Around 40 Bay Area parents, young people and others gathered in a Santa Rosa conference space Sunday and pretended they were fourth-graders responding to a familiar schoolyard problem: A group of students they were friends with kept saying “that’s so gay” in a derogatory fashion.
Participants in the workshop had four possible responses to choose from. They could ignore or walk away from the issue, intervene, seek help from an adult or speak to the offending people in private.
Led by Tarah Fleming of the San Francisco-based Our Family Coalition, the exercise demonstrated some of the practical ways local schools can foster more inclusive classroom experiences, and was part of the daylong second annual Family Formation Symposium hosted by the group North Bay LGBTQI Families.
Most participants stood on the side of the room designated for those who would intervene openly, opting to speak out against the use of an offensive phrase. But others had valid reasons for choosing another response: maybe they felt a private discussion would be more diplomatic, or they wanted to avoid a public confrontation or didn’t feel comfortable calling out their friends.
Keynote speaker Renata Moreira, executive director of Our Family Coalition, a nonprofit providing support, education and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families with children, discussed visibility in school curricula as part of the symposium’s advocacy session. “We’re still not sufficiently visible,” said Moreira. “We are still not present in early ed literature. We are still not present in the institution that mostly impact(s) all of us and all our kids: K through 12 education.”
California offers reason for hope, Moreira said, thanks to efforts from state lawmakers and education officials to make public schools more LGBTQ-inclusive. Moreira praised the efforts of state officials to implement LGBTQ-inclusive history textbooks, but said advocacy must continue on the local level since school districts retain a lot of control over which specific materials they use.
The symposium showed that opportunities for inclusive education extend beyond history books.
Maya Gonzalez, a children’s book author and illustrator, told attendees her research indicated the children’s literature industry would need to produce hundreds more books by and about LGBTQ people each year in order to achieve adequate representation.
“I could feel the weight of it: the invisibility, the silence,” Gonzalez said. “The repressed history.”
Gonzalez held up several books as positive examples, including one about a young boy who wants to wear a princess costume. The author was advised to address the issue of bullying somewhere in the book, but Gonzalez successfully urged the story maintain its uplifting message without associating the behavior with bullying.
Gonzalez recently co-authored a new book, “They She He Me: Free to Be!” that offers children an introduction to gender-inclusive pronouns. The symposium distributed 25 free autographed copies to attendees.
Gonzalez’s message resonated well with El Cerrito resident Karen Bradfield, who attended the symposium with her wife and two children. While reading LGBTQ-inclusive books to their gender-expansive 5-year-old, the couple omitted sections that detail incidents of bullying, Bradfield said.
“We didn’t want our child to feel that experience was inevitable,” Bradfield said.
Bradfield was among about 125 people who attended the Santa Rosa symposium over the course of the day, according to lead organizer Leslie Wiser. Hosted at the Summerfield Road offices of Social Advocates for Youth, the symposium covered a broad spectrum of topics, with morning sessions focused on the various ways LGBTQ people form their families, early afternoon sessions addressing legal considerations and later sessions focused on education-related advocacy.