A School District That’s Starting Gender Diversity Conversations Early

Reading LGBTQ inclusive stories is a way to validate what they may be already be thinking around gender and gender roles.
04/19/2017 10:58 am ET Updated Apr 19, 2017
Posters by Design Action Collective

It’s a Tuesday after school and 25 elementary school personnel are gathered at the Office of School Health of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). They are there to learn about gender diversity and how to bring this conversation into the elementary schools. The District is breaking new ground by giving educators tools and resources to make their classrooms, curriculum, and health services inclusive of children of all gender identities and expressions. In this workshop, participants receive posters, pins, sample lesson plans, and books, including the bilingual children’s book I wrote, One of a Kind, Like Me/Único como yo.

I spoke with Erik Martinez, LGBTQ Programs Coordinator, to learn about SFUSD’s work on gender diversity in elementary schools. Erik, who grew up queer and Latino in a small town in California’s Central Valley, wants all children in the District to experience acceptance and belonging.

Why do you think it’s important to include gender diversity in the curriculum for young children?

In this age group, there’s a lot of openness and imagination at play. Children are in the early stages of socialization, learning the parameters of how and who they can be in the world.

Reading LGBTQ inclusive stories is a way to validate what they may be already be thinking around gender and gender roles. We are planting the seed at young ages for people to think about gender.

It’s especially important for young children who are transgender or nonbinary. They may be the only one in their family or in their classroom. We are validating their experience, so they know that they aren’t alone and that the classroom is a space for them. This can have profound psychological and wellbeing impacts on a student.

Anything you can do to create more positive bonds, more compassion among young people, the less likely you will see social isolation and bullying.

What are you doing as a district to support this?

We’re fortunate to have a district that supports K-12 LGBTQ inclusion in curricular topics. We provide materials, including books. Read alouds are very popular among elementary school teachers for teaching valuable social lessons. It’s an easy way for a teacher to initiate a conversation without having expertise around sex and gender. We want to make implementation as easy as possible for teachers, so we create lesson plans or curricula to go along with the books and train them to use the materials.

We also raise awareness of gender inclusive practices and encourage schools to do an event to raise awareness. April is our district LGBTQ Pride Month and several schools are doing Rainbow Days and teach-ins. Some do Pride Parades, bring in community speakers, lead workshops for parents, or teach a single lesson focusing on the topic.

Posters and pins are another way of promoting pride, safety and inclusion in our district. We have a Pride Poster Series by Design Action Collective in English, Spanish, and Chinese. The buttons were inspired by one of the posters and are worn by staff and students to signify pride in our community.

What have you learned about what works or doesn’t work?

All it takes is one person at a school site to make things happen.

Providing materials to a school isn’t a guarantee that they will be used. There needs to be personal investment at the school site, such as one teacher who is passionate about the topic.

Providing training for teachers increases the likelihood of implementation. The District can also come in and make it happen – be an encouraging voice.

Fear still exists among teachers and administrators – of the potential to say something harmful, or of backlash among parents. So if you can address those fears, you’re more likely to see implementation and change at a school site.

Parent advocacy makes a difference. If parents know the rights of the students, can identity staff to be champions, and know the resources in the District, they can be a force for change.

What recommendations do you have for other districts?

Invest in this work. Hire LGBTQ people, especially those of color. Make it a priority. Spend time with staff, whether in professional development training or on campus. Provide resources and training to make implementation as easy as possible. Address fears. Build connections among staff who are invested in this work, connecting them with leaders and building their own capacity to lead this work.

Be attentive to making sure this information is accessible to everyone, not only the students, but also their caregivers. Provide resources in multiple languages, including books, speakers, and intentional outreach.

Contact Erik Martinez (martineze1[at]sfusd.edu) or check out the LGBTQ Support Services Website for more information.

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