As parents we share a common goal to keep schools safe for all children. There are many ways we can work together as a community to promote social justice and emotional safety in our homes and at our school, by encouraging our children to be allies for their peers.
For LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) individuals, creating a safe school environment means creating an emotional space for kids to genuinely express themselves. This is particularly relevant for school age children who develop an awareness of their sexual and gender traits between 7 and 12 years of age (D’Augelli, 2006; Herdt & Boxer, 1993; Rosario, Schrimshaw & Hunter, 2009). The sad reality is that LGBTQIA+ youth experience rejection across social settings at staggering rates.
The majority of LGBTQ youth have experienced discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Harassment and discrimination can cause long-term mental health effects such as anxiety and depression. Gender diverse youth (youth whose gender expression is at odds with perceived norms), in particular, experience serious psychological distress (Morse, et al., 2023; Geist, et al., 2021) with more frequent suicide attempts than their cisgender peers.
The burden of trying to hide one’s identity can exacerbate pre-existing mental health symptoms and lead to worsening health outcomes. A LGBTQ ally can help change these outcomes by supporting diverse identities.
There are many ways that parents can raise LGBTQIA+ allies.
First, it is important to teach our children to recognize and respect each other’s identities. As adults, we carry many identities related to race, culture, life stage, sexual and gender orientation, family position, ability, level of education, and professional and community affiliations. For some people, their identities place them in a position of power and privilege. Similarly, children carry different identities. As parents, it is important to have discussions with children about one another’s identities. In doing so, parents model respect and dignity for others, particularly those who face chronic rejection.
Second, it is important for parents to encourage children to be intentionally kind and gentle with themselves and others. Build upon discussions at home aimed at helping children consider someone else’s perspective (“How do you think X felt when you yelled?”). Then, model how a child may express curiosity about the situation (e.g., “I wonder why X yelled. Do you think X felt angry, scared, overwhelmed or alone?”). This helps encourage self-reflection and greater empathy for others. Many LGBTQ individuals experience chronic rejection which leaves them feeling isolated and alone. Helping them find others who identify as LGBTQ can be helpful.
Finally, teach children to stand up for others. Individuals with privilege are uniquely positioned to change behavior in social groups and should speak out. For example, a peer may say, “It really makes me feel uncomfortable when you say negative things about LGBTQIA people.” Express curiosity about an LGBTQ peer’s lived experience. Listen and give them space to tell their story.
Together, we can teach children tolerance.
Join our community conversation and advocate for LGBTQ youth. If you have not done so already, consider participating in the PTA as a member of the IDEA Committee (Diversity Committee), or program volunteer. Contribute to a community that aims to create a safe space for all children, one conversation at a time.
Resources for Families and Schools:
Human Rights Campaign, Being an LGBTQIA Ally: https://reports.hrc.org/being-an-lgbtq-ally?_ga=2.17113593.1300738220.1680586696-1942880200.1680586696
Human Rights Campaign, Welcoming Schools: https://welcomingschools.org/
Los Angeles LGBT Center: https://schools.lalgbtcenter.org/
National Alliance on Mental Health, Trauma and Internalized Shame: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/LGBTQI/Trauma-and-Internalized-Shame
Social Justice Standards, Teaching Tolerance: https://www.learningforjustice.org/sites/default/files/2018-11/TT-Social-Justice-Standards-Facilitator-Guide-WEB_0.pdf
Amy Morse, Licensed
PTA EVP and parent