Published July 15, 2022
One of the most common worries for educators who want to teach LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, or make clear that their classrooms are LGBTQ-inclusive, is that they’ll get pushback from parents or caregivers.
In this episode, you will meet Triana Wilson, who draws on over a decade's experience navigating complex conversations about this topic with parents and caregivers of her new immigrant and refugee students.
Below the transcript are links to state and national laws and policies referenced in this episode.
This History UnErased podcast is funded by the New York City Council Committee on Education. It was developed by History UnErased in partnership with Making Gay History and produced by Deb Fowler; Inge De Taeye; and Eric Marcus.
Deb Fowler: Hello, and welcome to UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. I’m Deb Fowler, executive director of History UnErased.
One of the most common worries for educators who teach LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, or who make clear that their classrooms are LGBTQ-inclusive, is that they’ll get pushback from parents or caregivers. To get some advice on how to turn down the heat and navigate those potentially confrontational conversations, I’m speaking with Triana Wilson.
Before Triana became an LGBTQ cultural competency educator, she spent 12 years teaching new immigrant and refugee students at a high school in Massachusetts. Her students’ families often came from places that criminalized homosexuality or were otherwise hostile to LGBTQ identities. So Triana has a unique international perspective. But as we know all too well, pushback against LGBTQ-inclusive efforts in K-12 classrooms isn’t limited to just parents and caregivers who are new arrivals to the United States.
Deb Fowler: Hi Triana, thank you so much for joining me.
Triana Wilson: Oh, thank you for having me, I'm so happy to be here.
DF: So, Triana, the subject we're talking about today is extremely complex. And as we all know, there are no magic phrases that will dissolve the resistance or antagonism that certain parents or caregivers will express when it comes to teaching LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum or simply to schools expressing support for LGBTQ students and their identities. When teachers voice concern about this issue, what do you tell them?
TW: Well, I think it's important, uh, to acknowledge that it's complicated, and that many teachers will end up having conversations with parents or caregivers that will be difficult and sometimes upsetting. But one of the main things to understand is that, um, in having these conversations, i-it is not your job, um, to try to change the hearts and minds of the person in front of you, right? It, it's not our job to try to persuade people that their views on LGBTQ issues are wrong or misguided, even if we're itching to do that, right, because it's only natural.
But it's just really not a productive path to take. The goal is for a positive outcome, right? So in order for these conversations to yield that positive result, um, they need to be conducted in a way that is calm and composed. And in conversations that revolve around who's right and who's wrong, that is just not possible to do. The chances of getting angry or upset or impatient are just too great. Um, especially if we're passionate about these issues, right?
But, um, you can structure a less emotionally fraught conversation by keeping the focus on your responsibilities as an educator. So we can explain to the parents or the caregivers, calmly, um, why maintaining an LGBTQ-inclusive classroom and teaching an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, um, is part of our professional responsibility as an educator in today's world, um, and how students benefit from being taught LGBT-inclusive curriculum, and, and to be in a diverse environment.
DF: So what does that look like, exactly? How do you explain your responsibility as a teacher in such a way that some of that pushback softens?
TW: Well, I think it's important to focus on the fact that the safety of our students, um, of all our students, right, is our primary responsibility and concern. So while they're in school, we're giving them room to reflect and explore and express themselves in a safe environment.
Safety is the one pillar I felt that I could always lean on when I was dealing with parents that challenged, um, a lot of this information. So especially when we're talking to families from foreign cultures who often have been subjected to discrimination themselves, right? No matter how angry, uh, for example, an Iraqi parent was over, um, the gay kid in my classroom, my rebuttal, uh, was always, “Your child gets to be Muslim in school and that child gets to be gay,” right?
My job was not to decide their path for them, it was just to make it okay for everyone to be who they are and be safe in doing it.
DF: And on that point, you also have the law to back you up.
TW: That's right. I think it, it's important to calmly remind parents and caregivers of the existing laws. It will take some pressure off of you. So even though, um, the legal landscape of LGBTQ people in this, uh, country keeps changing, in our public schools at least, LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination.
Students are protected against discrimination and harassment based on their race, um, national origin, sex, et cetera. Those protections are there and they extend to LGBT students just as they extend to people who practice certain religions or people with disabilities, for example.
DF: That's really important to hit is that, yes, the reality is, LGBTQ people are here and by law they have rights.
TW: Correct. Um, also certain states mandate the teaching of LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. If that's the case in your state, don't hesitate to bring that up, um, that by teaching this material, you are following the law.
DF: Absolutely. I believe there are six states currently, and there are many more in process of mandating LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
TW: That’s right.
DF: Triana, earlier you also mentioned that it can be useful to explain to parents or caregivers that being educated in a broadly diverse environment benefits their children. How do you make the case for that?
TW: That is actually simple because my job as an educator is to make them as prepared as I can for the outside world. At university and the workplace, they may work with different people, different from them, right? So to set them up from success and to best prepare them for the future, they need to learn how to interact in all that American society offers, regardless of their beliefs.
So my question to parents would always be, “Would you like your child to be successful?” And, usually a yes. Um, then I have to teach them how to deal with peoples from all walks of life. An education policy that is LGBT-inclusive mirrors the principles of American democracy.
TW: Um, in our schools, we are teaching students in a safe and protective environment what America is, or theoretically what it’s supposed to represent. And that is the America that they will encounter when they leave school.
TW: And, and it makes them better citizens when you think about it, right? When people are a little bit more open to interacting with others—um, putting LGBT issues down for a moment, but let's say different religious values, different cultural values—it's an asset that people learn how to have civil discourse in their workplace and how to work well with others, no matter who the others are.
DF: That's a fantastic perspective and helpful framing to think about before engaging in those conversations with parents and caregivers.
TW: Absolutely. ”You want your child to succeed, I would like to give them as many tools as possible to make that happen. Let's team up and, and do that somehow. We don't have to agree on everything.”
DF: Yeah. And that's a fundamental core piece: all families want their children to have a better life and to be successful and safe and happy.
TW: Um, yes. And in difficult conversations, it's useful to keep that in mind because it will make it easier to maintain, um, a compassionate perspective. In general, try to remember that fear is often expressed as anger. And to be fair, I would rather have a parent that cares enough to be angry with me. We can always work with a parent that cares. So parents are afraid about losing their child, um, becoming estranged from their child, having their child perhaps reject the environment in which they were raised.
Um, how we relate to our, our culture and our families is something that for many of us evolves. It's a negotiation, uh, a process of setting boundaries. Uh, but that process is painful sometimes. Um, for example, I can say myself that I felt uncomfortable doing it. I'm from Chile and it was very different. My culture was, um, very opposed to LGBT issues. And I'm an LGBT queer person myself.
Um, so students may be earnestly seeking. They may be trying to find their voice, may try to advocate for themselves. Um, but parents or caregivers may see that instead as a willful act of rebellion or disrespect, and they may fear that these disagreements are the beginning of their child's wholesale rejection of their culture.
So try to be compassionate toward parents and caregivers, while also reminding them that you will safeguard your students’, uh, rights to express themselves and to form their own opinion.
It is important to remember, too, that, just because they're behind in LGBTQ issues, doesn't mean that they don't have, like, other wisdom. For example, a Hindu parent may not be progressive in LGBTQ issues because they haven't been exposed to that particular side of culture; it doesn't mean I'm in front of an ignorant person. He has so many other things perhaps I can connect with that person with. And that can be a way in.
And I think that's very important, um, to not make anyone feel defensive by attacking their beliefs. Even if they're a little bit misguided, remind ourselves, adults didn't have access to this curriculum.
TW: It's all new, so, um, why would we expect them to, to come with all that knowledge?
DF: Absolutely. This is a new landscape for educators, but the general population as well. So that's another really important point to stay compassionate in these conversations.
TW: And I think showing some interest, too, in the culture of the parents, you know? If, if you know that you're going to have an especially difficult conversation with a parent, get to know their culture a little bit. Have something to offer when you sit with that parent, because you're asking to get a buy-in, right?
This is a negotiation at the end of the day. You're asking them to understand you. Okay, so what, what have we done to understand them a little bit? Can we, can we offer something about understanding where they're coming from? Because if someone's been indoctrinated into a belief system that is, um, let's say, very opposed to LGBT issues, um, they're also in a way a victim of that process.
DF: Triana, do you have any final thoughts for teachers who are facing pushback from parents or, or who are worried about receiving pushback if they take more proactive steps to make their classrooms LGBTQ-inclusive?
TW: No one wants to be confronted with angry parents—I, I certainly never wanted to—and these conversations, um, are not pleasant sometimes, but remember that your students’ discomfort when they do not find a safe place to be themselves or to express themselves openly is much greater than any discomfort that you're going to experience having these conversations.
So, and that's not just true for, um, LGBTQ students, but for all young people. But LGBTQ students is particularly vulnerable. Um, minority stressors, which include the absence of affirmation, um, and inclusive learning environments—I, I never saw myself reflected in history, never, um, as a queer Indigenous woman, not once, um—the, these omissions cause disproportionate risk that relate to suicide, self-harm, risk behavior.
Uh, let's remember that, for instance, our trans students have four times, uh, higher suicide rate, and LGBT children are bullied 51 percent more than heterosexual students. That's a number from here in Massachusetts.
So try to be brave and, uh, tolerate that friction for your students’ sake, because the stakes couldn't be higher. Uh, that one conversation could make a world of difference.
DF: So true. Thank you so much, Triana.
TW: You're so welcome.
DF Narration: Triana Wilson has more than a decade’s experience as an ELL high school teacher. She currently works as an LGBTQ cultural competency educator at a health center in Lowell, Massachusetts, where her work includes helping local teens identify, and address, social needs in their community.
This History UnErased podcast is funded by the New York City Council Committee on Education. It was developed by History UnErased in partnership with Making Gay History and produced by me, Deb Fowler; Inge De Taeye; and Eric Marcus.
The music you heard is “1986” by BrothaD via Tribe of Noise.
I’m Deb Fowler. Thanks for listening.
States with Mandates for LGBTQ-inclusive Curriculum
|California||Senate Bill 48||Sen. Leno & Sen. Kehoe; Rep. Ammiano, Atkins, Gordon, & Lara (principal co-authors)||1/1/2012||Education Code Section 60040 directs governing boards to only adopt instructional materials that “accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society.” That section already included a number of groups, and was amended to include all of those in Section 51204.5 as listed above. Finally, the legislation provides a reminder to charter and alternative schools that they are also prohibited in engaging in discrimination per Section 235 of the Education Code.|
|Colorado||HB19-1192||Sen. Julie Gonzalez & Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez & Rep. Bri Buentello||7/1/2019||Current law requires school districts to convene community forums to discuss the content standards in history and civil government at least once every 10 years. The act requires the forums to be held at least every 6 years.|
|Illinois||House Bill 246||Rep. Anna Moeller & Sen. Heather Stearns (principal co-authors)||7/1/2020||
Amends the School Code. With regard to the textbook block grant program, provides that the textbooks authorized to be purchased must include the roles and contributions of all people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act and must be non-discriminatory as to any of the characteristics under the Act. Provides that textbooks purchased with grant funds must be non-discriminatory. Provides that in public schools only, the teaching of history of the United States shall include a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State.
|New Jersey||S1569; A1335||Assemblyman (Asm) Reed Gusciora, Tim Eustace, Asw Valerie Vanieri-Huttle, Mila Jasey, & Joann Downey||7/1/2020||
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a law requiring Boards of Education to include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
|Oregon||House Bill 2023||Rep. Frederick, Gallegos, & Keny-Guyer (Chief Sponsors)||1/1/2020||
"A school district must first offer instruction that meets the academic content standards...no later than the 2026-27 school year" (Section 2.3.a); "Every district school board...are responsible for the adoption of textbooks and other instructional materials...[which] shall adequately address the roles in and contributions to the economic, political and social development of Oregon and the U.S. by men and women who: (5) Are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. (Section 3.1-5)
|Nevada||A.B 261||Assemblywomen Anderson, Brittney Miller, and Considine Joint Sponsor: Senator D. Harris||7/1/2022||
Section 1. Chapter 389 of NRS is hereby amended by adding thereto a new section to read as follows: 1. The board of trustees of each school district and the governing body of each charter school shall ensure that instruction is provided to pupils enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 in each public school within the school district or in the charter school, as applicable, on the history and contributions to science, the arts and humanities of: (a) Native Americans and Native American tribes;(b) Persons of marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity; (c) Persons with disabilities; (d) Persons from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, including, without limitation, persons who are African-American, Basque, Hispanic or Asian or Pacific Islander; (e) Persons from various socioeconomic statuses; (f) Immigrants or refugees; (g) Persons from various religious backgrounds; and (h) Any other group of persons the board of trustees of a school district or the governing body of a charter school deems appropriate. 2. The standards of content and performance for the instruction required by subsection 1 must be included in the standards of content and performance established by the Council to Establish Academic Standards for Public Schools pursuant to NRS 389.520. The instruction required by subsection 1 must be: (a) Age-appropriate; and (b) Included within one or more courses of study for which the Council has established the relevant standards of content and performance.
|Is your state next?||Which state policy looks the strongest to you?||
You can reach out to your State Representatives and Senators, as well as your School Committee, requesting they author/sponsor similar bills. You can find all of your political representatives here.