They found that some children live with grandparents, some have a mommy and a daddy, and some, like 5-year-old Scarlette, have two mommies.
Teacher Melissa Grant said she doesn’t put any weight or value on one family structure over another. At this age, she said, children are very accepting. “They just kind of find it interesting,” she said.
The District, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, is joining San Francisco, Minneapolis and Cambridge, Mass., at the leading edge of an effort to make public schools more welcoming to gay students and families. A committee, organized in January 2011 with support from D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, developed a plan to increase awareness of gay issues and foster a more supportive environment in school. Twenty new school-based liaisons to the gay community are helping train teachers this year, and a contingent from the school system marched in the gay pride parade in June.
School officials say it’s important to start early, before children’s perceptions of gay life are dominated by playground put-downs.
Two national gay rights organizations have proposed new elementary teaching guides. Under the banners of “Ready, Set, Respect!” and “Welcoming Schools,” they offer lesson plans and tips for introducing diverse families, challenging gender stereotypes and countering hurtful language. (One popular tip sheet: What do you say to “That’s so gay?”)
Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in many public schools, and decisions about how — or whether — to include it in middle or high school health lessons provoke controversy. After two years of debate, Montgomery County’s school board updated its sex-education curriculum in 2007 to include information about homosexuality. In Loudoun and Prince William counties, the curriculum remains officially silent on gay issues in health classes.
But the topic is becoming harder to avoid in school. Highly publicized teen suicides tied to anti-gay bullying have galvanized administrators to introduce tolerance and safety programs. These days, many openly gay and gay-friendly teenagers are bringing same-gender dates to the prom, putting on gay-themed school plays and creating gay-straight alliances.
In elementary schools, a growing number of openly gay — and legally married — parents are also pushing for change. They want their families to be reflected in classroom discussions and on back-to-school-night bulletin boards. Responses vary widely from school to school.
At Oyster-Adams, which serves 662 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade on two campuses, parents from some of the 20 or so gay families at the school met with teachers and the principal in January. The group helped persuade administrators to rethink the school’s approach to how classes handle Mother’s Day activities. This spring, the school will observe a “Family Day” that won’t exclude gay dads or other nontraditional families.