handling a LGBT bullying issue and did they handle it appropriately? “
As a facilitator of a Gay and Lesbian parent group in Birmingham, Alabama I have found that a fear of our parents is that our children will be targeted by bullies because of being raised by same-sex parents. Our conversations revolve around how we can better equip our sons and daughters to handle the insults and teasing. We seek ideas and suggestions to how we can help our children feel supported and encouraged. We discuss ways that we can better educate our teachers and administrators in creating a safe place where all children are respected and accepted.
In fact, the biggest concern of LGBT parents in our parenting group is the fear that our children will not be safe at school. We worry that our children will be teased, taunted, and bullied at school when we as parents are unable to protect them. We fear they will be verbally and physically abused because their family make-up is different from most. We are afraid that as our children get older they will lose their voice in telling others about their family because they fear unknown reactions.
Alabama, with a history of resisting social justice and change, provides no legal protections at state or local levels and LGBT people continually face discrimination. To address these inequalities HRC’s Project One America was recently launched to create a safer environment for LGBT Alabamians to live, work, and play. I feel fervently that Welcoming Schools will help our schools embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end the harmful effects of bullying.
I am encouraged and optimistic that more schools will become Welcoming Schools. I am hopeful that Alabama schools will experience serious change so that our daughter will not have to fear taunts or name-calling because of her family make-up. I am confident that this will happen sooner rather than later because of the good work by HRC and Welcoming Schools.