LGBTQ parents & schools

For your reading pleasure, we’re reproducing a great article
that ran in Friday’s Washington Blade, titled “Back to
school with 2 daddies
” by Katherine Volin.

Jennifer Chrisler knows the score on gay families. The mother of
two runs Family Pride, an organization that provides support and
secures rights for gay families.

When Chrisler took her twin sons to preschool, she picked a
liberal, private school in downtown Washington. The school had a
reputation for being friendly to gay parents and Chrisler and her
partner, Cheryl Jacques, met with and came out to the principal and
their sons’ teachers before school started.

“Then we got a letter, actually from their preschool teachers:
Please remind your mom and dad …” Chrisler says. “I’m
always amazed.”

Chrisler and Jacques called the school, set up another appointment
and discussed the issue with the teachers.

“While we believe that what happens in 99 percent of these cases
is that teachers just don’t think about it, not only did that
leave our children out and make them feel like they didn’t have
the right family, but … there’s a whole slew of people that get
left out when all you’re focused on is having a mom and dad,”
Chrisler says.

It’s issues such as these that Family Pride tackles in its Back
to School fliers, which are available online. Suggestions on the
fliers include sharing with the teacher which names each parent
uses, talking about proposed curricula and offering books that
include depictions of gay families.

Other gay parents are generally a wealth of information, too.

“One of the universal pieces of feedback that we hear from LGBTQ
parents is that being proactive is the single best thing you can do
to shape a positive environment for your child in the classroom,”
Chrisler says.

Being honest about sexual orientation is critical, Chrisler and
other gay parents say.

“The more open and honest we are, the better, in the schools
because there are so many gay families out there,” says gay
parent Kevin McGarry. “To be in the closet sends a message to the
school, to our kids. To be open and honest about it makes it normal
and acceptable even in red states. I come out every chance I

McGarry is a father to two sons he adopted from Vietnam as a single
parent. His work raising his sons, Andy, 9, and Vincent, 6, was the
subject of a book he wrote in 2003, “Fatherhood and Gay

He now has a boyfriend, but even when he didn’t, McGarry was
careful to be out with his sons’ teachers about being gay rather
than wallowing in the ambiguous territory single parenthood can

“I think it’s so much more obvious when two guys show up with
their kids. When you’re single, it’s not so obvious,” McGarry
says. “You could be a widower, [it] could be … the wife left
and you’re raising the kids by yourself. It’s less obvious, so
I think you just have to make more of an effort to come out to the
teacher and I just think it’s important that the teachers know so
that they can look out for any slurs or if my child feels bad
because of something that was said.”

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day make for tricky holidays. McGarry
says he tries to talk to teachers in advance to better handle the

“My kids always have a lot of issues right then,” he says.
“It stirs up all kinds of stuff. So I also tell the teacher way
ahead of time. They can do something for grandma or nanny or for
the birth mom. We have a mommy box that they can put things in for
their birth mom. Whether or not it would ever get to the mom is
another story, but at least they can make something for her.”

When his older son, Andy, entered third grade last year, McGarry
decided to talk to the principal, knowing that fourth or fifth
grade would probably mark the beginning of other kids using bigoted
language. Although McGarry and his sons haven’t faced any
difficulties at school, that doesn’t mean they’ve been warmly
accepted by everyone.

“When I talked to the principal, she said ‘We’re
all-inclusive here,’” he says. “She didn’t embrace it, but
she gave me sort of a pat answer. That was OK.”

Joan Garry, former executive director of Gay & Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation, was a parent long before it was common for gay
couples. Her successful attempt to adopt her partner’s biological
child Sarah, who is now 17, marked the first second-parent adoption
in the state of New Jersey when it happened in 1993. The pair also
has a set of twins, Kit and Ben, 12.

Sending Sarah off to kindergarten caused the usual trauma.

Jennifer Chrisler (left) and partner Cheryl Jacques, former head of
HRC, accompany their twin sons to an Easter egg roll on the White
House lawn. Chrisler says it’s important for gay parents to come
out to their children’s teachers. (Photo by Ron Edmonds/AP)
“We were big wrecks, just like the straight parents dropping
their kids off at school [but] instead of one female wreck, there
were two female wrecks,” Garry says. “We had the good fortune
of being able to settle in a town that had a reputation for being
welcoming and diverse. The other thing … is we also kind of made
a decision that I, as the non-biological mom, would take more of a
primary role so that … in some ways I became the grown-up face of
the family. That actually helps kind of create a balance for the

Garry joined the school board and volunteered her time to show that
even though her partner gave birth to the children, they were equal
parents to them.

“Truthfully, at school, as with everything else as it related to
LGBT people, it’s all about knowing us and seeing us — making
yourself visible and making a contribution [by saying things like]
‘Gee, I’ll drive on one of the field trips,’” Garry

The goal, Garry and other parents say, is to be perceived as a
family by the school, students and other parents.

“LGBT parents should remember how much they have in common with
the other members of the PTA,” Garry says.

The burden is still tilted to the heavy end for gay parents, but
that’s part of the gig, Chrisler says.

“It may be really unfair and it is, but at the end of the day,
our No. 1 job is to clear the way for our child so they don’t
have to do the work for us.”