Experts offer advice on easing the stress for LGBT parents sending little ones off to school, and for LGBT students headed off to college

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
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You can’t tell it by the temperatures outside, but summer is drawing to a close — at least for the children who will be heading back to school in about a month.

For many young children, going back to school, or to school for the first time, is a time of great excitement as they get new clothes and new school supplies, and get ready to make new friends or reacquaint themselves with old friends.

But for the children of same-sex couples, going back to school means preparing to possible encounter issues and stressors that children in so-called traditional families don’t have to deal with.

Stewve Majors, communications director for the Family Equality Council, said this week that same-sexd couples with school-aged children need to remember three main points that can make the school year easier for their children: Talk to the child, talk to school faculty and staff, and talk to other parents.

“I think that if a child with LGBT parents is going to school for the first time, or if they are going to a new school they haven’t attended before, one of the most effective things the LGBT parents can do is talk to the other parents at the school,” said Majors, who has two daughters, ages 6 and 7, with his partner.

“A lot of the homework, so to speak, falls on the LGBT parents in getting their child ready to go back to school,” Majors said. “Find out if there are other LGBT parents with kids in this school. Ask about how diverse the school setting is. Make connections with those other parents.

“What’s most important is letting the children know that there are other kids whose families are ‘different,’ too. There may be other children with LGBT parents. Some kids are being raised by their grandmother or by an aunt or uncle. Some may be adopted, and some may be being raised by a single parent,” he continued. “It helps children to feel that they really aren’t that different, and it’s important to let them know that different is not bad.”

LGBT parents should also consider talking to the administrators at their children’s school, and to their children’s teachers.

“Especially with little ones who are just entering kindergarten or first grade, have those conversations ahead of time with administrators and teachers, so the teacher knows the child’s family structure, the terms the child uses for his or her parents, what issues the child may be especially sensitive about,” Majors said.

Parents also need to do their homework when it comes to their school district’s policies regarding issues like harassment and bullying, because “You want to make sure there are robust protections in place for kids who might be a target” because they have LGBT parents or for some other reason, he added.

“With a little bit of advance work, you can make sure your child will feel comfortable and be safe, and that the faculty and staff are prepared for any issues that might come up,” Majors said.

Gay parents, gay teen

Rob Puckett and his partner find themselves in a rather unique position this year as the back to school season looms. This year, they are in the process of adopting a 14-year-old boy who also happens to be an out gay teen.

“That’s one conversation we have had with the school, that David is an out, gay teen. He will be who he is, and we don’t expect anything else of him except that he be himself,” Puckett said. “So we have talked to the [faculty and staff at his school], so that they can be aware of his environment and aware of the other kids’ behavior toward him.”

That kind of communication, Puckett said, is key.

“Part of our goal is to be active as parents at David’s school,” he continued. “Being involved and engaged in his school life and activities is a great benefit, not just to us and to David, but to the school, too.”

And that’s good advice not just for LGBT parents, or parents with LGBT children, but for all parents.

LGBT youth and college life

There is, of course, another group of young people for whom heading to school in the fall can be as much a cause for dread as for anticipation and excitement : LGBT young people leaving for college for the first time.

And educator Barron Whited has some words of advice for those students, and their parents, as well.

First of all, Whited suggested, it’s important for LGBT college newbies to understand that they will soon be meeting other young people from a wide variety ethnic, national, religious and cultural backgrounds.

In other words, they won’t be the only ones who are “different” and who are worried about “fitting in.” Understanding the vastness of the diversity on a college campus can help a new student understand that they are not alone on their journeys.

It also helps, Whited said, if a new student makes the effort to get out there and get involved. Many colleges have support groups aimed at helping new students adjust mentally, physically and emotionally to college life, and getting involved in campus groups that are either devoted specifically to LGBT issues or are LGBT-friendly can help a student make new friends and ease into life away from the security of home.

LGBT students entering college for the first time also should get to know what resources are available to them on campus, Whited said. Most colleges offer counselors, academic advisors and resident assistants who are there to help the students, and many schools also offer mentoring programs that match new students up with upper classmen who can help them learn the ropes.

Whited also urges LGBT college freshmen to find themselves a community of support on campus by finding and forging friendships with other LGBT students.

“Finding a supportive system can be the key to helping students be themselves in post- secondary education and be confident in their sexual orientation,” he said.

“Young people need to surround themselves in a campus community that is ideal for learning, having fun and feeling safe. Whether or not a student is ready to come out in their freshmen year, they first need to feel comfortable with their peers in order to take that next step,” Whited said.

“It is vital for the LGBT student to surround themselves with empathy, encouragement and trust during their college career. Having a supportive friend to confide in, a counselor to turn to and a gay-friendly community can help the LGBT student make a smooth adjustment to the college life.”