Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
New schools, classmates, and teachers can cause anxiety as the school year is getting ready to start. As parents, we need to be proactive and advocate for our LGBTQ children to ensure a safe learning environment.
Based on my experiences raising a transgender child, there are things you can do before school starts to facilitate a smoother beginning. There are so many things to talk about, but I can only recommend some of the major actions.
The safer a child feels at school can exponentially increase the outcome for a better school year. Federal law is on your child’s side and protects them from harassment based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity. You should schedule a meeting with administration before school starts to discuss the district anti-bullying policy. Ask specifically, what are the steps to take if your child experiences harassment at school, and what steps will be taken to provide a safe learning environment.
If your child is transgender and you have not legally changed names, state which name your child uses and their preferred pronouns that match your child’s gender identity. Schools are required to use the child’s legal name on permanent records, but the preferred name can be used on all other documents. If the school does not have the resources to educate the staff about transgender students, the Trans Youth Family Allies Speakers Bureau will travel to your school and provide the staff with training. Typically TYFA request that just their travel expenses are covered. Also, most LGBTQ centers can offer educational lectures to staff and students. If this is not an option, you can buy some copies of Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue or The Transgender Child and share these with the staff.
Role playing with your kid, no matter the age, can prepare your child should they run into problems at school or other social situations. Instead of being caught off guard and not knowing how to react, use practice situations and comments that might be made towards your child and work on how to respond to them. We did this with Lily in therapy as we prepared for her transition. It was a little awkward to say some things we expected to hear, but we worked on some great responses together. Knowing she had these tools ahead of time made her feel more prepared to deal with situations on her own.
Lily has a motto, “no holes in your armor so they can’t get in,” and this is the attitude she uses to keep people from hurting her with words or behavior. Your armor is made of up the confidence you should feel about yourself. Part of exuding confidence can easily be done by talking with confidence. Having a good response right away can help your child project that they are okay with who they are and are not bothered by bullies. When a parent accepts and loves their child wherever they fall within the LGBTQ community, your child can feel more confident with whom they are. If you are reassuring and supportive of your child, then they can feel a greater sense of acceptance towards themselves.
I made it my mission to find a teacher that I connected with at Lily’s school. It was not until we started to see changes in our daughter at home that we had any clue something was troubling our child. Unfortunately, when I met with her teachers, I found out that a major shift in her school behavior had been happening for months. Check in with your child’s teacher to see how things are going and share with them when your child is struggling or you have concerns.
Children value their relationships with their peers. If your child’s school has a GSA, encourage them to get involved and get to know their LGBTQ peers. Through GLSEN our daughter’s school was provided with a Safe Space Kit: Be an ALLY to LGBT Youth. (You can also request resources from Keshet!) The teachers were then identified by their Safe Space stickers affixed inside their classrooms as a safe space and ally. Find a support group where your child can meet other members of the LGBTQ community and find good role models to foster good feelings about themselves. Also, tap into what your child is passionate about and help them pursue that interest through school clubs or activities outside of school.
In the end, we really need to find spaces where our children feel good about themselves, and hopefully that will crossover to more areas of their lives.
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