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June 30, 2015 2

The Time Is Now: Bringing LGBT Topics into the Classroom

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, USA

Over the past few years, our coun­try has made enor­mous strides on mar­riage equal­ity and as of June 26, 2015, mar­riage equal­ity is the law of the land in all 50 states. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States held that that the 14th Amend­ment requires a state to license a mar­riage between two peo­ple of the same sex and to rec­og­nize mar­riages law­fully per­formed in other juris­dic­tions. Sixty-one per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port mar­riage equality.

Has our coun­try reached the tip­ping point?  Are we ready to bring LGBT top­ics into our cur­ricu­lum and classrooms?

Con­sider the num­bers. Accord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus, there are approx­i­mately 594,000 same-sex cou­ple house­holds liv­ing in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those house­holds include nearly 220,000 chil­dren under age 18.  Fur­ther, there are as many as 6 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren and adults who have an LGBT par­ent. With the Supreme Court rul­ing, all U.S. res­i­dents live in a state with mar­riage equality.

In addi­tion to the chil­dren of same-sex cou­ples attend­ing our schools, there are stu­dents who them­selves iden­tify as les­bian, gay, trans­gen­der and bisex­ual and/or who don’t con­form to tra­di­tional gen­der norms. Many of these stu­dents suf­fer teas­ing, bul­ly­ing, harass­ment, vio­lence and inter­nal­ized oppres­sion that can lead to risky behav­ior and even sui­cide. Almost half of all ele­men­tary stu­dents say they hear com­ments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school and 75% of LGBT mid­dle and high school stu­dents report being ver­bally harassed because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The good news is that these stu­dents also report bet­ter school expe­ri­ences when pro-active sup­ports and resources are in place.

There are gay and les­bian edu­ca­tors in our schools but many don’t feel safe to be “out” to their stu­dents and the school com­mu­nity. LGBT teach­ers do not have the same priv­i­lege that het­ero­sex­ual teach­ers have to talk about their partners/spouses and other core aspects of their lives and the school cli­mate can be down­right hos­tile towards them. There have been recent cases of teach­ers get­ting fired because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Some states have laws that pro­hibit dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity but most do not. Fed­eral leg­is­la­tion (ENDA) has been pro­posed to address this prob­lem but it has stalled in Con­gress. Even teach­ers in states with legal pro­tec­tions aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­fort­able com­ing out because admin­is­tra­tors can find ways to fire them.

For chil­dren and teenagers, just know­ing a gay teacher can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence; it gives them the oppor­tu­nity to know, admire and care about some­one who is LGBT.

Given that our schools are pop­u­lated with chil­dren of same-sex fam­ily house­holds, LGBT stu­dents and gay and les­bian teach­ers, it is time to bring this topic into our nation’s schools and class­rooms in a com­pre­hen­sive way.  It is an oppor­tu­nity to expand young people’s con­cepts of fam­ily, dis­cuss mar­riage equal­ity, infuse the cur­ricu­lum with LGBT peo­ple and their his­tory and accom­plish­ments and address bias-based bul­ly­ing for kids who iden­tify as LGBT or are per­ceived as such.

For young chil­dren, fam­ily is cen­tral to the cur­ricu­lum; there­fore, dis­cussing same-sex house­hold fam­i­lies should be inte­gral to the con­ver­sa­tion. This “nor­mal­izes” instead of mar­gin­al­izes chil­dren in same-sex house­holds.  Chil­dren in those fam­i­lies need to feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their own fam­i­lies and when those fam­i­lies are not rep­re­sented in class­rooms, teach­ers can share their sto­ries through children’s books and discussions.

As chil­dren move into upper ele­men­tary and mid­dle school, teach­ers can incor­po­rate con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der, gen­der norms, kinds of fam­i­lies and LGBT peo­ple and iden­tity. Stu­dents can be taught about mar­riage equal­ity and the road to the Supreme Court ruling.

Bul­ly­ing, espe­cially identity-based bul­ly­ing for LGBT or gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, should be dis­cussed not only when an inci­dent occurs but reg­u­larly. Children’s lit­er­a­ture con­tin­ues to be a pos­i­tive way to under­stand and empathize with LGBT peo­ple and families.

In the mid­dle and high school years as stu­dents emerge into ado­les­cence, the con­ver­sa­tions about iden­tity can con­tinue and sto­ries of LGBT peo­ple can be explored and infused into the every­day teach­ing and learn­ing. Read­ing young adult books with LGBT char­ac­ters and inte­grat­ing the accom­plish­ments of LGBT peo­ple into social stud­ies are encour­aged. Dur­ing the teen years, bul­ly­ing around sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion can be bru­tal and teach­ers should max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss it directly.

In 2011 Cal­i­for­nia passed a law requir­ing edu­ca­tors to teach gay and les­bian his­tory. On the other side, eight states cur­rently have “no promo homo” laws which for­bid teach­ers from dis­cussing LGBT peo­ple and issues in a pos­i­tive light and some pro­hibit dis­cussing the topic at all. Because schools are cen­tral to any com­mu­nity, address­ing LGBT top­ics will make our schools safer and more inclu­sive and will begin to curb the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of LGBT peo­ple for the present and for future generations.





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July 29, 2014 0

Embracing Technology, Challenging Cyberbullying

If you have been review­ing any num­ber of par­ent­ing or edu­ca­tion blogs lately, you’ll see head­lines pro­claim­ing the men­ace and dan­gers of tech­nol­ogy.  Tech­nol­ogy, and more specif­i­cally, social media and mobile apps are often treated like “mon­sters” to guard against and the cre­ators of all mat­ter of social ills.  Even if tech­nol­ogy is scary and daunt­ing to some adults, for youth it is a nec­es­sary and pos­i­tive part of life.  In addi­tion to using tech­nol­ogy for home­work and research, teens use tech­nol­ogy as a part of an active and com­plex social life. Of youth  12–18 years old, 78% have cell­phones and 74% are mobile inter­net users.

Family taking picture with mobile phone (iStock_000041774914)

That is not to say that there are not valid issues and con­cerns related to tech­nol­ogy. Dis­re­spect, bul­ly­ing and bias are all expe­ri­ences which still exist for youth, and tech­nol­ogy adds dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties for it to spread.  From our van­tage point,the real men­ace in our soci­ety is igno­rance and apa­thy, and adults can slay the metaphoric mon­ster with edu­ca­tion and empathy-building.

Being thought­ful, kind, using humor in good ways and devel­op­ing skills to be an effec­tive ally are all social­iz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and hold valu­able lessons for youth. Adults have the oppor­tu­nity to explore, learn along­side and guide youth to uti­lize tech­nol­ogy and social media sites in respect­ful and pos­i­tive ways, teach­ing youth to be an active part of cre­at­ing an inclu­sive online world as well as behav­ing in ways to keep them­selves safe.

Edu­cat­ing youth about online behav­ior is not just about “bully-proofing” them; it’s about doing your part so that your young per­son isn’t the aggres­sor or a bystander in acts of cyber cru­elty or cyber­bul­ly­ing.   Here are some ideas to cul­ti­vate online ally behav­ior for youth in your life:

  •  Adopt a pos­i­tive atti­tude about tech­nol­ogy and social media. The over­whelm­ing major­ity of youth are uti­liz­ing tech­nol­ogy in pos­i­tive ways. If you always speak neg­a­tively about this aspect of their life, you are dis­miss­ing an impor­tant aspect of their life.
  •  Show humil­ity if you are unsure about how some­thing works online. Ask ques­tions that broaden your under­stand­ing and don’t ver­bal­ize any judg­ments when you are learn­ing.  Con­sider appoint­ing or hir­ing a “youth guru” to fill you in on the lat­est and great­est apps and social media sites. Or stay con­nected with our Grown Folks Guide to Pop­u­lar Apps in Social Media.
  •  Ask more ques­tions, use lec­tures spar­ingly. For exam­ple: Why do you think some peo­ple think its ok to make jokes about someone’s race or reli­gion? What kind of place does the inter­net become if no one cares about  the words they choose?
  •  When you see biased online stereo­typ­ing, jokes, memes or videos online– dis­cuss them openly. Anti-bias edu­ca­tion with youth requires ongo­ing dis­cus­sion. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but one impor­tant les­son can be made clear: it’s not ok.
  • Reg­u­larly share exam­ples of youth stand­ing up and being allies. The mes­sage you send is “I love this behav­ior, and I want to see this from you.”
  • Teach youth that report­ing is not the same as “snitch­ing.” Many youth under­stand that hurt­ful com­ments and posts are the wrong thing to do, but many youth believe “snitch­ing” is worse. Help­ing youth to under­stand that report­ing hurt­ful com­ments, and espe­cially threat­en­ing com­ments, is an inte­gral part of cre­at­ing safe spaces online. ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide can help you nav­i­gate how to report con­cerns to ser­vice providers.

For more resources on how to pre­vent and inter­vene in bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing, inter­net guide­lines, and infor­ma­tion on cyber­bul­ly­ing warn­ing signs– visit our Fam­i­lies and Care­giver Resources List.



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January 13, 2014 0

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Five Tips for Work­ing with Chil­dren, Tweens, and Teens 

Martin Luther King Jr.

As we honor Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through the National Day of Ser­vice on Jan­u­ary 20, 2014, we encour­age teach­ers, par­ents and fam­i­lies to pro­vide com­mu­nity ser­vice oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren and youth.  Below are tips to help make the expe­ri­ence meaningful.


“Every­body can be great…because any­body can serve. You don’t have to have a col­lege degree to serve. You don’t have to make your sub­ject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul gen­er­ated by love.”

—Mar­tin Luther King Jr.


1.     Gen­er­ate ser­vice learn­ing ideas from chil­dren and youth.

Engage young peo­ple in a dis­cus­sion and brain­storm­ing ses­sion about their com­mu­nity, encour­ag­ing them to think crit­i­cally about its most impor­tant assets and what areas need more sup­port. The more buy-in youth have from the begin­ning, the more invest­ment they will have in the project, and it will have a more last­ing effect on them and their communities.


2.     Think beyond com­mu­nity ser­vice to social action.

While it is impor­tant for youth to help oth­ers, the expe­ri­ence will have more mean­ing if they see the big pic­ture.  It is one thing to spend a few hours at a home­less shel­ter dis­trib­ut­ing lunch;  take the ser­vice project to another level by help­ing young peo­ple under­stand why peo­ple are home­less and what they can do about it.  Engage youth in social-action strate­gies, such as writ­ing let­ters; social media cam­paigns, includ­ing online peti­tions and dona­tions; engag­ing in advo­cacy to get a law or bill passed; cre­at­ing PSAs (pub­lic ser­vice announce­ments); and deliv­er­ing speeches.


3.     Use the expe­ri­ence as an oppor­tu­nity to build empathy.

Ser­vice pro­vides a rich oppor­tu­nity for youth to develop empa­thy for oth­ers, espe­cially those who are in need.  As they are serv­ing, make sure young peo­ple see the com­plex­ity and human­ity in the peo­ple they serve.  Pre­pare chil­dren for the expe­ri­ence by answer­ing their ques­tions, lis­ten­ing to their fears and dis­pelling their misconceptions.


4.     Be aware of bias-related lan­guage and be care­ful not to per­pet­u­ate stereotypes.

Make sure the expe­ri­ence helps youth con­nect with the peo­ple they are serv­ing rather than per­pet­u­ate stereo­types. Address think­ing that focuses on pity or sim­plis­tic under­stand­ing of people’s cir­cum­stances. Guide to move beyond think­ing of peo­ple as the “other” (i.e., “not one of us”) to under­stand­ing and respect­ing their human­ity.. Remind youth to use lan­guage that does not equate peo­ple with their char­ac­ter­is­tics or actions (i.e., say “peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, not “dis­abled peo­ple”; say “youth who bully,” rather than “bullies”).


5.     Inspire chil­dren and youth to change the world.

Con­vey the mes­sage to youth that they can change the world.  Even a small, one-time action of help­ing their neigh­bors and com­mu­ni­ties can have a deep impact on a young person.


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