Written by: Coach Sarah F.
As an educator I often think about how much of myself to bring to the job. I love music, and my kids love that I’m a musician. They become excited and inquisitive:
“What instrument do you play?”
“What songs do you sing?”
“Can you play Moana?”
This creates meaningful connections too:
“I’m learning to play guitar!”
“I wanna be a drummer!”
And after all, studies show that students do significantly better in their academics, when forming genuine connections with their teachers.
But what if something about myself is controversial? Can I share that, too?
I’ve been educating children for as long as I can remember. My first job was as a gymnastics coach at age 16, and then I went on to be a camp counselor countless summers in a row, taught more gymnastics, babysat a ton, ran a wonderful gymnastics + art preschool program, and now I’m a high school English teacher for new immigrants in the NYC DOE.
While most days I wonder if I’m really doing enough for our students, I know that the best thing I’ve ever done thus far is be honest with them. I don’t stand in front of the class and announce that I’m a part of the LGBTQ+ community, but I don’t lie about it either. If individual students need support, I let them know how I’ve struggled. And I always talk about the importance of equality, including the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students that absolutely exist in our school (whether they know it or not).
Why discuss it? Why even bring it up?
Studies show that even just the PRESENCE of a GSA (gay-straight alliance) can decrease rates of depression and suicide - dramatically. Just the OPTION that our young people could be safe and accepted in their school for being who they are, is life-saving. Think about that for a second. Talking about LGBTQ+ rights, and emphasizing the importance of pride (which by the way, began as a riot), is absolutely, 100%, about life or death.
“Oh, Ms., you’re so dramatic” - my students say to me. Maybe. But I value the lives of our kiddos and I’ll do everything I can to make sure they have a safe place to learn every day. Because I know that when they go home, their parents may not get it.
So what can you do as a parent? If they’re learning it at school, then why do you need to bring it up again?
Your kiddos look to you for cues on how to react to new and different things. They may learn everything from the civil rights movement to the current administration’s attack on trans students at school, but if it isn’t emphasized at home, it doesn’t stick. Especially with our youngest kiddos. They want to know what you think, and they are paying attention!
The most important thing to consider is how you respond to their curiosity. I’ve found that I’ve rarely had to bring something up - and spend most of my time responding to questions and confusion. So, go with it! And answer as simply and honestly as you can. There’s no need to create elaborate stories, just answer what they’ve asked you.
“What is pride?” Can simply be answered by saying it’s a celebration of people who fought to love each other just like mommy and daddy love each other (or however your family loves). I always like to follow up with books - so be sure to check my picture book and young adult suggestions below for ways to open up the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and Pride month!
Pride doesn’t have to be about sex or relationships or being naked. Pride is about the fight our queer ancestors fought so that I could have these conversations with my students today. Pride is about the option to be who you are, regardless of what society tells you you should be. Pride is about coming together as a community in public, instead of hiding in a proverbial closet hoping that someday you can be who you truly are.
So quickly we morph from carefree, loving children, to self-conscious and fearful adults. Remind your kiddos that they can always be who they are, no matter what others say. Use our Pride stories as an example of historical figures who said: I’m me! And that’s the best thing I can be! That’s the real meaning of Pride. Well, that and a whole bunch of rainbow!
LGBTQ+ Book Suggestions:
The Family Book by Todd Parr
ABC A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs
Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman
Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman