Category Archives: Welcoming and Inclusive Schools

Out of the Dark: Emboldening Schools to Welcome Everyone

By Rick Oculto,
Education Coordinator at Our Family Coalition

8b68132b-157e-44b5-87e1-2ac91f7bbd5dOnly a few blocks from the White House is a building with giant glass windows. You can see right into the main meeting room from the street and every floor of the building is exposed to the light of the outside world. Even if you wanted to hide, it would be difficult. On the walkway to the entrance the ubiquitous blue and yellow equal sign hangs proudly from its façade. This is the national headquarters of the powerful LGBTQ rights machine known as the Human Rights Campaign. It is not ostentatious, but sleek, clean, and unapologetic… a marked difference from how the rest of the country is accustomed to talking about LGBTQ issues; under hushed whispers in the dark. In many places, gay is still a dirty word.

The week of Halloween, on the top floor of this building, on arguably the most exposed floor were about forty people from across the country dedicated to ensuring that LGBTQ youth and families never had to hide again. The irony of the impending holiday was not lost on me. The fact that many people in LGBTQ communities find solace in this holiday because it allows us to assume identities that are not always socially available to us also did not escape me. As trainers who have put ourselves on the frontlines of addressing issues of difference, we have encountered a great diversity of difficult situations. And now, we were charged with sharing the knowledge on how to do that; how to come out of the closet about our own experience, and how to create spaces that allowed others to do so. The task ahead would not be easy.

As a trainer, you never know what the participants will bring to a discussion. Many times it can lead to very deep and meaningful exchanges and sometimes the intersections of everyone’s identities crash into each other like a multi-car pileup on the freeway. When that happens, just like a freeway, everyone’s got to slow down to make sure we can all move forward together. If not, all traffic comes to a dead stop.

groupatFCT-1So, here we were eight floors above the ground in a glass room filled with eager minds and good intentions. Each face represented a story of struggle, and hardship, and tenacity to have come to this place to create and sustain inclusive spaces for everyone, but especially for those who have traditionally been unwelcome. And then it happens… as we go into examples of our communities, the inevitable and pernicious stereotypes about the threat each of our communities might pose comes to the forefront; first about gender, then about race. Everyone is on alert. The mood of the room went from jovial to urgent as representatives from each community plead their case for better understanding. Any amateur facilitator would have shied away, changed the subject, and inevitably hampered learning. We slowed it down and leaned into it. After all, we were here to help everyone better navigate identity, not ignore it. No one in the room was an amateur. We moved forward together.

The Human Rights Campaign has been criticized for its myopia and exclusivity, specifically on its actions around transgender issues and people of color. In recent years the organization has taken some initiative to address those shortfalls with some success. The Welcoming Schools Approach and the training of facilitators to address difference is part of the outcome of that effort. For the past five years Welcoming Schools has operated as a program of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation with the mission to make schools more welcoming of diverse families, inclusive of LGBTQ-issues, address biased based bullying, and to support transgender and gender expansive youth. It has been a labor of love that has grown and evolved as the national conversation on difference has taken center stage. It was formed out of the need for representation of LGBTQ individuals and families and has been tempered by the passing of Leelah Alcorn, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Seth Walsh, along with many other events. There has always been an undercurrent of liberation; knowing that the topics Welcoming Schools touched upon would thrust those issues uncomfortably into the light. The visceral experience of the aforementioned events further molded the conversation in ways that were more responsive and inclusive. Our Family Coalition, in conjunction with the other Welcoming Schools trainers, have been at the heart of this cathartic shift.

It was a long three days. There was laughter and tears and conversations that would have never have happened in the dark. The impact of Welcoming Schools had been constrained by a small and dedicated group of about ten people responsible for several regions around the country. After this 03f0b4a8-1985-4ef6-b0bb-a391540325d6training there were now thirty more. We have not found the panacea for the disparities we find among our communities because there is no one thing that will address the myriad of issues that impact our different identities. What we have found is a way to recognize, respect, and celebrate our differences without diminishing or excluding one another. With the inaugural facilitator training, these practices will have an even wider reach.

At the end of the week, with few hours to spare, I was able to take my traditional walk down the Washington Mall. Autumn in DC smelled differently than it did in San Francisco. I was joined by a colleague that would become a new trainer a continent’s length away in the Puget Sound area. We passed the White House with lines of children in Halloween costumes visiting the President and First Lady, passed the World War II Memorial and found ourselves at the reflection pool where only a little over fifty years earlier thousands upon thousands gathered together to recognize and affirm the humanity of our African-American brethren. A short while away stood the Lincoln Memorial lit up against the eastern dusk and we realized we were on the same path.

9462b4ce-5f04-4d9b-80b8-d83ab9b98ef9“I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all [people] are created free and equal.”

–          Abraham Lincoln, July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago, Illinois

It’s Time to Make Education FAIR

NARRATIVESAs a person of color that went through the ‘American’ K-12 education system, I felt that the social sciences we were taught did not accurately reflect the history of communities of color or any other marginalized groups–times minorities were mentioned were when we learned about exploitation, colonization, racism, etc. I never understood why inner city schools, such as the one I attended, taught history that was irrelevant to the demographic of the school—most being sons and daughters of low-income immigrant parents. Narratives of significant people and/or historical events were briefly told, if told at all. And of course, they were told through the colonizer’s point of view rather than by the colonized.

Once I got to college, I learned that there were classes that offered an alternative point-of-view to the history I had been taught. The content from these classes differed from what I had already learned in the sense that it presented me with relatable material and material that was more inclusive to the diversity that exists within the United States. Classes I took ranged from ethnic studies to gender and sexuality studies. I found it a bit problematic that I had to go out of my way to seek such courses rather than being presented with the information earlier in my education career; however, I am grateful to have had the privilege to access these resources that helped develop my consciousness and form my identity.

With just four years of getting out of the California’s K-12 public school system, I am excited to know that there are positive changes to the curriculums of public schools coming down the pipeline. In July 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 48—the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. It calls for the inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBTQ Americans’ important historical contributions to the economic, political, and social development of California.

Now in 2014, I was disappointed to see that the Instructional Quality Commission really did not fulfill the intent of the FAIR Act since their recommendations to the new social science framework are minimum to none.

In an attempt to align the History – Social Science Framework with the requirements of SB 48, Our Family Coalition (OFC) partnered up with Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (CLBTH) to recommend revisions to the existing framework and submit those to the State Board of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC). The revised Framework calls for a transformational approach in which students understand concepts and issues from the perspectives of diverse groups of people.

Here are some recommended revisions by grade and theme that were brought up in the Making the Framework FAIR report that I support:

• Grade 2: LGBT families in the context of understanding family diversity as a contemporary and historical reality

• Grade 4: Central roles played by gender and sexuality in California’s history as a site of rich, contested, and changing diversity

• Grade 5: Variation over time, region, and culture in colonial American practices and laws with regard to gender and sexuality

• Grade 8: Fundamental transformations in gender and sexuality in conjunction with nineteenth-century urbanization and industrialization

• Grade 11: The evolution of modern LGBT communities and identities; twentieth-century persecution of sexual and gender minorities and the growth of the LGBT civil rights movement

The inclusion of the LGBT community in California’s K-12 public school curriculum is long overdue. The LGBT community represents a significant part of the history and social fabric of California, yet their presence in textbooks is nonexistent. I believe the absence of such communities in the early learning stages of youth can affect their perception of the LGBT community. It can be something that they do not see as ‘normal’ thus they may develop a sense of dominancy and begin harassing the community.

As we know, individual students feel safer at school when diversity issues are included in the curriculum; this is true for LGBT students and for their straight peers. Schools without inclusive curriculums see more cases of reported bullying. Maybe if I would have seen myself accurately represented in textbooks, I wouldn’t have to wait until college to truly understand my history and that of my peers.

its timeNow let’s hope that the inclusion of LGBT communities in history and social science classes actually helps students navigate the economic, political, and social development of California rather than just present students with a few token historical figures. It is time to call for a truly representative curriculum that does not exclude to contributions of great portions of our communities, including the LGBT community.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE FAIR ACT IMPLEMENTATION AND PUBLIC COMMENTS THAT YOU CAN SUBMIT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

By Isidro Manuel Lopez, communications/media intern at Our Family Coalition and broadcast & electronic communication arts student at San Francisco State University.

 

Everyone’s Schools Town Halls through a Queer Parent’s Eyes

Meghan Lewis, Family Advocacy Liaison, Oakland Unified School District

meghanI attended the last four “Everyone’s Schools Town Hall” gatherings sponsored by Our Family Coalition. As a queer parent of a fourth grader in OUSD, I was deeply inspired and filled with hope learning about all the positive programs happening within the different school communities throughout the Bay Area.

It is truly valuable having the opportunity to hear from – and work with – other parents, teachers, administrators, OFC’s staff and so many other bright voices in our community. I see that necessary changes are being identified, and that strategies toward improving learning environments are being gradually implemented so that all children and families can come to school knowing they will be kindly respected and appreciated.

TownHallIlloI am delighted that my child’s elementary school, Glenview Elementary, will be hosting OFC’s next Town Hall gathering in the East Bay! Glenview is becoming like an oasis of positivity and welcoming energy for LGBTQ families, so I am personally excited to share with others throughout OUSD how a welcoming school environment can evolve, look, and feel.

Those who attend the Town Hall can expect to get a feel for the kind of enthusiasm that initiates, promotes, and creates lasting change within a school culture. They will also gain:

  1. inspiration to get involved

  2. strategies for effective advocacy

  3. ideas to better implement activities unique to their school’s identified needs

  4. new connections and friends

Don’t miss the opportunity! Everyone’s School: OFC’s Annual Town Halls on LGBTQ Inclusive Schools will happen on Thursday, Oct 23 in San Francisco and Thursday, Nov 20 in Oakland.

We hope to see you and your family there! Get more information and register now!

PS: What happens after the Town Hall? We get that it takes time to implement sustainable, deep cultural shifts in our schools and communities. With the goal of continuing the fruitful conversations that emerge during the Town Halls, OFC has launched a new “Family Advocacy Program (FAP).” Parent Advocates worked with our support to contribute to the creation of authentic inclusive environments for ALL families in their schools. Here are some of the great activities that the parents co-created during the first round of FAP:

townwhallparentadvocatebox

Interested in contribute to a more inclusive culture in your school? Join us at the upcoming Town Halls or get in touch with tarah@ourfamily.org – We look forward to working with you!

BIO: Dr. Meghan Lewis is the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy as well as LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area with offices in Oakland and San Francisco. With over 18 years of experience in reproductive wellness, Meghan brings unconditional support to her clients exploring a range of preconception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and early parenting concerns. Her work with families also includes facilitating support circles and has done so at Bloom Retreat in Walnut Creek, Natural Resources and Our Family Coalition at the LGBT Center in SF, The Tulip Grove in Oakland, Blossom Birth in Palo Alto as well as BirthWays in Berkeley where she has served on Board of Directors. Meghan also has professional training and experience as an apprentice midwife, birth and postpartum doula, and in perinatal bodywork. She is a queer solo parent by choice of a 9 year old son who enjoys painting, sailing and exploring new terrain. Please visit www.meghanlewisphd.com for more information or go to www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com

 

Jacob’s New Dress is a Hit! A Q&A with authors Sarah & Ian Hoffman

JacobsDressQuotationHave you and your children read Jacob’s New Dress yet? This beautifully illustrated, heartwarming book hit the stores last week (Amazon has been shipping it for longer) and it’s already into its second printing! I recently had the pleasure of chatting with authors, Sarah and Ian Hoffman, about their wonderful work. They are now officially on my “Phenomenal People on Earth” list (and OFC’s recommended children’s book list).  Read on!

OFC: Can you share a little bit of your journey from inception to birth of this touching creation?

Hoffman: Our son was 2 years old when he went to pre-school and chose a path different than the other boys in his class. We saw our pink boy being teased and struggling to find ways to be himself. It was a tough process to go through. We felt it was important to share this story about kids who are different in a way that would appeal to a mainstream audience. We especially wanted to speak to pre-school and elementary school kids so they can learn, early on, that it’s okay to be different. It’s important to teach that message both to the kids who are different and those who are part of the norm.

OFC: Have you received any backlash about this or other published work about your kids’ journey?

Hoffman: So far, Jacob’s New Dress is receiving a lot of very positive responses, both from the press and from parents. In past publications, we have been flooded with positive letters from parents everywhere. However, there’s always some negative feedback from folks that say “we’re making our child gay by forcing him to wear a dress” or that we’re “going to hell for not educating our child.” Most of these folks, I think, are just not open to seeing the impact of repressing our kids at home. So we tend to ignore the letters that come from a place of anger and not inquiry. We are grateful that the publisher is so supportive and thrilled about the work.

OFC: You mentioned elementary schools as a primary audience, but do you see the book finding a home in other places?

Hoffman: Yes! We would love to see the book wherever kids and parents are – libraries, doctors’ offices, you name it. We want it to be a staple, so more and more kids can see themselves and their friends represented. Kids are, in fact, totally open to this. Just think of Cat in the Hat. It’s initially an uncomfortable book when you first read it as an adult, right? It doesn’t really phases the kids, though. Kids understand the world is not orderly.

OFC: This is great! It sounds like the book is landing well with parents and caregivers across the country. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Our Family Coalition today?JacobsDress

Hoffman: We are so grateful to be receiving hundreds of emails and notes sharing the impact that Jacob’s New Dress has on their children’s lives.  Families have submitted photos of their kids reading the book, shared news of bringing the book into their children’s schools and libraries, and told stories of tears and recognition and comfort. Receiving this feedback is utterly gratifying, as these families are the reason we wrote this book. We feel honored to be on the same shelf as author Leslea Newman (The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, Heather Has Two Mommies), and so many other fantastic kids books that are challenging archaic notions of what it means to be different than the norm.  For more on Sarah & Ian Hoffman, visit their website.

Everyone’s School

Rick
Rick Oculto, Our Family Coalition Education Coordinator

In October and November Our Family Coalition gathered teachers, school administrators, and families in San Francisco and the East Bay to talk about how to address intersectional needs of diverse families and students at school.  They say that you need a happy environment to have a happy home and the same is true for our schools. In order for our students to succeed we need to provide an environment where they do not have to fear being ostracized for who they are, where they come from, or what they believe. Families from different faith structures, have interracial caregivers, speak different languages, are adopted, have LGBTQ parents, are headed by an aunts or grandparents, have one parent, and many other family structures are every bit as deserving to feel welcome and included at their schools.

Town-Hall-East-Bay-Crowd
The crowd gathered at the East Bay Town Hall 

The events hosted approximately one hundred families and we talked about the importance of representing the diversity of our communities in schools. With topics ranging from racism, homophobia, cyberbullying, transphobia, and cultural identity it was a packed night filled with rich insight on how to address these various issues from a comprehensive and intentional perspective. Guests learned that providing for and understanding different family structures requires visibility of those differences that celebrates rather than segregates; we all win in an environment where we can appreciate one another. Furthermore, the absence of the pressure of not fitting in allows youth to fully embrace their identities and explore their potential without negative prejudice about how that potential should develop. Families were encouraged to participate by sharing their stories and school staff were eager to learn that they had partners in their parent communities to help them with these issues.

The end of each of the events were marked with parents and teachers talking with one another about the needs of their students and what they could do to create a climate that felt supportive and schools that are better suited to help them succeed. The dialogue from these events is only the beginning and with more involved partnerships between schools and parents our schools will only become better. It’s true, the work is far from done and Our Family Coalition is proud to be here every step of the way to educate and advocate for families that are LGBTQ!

Join us as we continue the work throughout the year! Our next event is Everyone’s Story at the Oakland Main Library. We’ll be reading a recommended book from our book list and running a Welcoming Schools lesson plan. Come see what inclusive schools are like in action and learn how to advocate as parents at your own schools!

Rick Oculto