This is the first post in our Welcoming Schools “Back to School” blog series. Welcoming Schools, a project of the HRC Foundation, offers administrators, educators and parents/guardians the tools they need to ensure their elementary schools welcome all students and families. With LGBT-inclusive resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling, Welcoming Schools is a first-of-its-kind approach to these topics for K-5 learning environments. The post below comes from HRC’s Director of Welcoming Schools, Kim Westheimer:

Back to School with Welcoming Schools

This month, as millions of families across the country adjust to school bus schedules, “back to school” events, PTA meetings and homework, the HRC Family Project has launched our new and improved Welcoming Schools website. It’s a place where parents, educators, administrators, librarians, school nurses and others who work with elementary schools,public and independent, can access in–depth information about the program, the specific tools and resources available and guidance for how to bring Welcoming Schools to their local community.

For the past three years, we have been piloting “Welcoming Schools,” an LGBT-inclusive approach to help elementary schools embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying and name-calling.  I am encouraged by the findings from the pilot data and inspired by the positive feedback and support we are getting from principals, school counselors, educators and others who provide leadership in our nations’ schools.

My passion for Welcoming Schools comes not only from my professional role as an activist working to improve lives for LGBT families across the country, and not simply from my personal experience as a lesbian mother of school age children, but also from my strong belief that we as adults have the responsibility to teach the core values of respect and appreciation for all diversity, and to put an end to all bias-driven discrimination, harassment and violence. We need to teach children about differences, about conflict resolution and the importance of kindness when they are in their first years of school, to start them off in safe, supportive learning environments where they can be themselves and develop  skills for life in an increasingly diverse world.

Last year, two suicides caught our attention—two tragedies that could have and should have been prevented.  Both were 11 year old males, one in 5th grade and one in 6th, in different parts of the country. Both boys were teased and harassed relentlessly, primarily with anti-gay slurs and comments related to their “lack of masculinity.” The sexual orientation of these young boys is unknown and, frankly, irrelevant—they were just kids who were picked on because they seemed different.

The lesson here is that anti-gay teasing and bullying manifests at ever-earlier ages, and that even when adults witness this cruel behavior they too often do nothing to intervene. And while these two deaths shocked us and broke our hearts, we know that thousands of young students are targeted with peer abuse every day, in schools in every neighborhood, not just because they have two moms, or because they are perceived as “gay,” but because of their skin color, their clothing, their religious traditions or a host of other “reasons.”

While Welcoming Schools is unique for being intentionally LGBT inclusive, it is much more than a LGBT resource. Welcoming Schools is broad in its approach to family diversity, bullying and bias, and strives to insure that all students and their families are treated with respect, included in the school community, and able to succeed academically. It is an example of how the LGBT community is at the forefront of a unified civil rights movement that recognizes that none of us is free until all of us are free.

If you or someone you know is connected to an elementary school, and would find value in Welcoming Schools, please visit the website, download “An Introduction to Welcoming Schools,” and begin to learn more about this important program.

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