by Jessica Carreras
For LGBT parents, preparation for sending their kids to school comes long before kindergarten. Of course, there are normal considerations, like test scores, extracurricular activities and the staff. But for gays and lesbians raising a family, the priorities change. Bullying. Safety. Acceptance. Having a voice.
When it comes to harassment in schools, LGBT students aren’t the only ones who face ridicule, name-calling and the ignorance of faculty, staff and students on a daily basis. A report prepared by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network shows that children of LGBT parents often deal with the same issues – and that their parents are having just as hard of a time fighting for equality.
Kathleen LaTosch, who is the chief administrative officer at Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, hasn’t had to face any problems at school with her sons. Then again, they’re only 2. “It’s absolutely a concern,” she says of whether the two boys she raises with her partner will have issues at school. “My partner and I have conversations about this all the time.”
Most of those conversations center not on worrying, but preparing them for the almost inevitable harassment they will face in school. “My perspective on teasing is that it’s somewhat of a universal thing; that all kids get teased for one thing or another,” LaTosch explains. “Our goal is to provide our kids with enough support and education that they feel confident in who they are and that they can respond to that teasing.”
However, LaTosch and her partner, who reside in Ferndale, draw the line at bullying, either physical or verbal. “We are in support of any legislation that would stop bullying,” she stresses.
In Michigan, that legislation is the Matt’s Safe Schools Law, which has already been passed by the state’s House. On March 26, parents, youth and supporters will have a chance to lobby the law’s passage in the state Senate. Safe Schools Lobby Day will bring a slew of voices to the state capital that can’t be ignored.
For most parents, having children makes them extremely protective, and LaTosch admits that she’d go any distance to shield her sons from bullying. “I would take whatever action would need to be taken,” she says, including home schooling, switching schools, fighting administration and even moving to a more LGBT-friendly school system.
But stopping bullying is only the beginning of the challenges LGBT parents face. According to the GLSEN survey, gay and lesbian parents are often harassed, ignored and undermined because of their family structure.
In schools, LGBT parents face issues with administration, teachers, students and other parents who ridicule or choose not to acknowledge the legitimacy of their family. According to GLSEN, more than half of these parents felt excluded from their school communities. Some were prevented from fully participating in school activities and events, while others were excluded by school policies and procedures. A large amount admitted that they sometimes felt ignored and invisible. “I’m sure we’ll run into that,” LaTosch says. “We’re going to have to stand up for ourselves when we see it.”
Moreover, almost a third of children in the survey said they were discouraged from being open about their families, while 42 percent said that they had been verbally harassed due to having one or more LGBT parents.
LaTosch is thankful that the Ferndale school system offers many schools that are LGBT-friendly and accepting of alternative families. Others, she admits, are not so lucky. “I would expect that it would depend on the school system,” says attorney Jane Bassett of the level of the school’s acceptance. “In some, teachers would be aware enough and open enough to do everything they can legally (to help). In more rural areas, this isn’t always the case.”
Bassett runs an Ann Arbor-based law firm that often deals with legal issues for LGBT parents and couples. For parents like LaTosch and her partner, these legal problems start early and are difficult battles to fight – some even more so than bullying and acceptance.
For example, LGBT parents often face issues in schools with permission slips, medical issues and even attending teacher conferences because only one parent is the legal mother or father. Ideally, Bassett recommends that parents try to obtain a second adoption for the other parent. “Second parent adoption is the absolute best option,” Bassett stresses. “But in Michigan, the options are extremely limited at best.”
For LaTosch, whose partner is their sons’ adoptive mother, it has been impossible. The couple hasn’t been able to find a single court that will legalize a same-sex second parent adoption. The ramifications of this reach far beyond issues at school, affecting parents in medical and legal situations, too. If LaTosch’s partner were to die, she would have no legal rights to her children. “It seems silly that the state would deny a child two parents when they’re right there in front of them,” she says, exasperated.
LaTosch’s options are limited, and as far as schooling for her sons go, her best option is to sign guardianship papers every six months until they turn 18. The procedure, she laments, is tedious and arbitrary, and does not grant her any rights outside of the school system.
But until laws are passed giving LGBT parents and their children more acceptance and legal recognition within schools, LaTosch is determined to do whatever it takes to protect her sons and give them the best experiences possible when they go to school. “There’s no perfect school,” she says. “But if I knew it was LGBT-unfriendly, it wouldn’t be up for consideration (for sending my children there) unless I felt like I could make enough change within it.”
Luckily for LaTosch, she is not alone in wanting to create change – both for LGBT kids, LGBT parents and, in turn, every child. The fight begins with bullying and Safe Schools Lobby Day – but it doesn’t end there.
Want to help the fight?
COLAGE: Support and advocacy organization for children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents
CARE: Support for adoption equality for LGBT parents
GLSEN: Organization for students, parents and teachers that attempts to affect positive change in schools
Family Equality Council: National organization attempting to secure equality for LGBT famlies