To Know We Are Not Alone: Identity (Not Sex) in the Classroom

“We read to know that we are not alone.” We have reached a point where we realize that the books our students read should reflect their racial, cultural, and linguistic identities. Is there anything different about gay and lesbian students, or the children of same sex-couples? Are we brave enough to take the next step?

It all started with a book about flowers. A small guided reading group, all boys. Carlos asked, “What’s a corsage?”

I began by explaining, “Well, when you guys get older, like around junior high, you might really like a girl and want to invite her to a dance.” My brain instantly clicked with one of those 3,000 non-trivial decisions a teacher makes a day. This one was a bias alert: You’re assuming all five of these boys are heterosexual. I quickly amended my statement to, “Or you might like a boy, and want to invite him to a dance.”

Carlos recoiled in his seat, his face wrinkled up as if he’d just smelled a skunk. “Ew!”

Billy, the only white student in the group of Latino kids, jumped in before I could begin my standard speech against homophobia. “I don’t care if boys love boys or girls love girls. Who cares? It doesn’t bother me.”

I nodded, grateful for the backup, and said, “Carlos, some people might have the same reaction you had to people with brown skin. But—”

Billy jumped in again: “Yeah! Me, for instance. I hate black people.”

How did we get here from a book about flowers? By the time we had talked through why Billy thought he hated black people (two African-American boys had once thrown a rock at him), explored the difference between actions of an individual and an entire group of people, and circled back to what it all had to do with same-sex couples, the topic of corsages and florists was long forgotten.

Part of me wished I had just said, “A corsage is a cluster of flowers arranged to look pretty,” and moved on. But the rest of me was amazed at the way the entire world thunders into our classrooms, whether we want it to or not.

The flower book had nothing to do with bias or discrimination. It wasn’t even Heather Has Two Mommies, a picture book I read aloud during our unit on families. It was a 32-page guided reading book about flowers being transported from fields and greenhouses to florists’ shops.

But teachers, like parents, always teach far more than we intend. By the time she started kindergarten this fall, my daughter had probably read 50 stories about princes and princesses, and watched 10 or 15 movies ranging from The Little Mermaid to Tangled.

Let’s leave aside the question of why Disney seems to think that dating and marriage is the perfect theme for young girls between the ages of 3 and 11, when literature for that age group is focused almost exclusively on friendship rather than romance. The fact is, I had let my daughter learn the implicit message that girls fall in love with boys, never with other girls.

I made the same mistake in my classroom. Based on 200 Read Alouds, 50 guided reading books, and the 500 titles in my class library, same-sex couples and families did not exist, with the sole exception of Heather Has Two Mommies.

It’s tempting to disguise my lack of courage as respect for families whose religion or personal beliefs lead them to believe that homosexuality is sinful and should not be discussed in school. I know the arguments for keeping even innocent books like Daddy, Papa, and Me out of classrooms and libraries. They’re echoed by the same groups that proclaim “Keep sex out of the Boy Scouts!” to discriminate against gay youth and adults.

But these books have nothing to do with sex. They’re about families. They’re about children who feel secure because their parents have put them at the very center of their world. Compared to Disney’s Princess Jasmine with her coquettish glances and bared belly, they’re downright wholesome. At least Heather isn’t flouncing around in a seashell bikini like that strumpet Ariel.

For children of gay and lesbian couples, or for students who develop crushes on a student of the same gender, their existence is about identity—not sex. Yet an examination of 1,000 books in the average elementary classroom or school library would turn up precisely zero books portraying these students’ realities.

High school English teacher Alice Rowe tells her students,

“We read to know that we are not alone.”

We have reached a point where we realize that the books our students read should reflect their racial, cultural, and linguistic identities. Is there anything different about gay and lesbian students, or the children of same sex-couples? Are we brave enough to take the next step?

 

*Note: For teachers interested in augmenting their class libraries with books on same-sex couples, including a delightful true story about two male penguins hatching a chick together, the following titles are available from Amazon:

Heather Has Two Mommies

Daddy, Papa, and Me

Mommy, Mama, and Me

And Tango Makes Three

 

  • Sarah

    Teaching is ….

    Supporting children as they discover the world.  Hurray for you Justin!  Wish there were more teachers like you.

    • JustinMinkel

      Thanks, Sarah!

      Check out the comments by Emily and Rich, in this vein–the idea that 1. part of discovering the world, for gay and lesbian students, needs to be an acknowledgment that they exist and are not bad or dirty in any way.  2. part of discovering the world for straight students needs to be that some of their fellow students are different from them in terms of who they will someday fall in love with and marry; like differences in race, class, and language, these differences in identity can be profound without causing a chasm between human beings who may still find common ground.

  • Steph

    identity

    This blog post is wise in so many ways, but perhaps most important to me is the assertion that a key component in education is allowing students to develop their identities in comforting environments. Allowing a child of same sex parents representational space does not diminish the identity of children from different sex parents. It promotes empathy and civic unity. It’s high time our educational system performs representational diversity instead of just preaching it. All our children deserve that level of respect. 

    • JustinMinkel

      Imbalance

      Steph, beautifully said, and you raise a critical point.  One of the main arguments against talking or reading about gay and lesbian characters, individuals, or families is that some parents/students are offended by it.  You outline eloquently why there is a benefit to children of straight parents, in the same way that I learned a tremendous amount that enriched my life by studying African-American Studies in college even though my family and I are white.

      Beyond that, though, I’m struck by the same imbalance I think about when the issue of gay marriage comes up.  What is the harm of legalizing it, to straight people opposed to it?  That they may feel indignant, or grossed out.  What is the harm of denying same-sex couples the right to marry?  A fundamental denial of a basic human right, that often carries with it legal complications like being denied the right to be with your spouse of 30 years as she or he is in the hospital for surgery or end-of-life care. 

      The imbalance is tremendous.  I think of the same imbalance when it comes to this issue in the classroom.  Let’s say some straight students are outraged, or disgusted.  That’s the cost to them of including these books in class.  But what is the cost to gay and lesbian students, or the children of same-sex couples, of omitting these books?  A shamefully high suicide rate among gay youth, arising in part from the sense described by Rich that who they are has no place in school because it is so horrible and shameful. 

      At a minimum, every student in our care deserves the clear message that A. you exist, and B. who you are is worthy of respect.

  • JohnProsser

    Spot on Justin

    I count myself an ally in the fight for same-sex couples to have every right that hetero-sexual couples have. When my students make discriminatory comments, I’m quick to address it, challenge their thinking, and make it clear that my classroom is a safe place, where there is zero-tolerance for bigotry of any kind.

    Still despite my best efforts, I read this post and recall my own classroom library. It’s devoid of any texts that include same-sexy couples. So much of what I have collected over the years has been the classics, and failed to attend to the reality that these books had their limitations. Despite hundreds of excellent reads, I’m ashamed that I haven’t taken a proactive approach to augment my library with texts better reflective of many of my students’ experiences.

    Thanks for sharing the story of your students, Justin. As teachers, we are at our best when we’re not just ensuring that our students learn the intended curriculum, but when we’re advocates of social justice too.

    I hope this post encourages more teachers, like it’s encouraging me, to include same-sex couples books in their classroom libraries.

    • JustinMinkel

      Fighting bias vs. celebrating diversity

      John, thanks for this humble and thoughtful post.  Part of what I love about counting all of you as colleagues as that while you are absolute super-star teachers and human beings, you’re always willing to look at your practice with a critical eye and to ask the simple question, “What’s best for my students?”

      I’m still figuring this out, too.  For me, I think a lot about the parallels between how I approach racial diversity and how I approach diversity in terms of sexual orientation, though I realize there are fundamental differences between race and sexual orientation (i.e. race is more visible with no option for most of “passing” to avoid discrimination, or profound historical differences between the legacy of slavery and the legacy of anti-gay violence like the medieval practice in Europe of using gay men as “logs” to burn witches.) 

      I see two main approaches:

      Anti-bias education: Taking on the problems of racism and homophobia head-on makes sense to me, and it takes courage.  We can’t always pretend that our society is a “It’s A Small World” festival of cheerful tolerance.  The down-side I see to that approach is that it can reduce human beings’ identity to the ways in which they’ve been discriminated against, without acknowledging the everyday joys and triumphs of their lives outside the influence of those who discriminate against them. 

      It’s also tricky with young kids (I teach 2nd/3rd).  I remember a teacher I worked with in college who was teaching his 4th graders about the details of slavery including a photo of iron manacles.  An African-American boy in the class put his head down on his desk and said, “I just can’t hear this.”  It can be tricky to find the balance between acknowledging historical injustice, yet making sure we’re not overwhelming or troubling young kids with some of the disturbing details.  (Think, “How do I teach about the Holocaust?”)  I know that as a dad of a 5-year old daughter who often becomes troubled for weeks when she learns about realities like cancer, I’d rather at least be the first one to broach most of these tough topics with her, before it comes up in school.

      Celebrating diversity: This is easier with young kids, and the books I listed don’t deal with discrimination, just the everyday realities of loving families with two moms or two dads (or, in the case of the Tango book, two male domestic partners who happen to be penguins.)  But, sometimes this can become a Baskin Robbins approach (chopsticks on Tuesday, Irish jig Thursday), that celebrates our commonalities but doesn’t delve into our differences. Again, the ‘It’s A Small World’ problem–do we pretend that everyone is loving and accepting of difference, or acknowledge the ugly realities of bias?

      Would love to hear your thoughts, or the thoughts of anyone reading this thread, on finding the right balance.  I’d also love to hear how you address homophobic comments when they come up in your class.

      Thanks for writing, John.  Your students and your own kids are very lucky to have you in their lives. 

  • Mike Stokes

    On love, equality and strumpets

    Nice, thoughtful article. I’m guessing the boys in the reading group were elementary school kids, but sadly, the same reactions could easily have taken place in one of my college comp classes. Not sure why addressing the realities of life seem to make some people feel uncomfortable or even confrontational, but I think there is hope among those who take the time to read rather than try to ban books. Keep up the good, honest, sometimes uncomfortable discussion. Maybe someday books that address same-sex parents or same-sex anything will no longer raise eyebrows and simply let kids who identify with these stories know they are not alone. I just hope, for your sake, that your post did’t offend any mermaid strumpets.

    • JustinMinkel

      Banned books and offended mermaids

      Mike, a few years ago, my town and high school had a huge debate about banned books.  On the surface, the beliefs of the group opposing the books was reasonable: some subject matter is not appropriate for children or young adults.  I have seen disturbing scenes from movies I wish I’d never seen, and I wouldn’t want to see those movies in a public high school library–parents can decide if and when their kids should see them.

      But it turned out the books the group wanted to ban had a troubling commonality: all were about and/or written by either people of color (including Toni Morrison) or gay and lesbian characters or authors.  That’s why I think this distinction between identity and sex is so important–most of my 2nd graders are unclear on the mechanics of any kind of sex, and I’m relieved by that.  But even 5-year olds can have crushes, and even toddlers can look up and see two parents who love each other and love that child, whatever their gender.

      Thanks for writing and for your concern about the offended mermaid lobby.  Thankfully, my home and town is pretty land-bound, far from even lakes, let alone oceans, so I think I’m safe.  ; ) 

  • BillIvey

    32 Flavours and then some

    (with a shout out to Ani DiFranco)

    Great posting, and such an important issue. I know I can do better too, in a number of ways. I keep working at it, tripping, getting back up, and moving forward…

    There are so many axes to identity –  in sexuality alone, besides bixsexual, gay, heterosexual, and lesbian, there’s also pansexual, asexual, androsexual, gynosexual, and more. And gender… female, male, transsexual, transgender, gender fluid, bigender, two spirit, agender, and more. Plus axes of racial, linguistic, and cultural identities that you’ve identified. Abledness. Class. Ethnicity. The list is endless. I can see we could quickly get to the point where we’re tempted to throw up our hands in despair as we try to make our libraries as inclusive as possible.

    And yet, and clearly, the more our libraries can reflect the range of identities that our students express, or may one day express, the better off we are. From my memory, at my school (girls in grades 7-12; I work primarily with middle schoolers), we have a fairly inclusive library from a variety of perspectives. I know there are kids every year reading books like Keeping You a Secret and Luna by Julie Anne Peters, about a lesbian relationship and a trans* girl respectively. There’s also The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson, about the daughter of an interracial couple wondering if she is lesbian. And lots more.

    But in the end, working really hard to be as inclusive as possible in our daily interactions with kids, and admitting it if (when) we slip up, is also of fundamental importance. You know John’s students are taking away life lessons from his “zero tolerance for bigotry” attitude. And Justin’s students will remember that he opened up the possibility of boys falling in love with boys. Along the same lines, I taught my 8th grade Life Skills class about microaggressions last year, and it opened a number of their eyes. As it was, though, they were already well aware that heterosexuality is not a default: fully 34% of our middle school students said they “didn’t know yet” what their sexuality was in a poll done by one of the groups in that Life Skills class. A strong social justice streak runs in my school, being feminist has become a point of pride for many kids, and while we certainly have more than our share of privilege, we are also working hard to build and maintain awareness of and respect for difference from a multicultural perspective.

    P.S.  I’m going to savor the phrase “that strumpet Ariel” for a long time. 🙂

     

  • Susan Ryder

    Teaching…

    is all about encouraging students to consider the perspectives of others as they define their own identities. As a high school teacher, I see students on a daily basis who limit their perspectives based on the views of the media or those held strongly by their friends and families, never really considering why they believe what they do. This often adds confusion to an already uncertain age when many teens struggle to establish a sense of self that feels authentic. Although some young adults exhibit confidence, many are unsure of how to move beyond the security of the group to self discovery. I think you and your growing library of resources are a blessing to the children you teach. You are providing them with an opportunity to develop empathy for others. You’re encouraging them to make positive connections between the literature they read and life–the lives of their neighbors, friends, and families–that exist outside of the classroom. Hopefully, they will develop into young adults with a strong sense of self that is grounded in empathy and compassion for others. 

    ~ A very proud colleague

    • JustinMinkel

      Identity in the teen years

      Thank you so much for your generous words, Susan.  Your insights about students struggling with identity made me think of a mentor teacher I worked with when I was in college.  He said that he would love to see middle school and junior high shaped entirely around the issues of identity that preoccupy adolescents.  Literature the students read could all be about that struggle with identity and peer groups.  Science could be about the hormonal changes of puberty.  Contrast that with, say, 8th grade Earth Science…maybe the connections can be made, but it’s tough to do.

      I hope there is a positive impact on the straight students, and children of straight parents.  I think we often confuse “normal” with “typical,” and in my region (Arkansas), there just aren’t enough examples of openly same-sex couples in the community, let alone books and Disney movies, for most of my students to see gays and lesbians as “normal.”  I’m amazed how few books I can find on Amazon that depict same-sex couples, though that handful is definitely better than none.  (My mom added one to my list once she read this post: Patricia Polacco’s “In My Mothers’ House.”

      Thanks for writing, Susan!  I hope you and your students are well.

  • Deanna

    Loved this

    What you’re talking about is honoring our kids’ families in all the wonderful forms that they may come in. Every child should feel like he or she belongs in this world. Period. Thanks so much for posting!

    • JustinMinkel

      Families

      Deanna, I’m so grateful to you and to the others who have written such wonderful responses.  As a teacher but also as a parent, it does my heart good to know that we’ve come so far in seeing that books and discussions on this topic are not about sex or about some extreme political agenda, but about simply conveying, as you say so simply and beautifully, that “Every child belongs in this world.”

  • Rich Ognibene

    Chemistry/Physics

    Justin, THANK YOU for your honesty and courage. Part of what we teach in schools–perhaps the most important part–is our shared humanity. School might be the first place one meets a friend of a different race, religion or ethnic background. School might be the first place one meets a friend with physical or cognitive disabilities. School might be the first place one meets a friend who dresses in an alternative manner or listens to alternative music. The pattern is always the same: we are exposed to something new, it seems odd at first, then over time we recognize that beneath the surface difference we share many human similarities. The one glaring exception to this rule is for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people. In much of America, a student can go from kindergarten through 12th grade without seeing an openly gay adult, without reading a book or essay that includes LGBT characters, without hearing the word “gay” except in the context of pejorative remarks from other students. The implied lesson that we teach our kids is that being LGBT is so horrible that we dare not speak its name…….even in school where we are allowed to talk about almost anything, “gay” is simply beyond the pale. This is educational malpractice for our LGBT kids, for our kids with two mommies or two daddies and for our straight kids who have LGBT friends or relatives. Survey 100 third graders getting off the bus and most of them have heard the word “gay.” Our choice as educators is to let kids learn about these issues from sources like television, the Internet or the school bus–all of which can be dangerous and inappropriate–or from a skilled teacher in the context of a safe, caring classroom. For most topics we choose the latter; there’s no reason LGBT issues should be any different. Thanks again for your post!

    • JustinMinkel

      Courage

      Rich, this line will haunt me the rest of my days: “The implied lesson that we teach our kids is that being LGBT is so horrible that we dare not speak its name…”  You’re right–we teach by our silence, not just by our spoken words.  Anytime I hesitate because of fear of parent complaints or disgruntled administrators, I will remember this line.

      You’re right, too, about how fundamental the concept of our shared humanity is.  I think that for most kids in regions like mine, where there are few openly gay/lesbian adults or fellow students, once they get past the initial shock of something new to them, they’ll realize how little difference it makes to friendship.

      When I talk about love and marriage with gay and lesbian friends, so much is shared–the joys and frustrations of building your life with another person, learning to compromise, sometimes exchanging a share of passion for companionship.  In the same way, I can easily envision a gay teenager and a straight teenager talking about their crushes, or getting up the courage to ask someone to a school dance, or comforting each other during a heart-rending breakup. 

      You thanked me for my courage, and I’m grateful for your generosity, but know how cognizant I am that openly gay and lesbian teachers show a daily depth of courage beyond any I’ll ever display in this arena.  I can’t even calculate how many LGBT high school students have found reassurance or inspiration in the simple presence of openly LGBT teachers in their schools, not to mention the impact of those teachers on straight students.

      I was nervous to release this blog into the world, and I’m a straight married established teacher.  That nervousness would have been a much deeper fear if I were an openlyl gay male elementary school teacher, especially if I were new to the profession or my school.  

      The Supreme Court decision on DOMA simultaneously reassured and troubled me–reassured that the highest court in the land had found for equality, but troubled not just that the decision was so close but that the question of legal equality for American citizens was even a debate.  We’ve come a long way, but it dawns on me at moments how much of the journey remains. 

  • JustinMinkel

    Wow, Bill.

    Bill,

    Your remarkable insights and examples from your school make me feel so hopeful about the world my students and my own kids are growing up into.

    One of the big differences I see between newer teachers and more experienced teachers is that with experience, you figure out how to teach the core subjects but also integrate the stuff that matters–like acknowledging the complexity of identity.  You’re right that it can be dizzying. 

    Even with race, it gets complicated.  I took an Afrocentricity course in college where my Ethiopian professor stressed to me that Afrocentricity is about rooting yourself in your identity, not just for Africans or African-Americans but for white kids like me.  He encouraged me to reach into my roots, and I spent a lot of time that semester listening to and playing Irish music, poring over a family tree of the German side, and discovering how many teachers there were on my mom’s side of the family.

    I want my own son and daughter to be rooted in their identities, but it’s more complicated for them–they are Irish-Chinese-Filipino-German-Norwegian-English-French.  Where do you begin with that stir fry of national/ethnic/racial origins?

    I’m encouraged by your description of your school.  I think elementary classrooms are the final frontier in some ways, because of the association between “sexual orientation” and “sex.’  I was dumbfounded at first by the “Keep sex out of the boy scouts!” mantra during that debate.  But I realized that conflation of sex and identity is pretty prevalent.

    With my own kids, friends would often joke about, say, their son and my daughter someday getting married.  They never joked about their daughter and my daughter someday getting married. 

    When my daughter asks me to tell her a story, I’ll often have two princes or two princesses falling in love.  But I’m amazed at how hard it is not just with Disney movies, but with fiction, to find even innocent same-sex romances in fantasy or any other genre. 

    Your post provided me with insights but also deepened the questions–the mark of any great teacher and writer.  I also appreciate both the Ani reference and the kind words on the “strumpet” line.  I believe the cartoon Ariel was actually modeled on Alyssa Milano.  Crazy, crazy world. 

    Thanks for your thoughtful words, Bill.

  • Emily Gentes

    recognition, respect, and acceptance

    Justin – This post is beautifully conceived and even more beautifully written.

    I can’t applaud you enough for writing about the importance of recognition and respect for each and every student’s unique identity and family situation.  Also, I have long been bothered by the frequent failure to distinguish between *sex* and homosexuality.  You do a beautiful job of drawing attention to that difference – and to the ways in which Disney stories – a fixture in most families with children – may in fact be LESS wholesome than controversial and banned books about same-sex parents.

    One additional benefit of having these conversations in your classroom – which I don’t think you draw enough attention to here – is the importance of teaching all children acceptance and kindness, even towards those whose values, lifestyles, or family structure are different from their own.  In having these conversations in your classroom, I think you are actually giving two different gifts to the children – the gift of recognition and respect for the child who may feel invisible and disrespected AND the gift of learning kindness and acceptance for the child who may have learned hate.  It is my hope that these values you are teaching- of respect, acceptance, and kindness – will be appreciated by most children and families, whatever their religious/political beliefs, family structure, or other differences.

    • JustinMinkel

      What the majority learns from the minority

      Emily, I love your line about “the gift of recognition and respect for the child who may feel invisible and disrespected AND the gift of learning kindness and acceptance for the child who may have learned hate.”  I know there are some who question this parallel, but I always think of my own education about race.  Growing up white in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, I learned almost nothing about the contributions of African-Americans to history, music, art, or anything else. 

      In college, I majored in African/African-American Studies.  I learned so much from professors and fellow students that shaped my concept of what history means, what art is, what music can be.  I learned a lot about discrimination, obvious examples like a student who talked about being run off the road by a white driver of a 16-wheeler, and more subtle forms like the comment about African-Americans in politics being described as “articulate” when whites are almost never described that way.  But the classes went so far beyond that, and they didn’t let discrimination define the entire identify of African-Americans.

      The connection of all this to your post is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s point that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  When we leave out entire groups of people from history and literature, we do a terrible dis-service to kids who belong to those groups.  But we also rob all the other kids of what they might learn from those groups’ contributions to our shared humanity.

  • Kristie

    The Cost of Our Silence

    Justin, thank you for this. As educators I believe that many of us would say that we support a loving family of any kind for our students. However our actions do not always mirror our words. At another time of oppression Martin Luther King reminded us that in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. If we truly value the positive relationships we have with all of our students then we must truly value the loving families of all of our students. If not, in the end it will be our silence that they remember most.

    • JustinMinkel

      What we teach when we remain silent

      Kristie, such a beautiful point.  I immediately thought of Rich Ognibene’s post on this discussion, with this haunting line about omitting all discussion of LGBT people, literature, and topics from school: “The implied lesson that we teach our kids is that being LGBT is so horrible that we dare not speak its name…”

      I know there are legitimate fears with speaking out on this issue.  I felt a tightness in my chest just putting Heather Has Two Mommies into my school satchel to read aloud that day.  My internal monologue: “What if a parent complains?  What if the superintendent doesn’t like it?  What if the media get hold of a story?”

      But seeing the beautiful comments on this blog post, many of them from openly gay and lesbian teachers, will continue to remind me that if they can show that depth of courage, I should always take a deep breath and do what’s right (especially as a married straight teacher who is established in my school and district.)  

      Whenever I consider remaining silent when someone says a homophobic comment, I picture the faces of my gay and lesbian friends and colleagues, and what they’d think and feel if they witnessed that interaction and I remained silent.

  • Laurent

    Great post

    Great post.

  • Megan Patrick

    secondary

    Thanks for this post!  I struggle with this, too, in my high school classroom.  I’m wondering if you know of any good YA books that tackle the same topics?

    • JustinMinkel

      Middle school/YA books about LGBT identity

      Megan, wonderful question.  I’ve always taught K-4 so I don’t have much knowledge of the literature.  This excerpt from Bill Ivey’s response to this post may help, and if you join (or are already a member of) CTQ’s Collaboratory, you may be able to directly message him for more thoughts:

      “From my memory, at my school (girls in grades 7-12; I work primarily with middle schoolers), we have a fairly inclusive library from a variety of perspectives. I know there are kids every year reading books like Keeping You a Secret and Luna by Julie Anne Peters, about a lesbian relationship and a trans* girl respectively. There’s also The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson, about the daughter of an interracial couple wondering if she is lesbian.”

      Thanks for all you’re doing for students both LGBTQ and straight.  I hope my daughter and my son have a teacher like you one day.

  • Lauren

    A psychologist with two moms (and a dad)

    I am  psychologist who also has two moms (and a dad).  My mom came out to me as a lesbian when I was twelve years old.  I was fortunate to have grown up in a liberal town, so this information didn’t scare, disgust, or worry me; I actually thought it was pretty cool.  It felt like it made me more urbane or “diverse.”  Naturally, it didn’t make me either of those things, but it did make me more acutely aware of the struggles that gay and lesbian families face, particularly in less tolerant communities.  The comparison you draw with racism is spot-on; it’s an irrational fear of the different, and fear often leads to hatred.

    As an adult who may have children some day, I deeply admire and appreciate educators like you who take risks to teach children the most important values — respect, compassion, acceptance of others.  As a psychologist, we know that being raised by gay or lesbian parents in and of itself has no detrimental effects on children.  (Modesty aside, I like to hold myself [and my Ph.D.] up as an example of this.) However, we also know that bullying, violence, and social isolation do have an incredibly negative impact on children — and these are just the things that non-heterosexual children (and the children of non-heterosexual couples) experience.  By teaching children that sexual orientation is just another way in which people can differ from each other, educators play an important role in preventing some of these disastrous consequences and facilitating healthy development and well-being.

    Kudos to you, and keep up the good work.

  • JustinMinkel

    What kids need from parents

    Lauren, thank you so much for your generous words and your insights.  In Arkansas, we recently saw legislation introduced to make it so only married heterosexual couples could serve as foster parents or adopt children.  What legislators soon realized is that they had not only disenfranchised same-sex couples, but many other families that didn’t fit the mold, including unmarried couples and single parents. 

    I think one of the benefits to come out of the trial in California on Prop 209 was the testimony from children of same-sex couples who, like you, have thrived and succeeded by any definition of “success.” 

    I remember that during the Supreme Court deliberations on striking down DOMA, one of the Justices (I believe Scalia) said we don’t have enough research yet on the impact of gay marriage on society. I see the opposite–that one of the reasons this movement for basic human dignity continues to gain momentum is that we have stories like yours, pepole who prove not just by their spoken testimony but by the lives they live that what ultimately matters is having parents who deeply love you.  Parents who, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote recently, convey to you that you are the center of their world, though not the center of THE world. 

    Thanks for sharing your story and your insights.