Avoid back-to-school blues

As same-sex parents prepare their children for back-to-school, a few extra steps may be necessary - just ask Michelle Kelly and D.J. Fretz of Nashville. Their son Matthew is a student at Glendale Spanish Emersion Elementary in Hillsboro. Michelle and the Family Equality Council offer these tips for preparing your child (and your school) for a smooth transition back to the classroom.

Show and tell
Find out from a school principal or your child’s teacher if there are other same-sex families at the school now or in the past. Ask how school staff deal with anti-gay speak, such as “That’s so gay,” and check to see if the staff has been trained on how to support students with GLBT families.

Now that Kelly's son Matthew is entering third grade, the sailing is a bit less smooth as it had been.

"Things have been fine so far, but they're starting to get interesting. 'That's so gay' is running around the Y-camp and he doesn't really understand the 'gay thing' yet. It's important to prepare your child for the fact that children will say things that will be hurtful for them and their parents. We teach Matthew to ignore it, but to tell us about it and then we address the issue with the principal and the school council."

Do your research
See if your school or district’s policies addressing discrimination, harassment and bullying include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. If they don’t, work with administrators, teachers and other parents to change them.

Kelly said it can take some investigating to get to the root of a problem or to stop a troubling issue on the horizon. "Matthew kept asking me 'Mommy, when are you going to marry a man?' Eventually, we discovered these were things he learned in the classroom, not on the playground. We're educating him slowly but surely, even if we have to go through the principal to do it. And, we always try to be non-confrontational."

Since parents can't keep tabs on everything going on within the school, Kelly said it is important to offer constant positive reinforcement at home. "Help your child understand that there are many different types of families out there, even if you say if 14 times a day in 14 different ways. You have to make sure that they are secure enough in their family that they can tolerate if people start yapping something negative.

The Nashville Chapter of Colage (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) is hosting a Back-to-Zoo Day. Wear red and meet other same-sex families outside the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere at 11 a.m. $14/$9.

Don’t by shy
Be as out as you feel you safely can be. Meet with your principal and teacher to introduce your family and get to know other families at school. Let your child’s teacher know what language you use to describe your family relationships (Does your son refer to you as Mommy and Momma, for example?)

Kelly said its a good idea to show the school's faculty that a same-sex family is as loving and structured as any other family. "We knew it was important for us to show our face to teachers, faculty, at PTA meetings, but not in an "I'm here and queer, get used to it!" kind of way," Kelly said. "Just let them see that you're a parent and your parenting style is no different that any of the straight parents."

Join the club
When parents get involved with their school community, they can have a huge impact. Volunteer in your child’s classroom, take a leadership role in the PTA and speak up at school board meetings about the issues that impact your family. Be heard - express your thanks when the school or district takes steps to be GLBT inclusive and vocally oppose any anti-GLBT actions.

Most teachers are overworked and have many tasks to keep up with outside of teaching their class. Kelly said lightening a teacher's workload can go a long way. "At first, I sensed some uneasiness from my son's kindergarten teacher. So, I volunteered to help his teacher one hour every morning and that uneasy feeling I got from the beginning went away within a week. She found us to be just like the other parents and we understood that she was expected to do far too much administrative work outside teaching our son. Teachers are so shorthanded, any kind of help they get makes everything else go away."

For more helpful tips or to share your story, visit familyequality.org.

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