As a parent, I value inclusivity and empathy — I want my kids to know that people are people, every life matters, and that we should accept everyone for who they are, and I've done my best to teach them that lesson their whole lives. But, I've also come to understand that sometimes I need a little help.
Starting in kindergarten, I began integrating books about LGBTQ+ issues into our nighttime readings, after taking my kids to the local homecoming parade and being inspired by a couple of transgender teens in the court. While my small children didn't know that the teens were transgender, in that moment I realised it was important to make sure they learned more about LGBTQ+ issues. And since I'm a cisgender, heterosexual woman, I knew I would need additional resources to help explain those issues to my kids. So we began by reading And Tango Makes Three, a story about two male penguins who created a family together with the help of a zookeeper; I Am Jazz, an illustrated nonfiction story about how Jazz became the little girl she was always meant to be; and Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. They quickly became favourites among my kids.
I'm so grateful that these books were available to help educate my children on what it means to be an LGBTQ+ person in our world today. It was an important step toward my goal of building a foundation of empathy early on. I wanted to be proactive, and didn't want to wait until they came to me with questions that were difficult, leaving me to answer as someone who hasn't lived those experiences.
So when I realised that these books might not be as available to my kids' peers as they were to mine, I wanted to do something about it. I emailed my son's elementary school principal to ask her if there were any children's books in the libraries or classrooms which centreed on LGBTQ+ education. As it turns out, after some digging, she found that the answer was a little disappointing.
She emailed the library director of the entire school district, which is decently diverse, to get the lowdown. We found out that there were a few LGBTQ+ books in each of the six elementary schools in our school district — a start, at least, but I thought it was important to try to do better, so I emailed the principal offering a few titles for books that my children enjoyed and I thought helped them understand LGTBQ+ issues. The principal was receptive and met with the librarian at school, deciding to order 20 more books so children at the school had options to learn more on the topic.
I was glad I took the time to email my children's school. I felt that I had a responsibility to help shape the school district in a more positive way by asking a question that perhaps had never been asked before. While I'm not part of the LGBTQ+ community, I know that my privilege gives me the opportunity to speak out — and I knew this was an incredibly important conversation to have with the school.
I'm grateful, as a parent, that the administrators were transparent about their shortcomings, and willing to listen to what I had to say — and that they had the resources to order more books (my plan was to go directly to the district librarian or higher up the administration with research and resources on the impact these books could make, if my son's principal was not receptive, but luckily I didn't have to). From my conversations with them, I could tell that they genuinely cared about creating a welcoming, empathetic learning environment for all their students. I'm grateful they understood that a well-rounded education goes beyond maths and reading test scores, and is equally about growing in compassion for all students and people.