Tag Archives: welcoming and inclusive schools

The Importance of LGBTQ Inclusive Education

maraineyBy Maya Berkley, Policy Intern 

Growing up queer and of color, the endlessly vast reach of queerness did not spontaneously occur to me, and it certainly was not taught to me until I reached college and began pursuing a minor in GSFS and actively seeking out classes in my school’s Africana Studies Department. Learning about history in college in a way that intentionally includes historical figures who look and love like me has helped me feel more represented and engaged in my own learning and the history of this country. I know that if I had had access to facts and information about LGBT people throughout elementary, middle and high school, I would have a better educational foundation entering into college, as well as a more pronounced interest in the history I am learning because it represents the diverse, beautiful United States that I am a part of. Though I have taken multiple classes in multiple disciplines in an effort to bridge the gap in my/my college/my country’s cultural and academic understanding of black queerness, I recognize that my understanding of the cultural and historical implications of my identity are limited by the framework within which I was presented my history; my culture.

This summer, however, I have been able to vicariously experience a more LGBT-inclusive primary and secondary education through my work interning with Our Family Coalition (OFC) and working with a history teacher at Berkeley High school. We are developing a curriculum to teach the Harlem Renaissance with a focus on the many black and LGBT identified prominent figures of the era. This will provide California teachers with tools to comply with the FAIR Education Act and most recent revisions to the History Social-Science Framework .This work is not only extremely rewarding for me, as a queer artist of color with an intended minor in GSFS , but it also allows me a totally new perspective on the Harlem Renaissance that California’s students will soon have the privilege of engaging with at a much more pertinent point in their academic careers. This is one example of the many ways that California’s groundbreaking decision to rewrite its History-Social Science curriculum to be more inclusive of LGBT history will positively impact its students for years to come.

An inclusive and diverse History-Social Science education is essentially not only to provide all students with the most accurate and unbiased representation of history possible, but for many students from marginalized communities, it is one of the many first steps in developing a healthy self-concept in a world that would have them do otherwise. I find that I am constantly unlearning myself as a black and queer person living in a society built and shaped for and by white cis-hetero people, when I am in fact a black and queer person living in a society built and shaped by black people, queer people, other people of color, Muslim people, immigrants, those living with disability, as well as white cis-hetero people.

gertrudepridgettFor example, I really enjoying listening to and creating blues-folk music, and for a long time, my image of blues and folk music was white; I thought of Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac; modern blues revivalists like Hozier. This was the framework I was given to understand music within- black people created hip hop, the rest was white. It wasn’t until high school when my musical framework was challenged. I learned that blues music began as black music, was, for a while, the called and responded-to voice of black sorrow and joy, both individual and collective. Still, within this framework, it was the music of straight black masculinity. It wasn’t until this summer, when I began my work on this summer that I came to realize just how many black, queer, femme musicians created blues music, and the many art forms that stemmed from the Harlem Renaissance. Ma Rainey, Gladys Bentley, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, these are just a few examples of black queer women without whom there would be no blues, and as a result, no jazz, no rock, no hip hop, no American culture as we know it. I am grateful that I have a chance to unlearn a history that either intentionally erased or otherwise failed to include the history of so many marginalized communities, however,  it is not my job.

I should not need two years and counting at a private liberal arts college to understand my place in this nation’s history. Education should not be unlearned, and this is what makes California’s newest revisions to its History Social-Science Framework so important- it empowers students to create positive change by showing them that people like them have always shaped the world that they live in. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, same or many gender-loving, gender non-conforming, gender expansive people that we now peg with the umbrella title of LGBT(Q) have always been, and will always be, a part of every culture, every era, every great movement in the United States. In this world. Whether marginalized or celebrated, tolerated or embraced, we have always been here.

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

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.