Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Parents and Their Children: Support Strategies for Educators

Article excerpt

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Awareness of the diversity of families has increased among professional educators over the last decade. Our schools are comprised of children who are part of family constellations that deviate from traditional households of a biological father, mother, and siblings. According to the 2000 census, 99% of counties in the United States reported the presence of self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) couples, many of which have children or will have children in the future (U.S. Census, 2000). Even with increased awareness of such partnerships, LGBT families and their children may still tend to be rendered invisible by a society that condones prejudice and discrimination and devalues its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members.

Our schools today are built on the belief that all students have the right to a quality education that allows students to reach their full potential. The National Education Association (NEA, 2006) supports educators' efforts to be inclusive and respectful of LGBT issues within the school setting. The NEA believes that all students deserve to be educated in a safe and nonthreatening environment, free from intimidation and harassment. However, many children attend schools where the climate is not safe and secure for all. We know that students are more likely to learn and succeed in a supportive environment. If our schools are to serve all students, they must provide a safe setting in which staff and students are expected to demonstrate cooperation, acceptance, and respect for differences. It is important for educators to be aware of issues faced by LGBT parents and their children and address them within the school setting.

Within LGBT families, there are differences in the amount of openness. Not all parents disclose the fact that they are LGBT. Some parents readily share this information with their child's educators; others may choose not to disclose this information for fear of losing custody, fear of losing their jobs, or fear of exposing their child to bias and discrimination. One commonality among all LGBT families is their vulnerability to discrimination and prejudice.

STIGMATIZATION and harassment of LGBT families

The research is mixed when examining the incidence of teasing, harassment, and bullying of children with LGBT parents. Many studies conclude that these children experience no more stigmatization than children of traditional couples. Most of the current research suggests that children in lower grades (K-2) tend to report little to no teasing or bullying in relation to their parents' sexual orientation or gender variance. More incidents are reported as children enter the upper elementary school grades and move into junior and senior high school. The severity of the harassment and bullying also tends to increase with age. Experiences vary from disparaging remarks, taunts, and insulting language to physical assaults and violence (Kosciw & Diaz, 2008).

It is typically within the school setting that the children of LGBT parents first become aware of the prejudices that many in our society harbor against those who do not live a traditional heterosexual lifestyle. As children hear their parents described in insulting terms, they begin to realize that the school environment may be neither welcoming nor safe for them and their families. Children fear they could be harassed and lose friends if their family constellation becomes known. Children from closeted families may be afraid to invite friends over to their house or to form close friendships. Many children with LGBT parents experience situations in which the adults in their school environment do not take the harassment seriously.

Like all students, those from LGBT families need to feel included, to have their families and experiences validated, and to feel safe from discrimination and harassment

Response to children with LGBT parents must focus on their need for and right to a safe, accepting school environment. …