(Originally published in Bay Windows, July 29, 2009. Stay tuned for another post on what an ultra-conservative group had to say about this article.)
The number of resources for LGBT families is, like my own son, small but growing. Here are some recent highlights for a variety of children’s ages:
Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me (Tricycle Press, 2009), two board books for toddlers, are the latest works by Lesléa Newman, author of the 1989 classic Heather Has Two Mommies. They are not “issue” books like Heather—no one gets upset at the fact that the child has same-sex parents—and thus appropriate for children who do not yet have the fear of bias. In each, a child with two moms or two dads simply goes through everyday activities such as playing in the park and painting pictures. The bouncy rhymes and charming ink-and-watercolor illustrations by award-winning English artist Carol Thompson should give the books wide appeal.
10,000 Dresses, by Marcus Ewert (Seven Stories Press, 2008), is the first children’s book to feature a transgender child as protagonist and a joyous book about self-acceptance and identity. Young Bailey dreams of 10,000 beautiful dresses made of crystals, rainbows, flowers, and magical windows. Her family repeatedly tells her, “Boys don’t wear dresses.” It is only after meeting Laurel, an older girl who befriends her over their shared love of dresses, that Bailey is able to see her creations come to life. The striking collage and paint illustrations by graphic designer Rex Ray bring Bailey’s real and imagined worlds to life with distinct style. The story is simple enough for preschoolers, but should appeal to children through the early elementary grades.
In Our Mothers’ House, by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, 2009), however, is aimed at an older elementary school audience. An adopted black child narrates the story of life with her two white moms, Marmee and Meema, and her younger siblings, an Asian American brother and white sister. She starts with the creation of their family, and discusses celebrations, neighborhood block parties, and other memories of childhood. She then tells of herself and her siblings leaving the house for careers and families of their own. It is a gentle tale about the treasures of everyday life.
The book does include one prejudiced neighbor who says to the mothers, “I don’t appreciate what you two are.” Meema explains, “She is full of fear. . . . She’s afraid of what she cannot understand. She doesn’t understand us.” That is well put, but may still leave children wondering what exactly is not understandable. Parents may want to have fuller explanations ready in case their children ask questions. It is a gentler approach to the issue of prejudice than in Heather, however, where the protagonist comes home crying after her classmates tease her.
The story ends with the mothers growing old and being buried next to each other on the same hillside. It is a fitting closure, but parents should consider whether younger children will be frightened by the thought of parents dying.
Breakfast With Scot, which came out in U.S. theaters last fall and is now available on DVD, sounds like it has the same plotline as many other family comedies: unsuspecting, child-free adults find their lives transformed when circumstances drop a kid on their doorstep. The difference, however, is that the unwitting adults are Sam (Ben Shenkman), a Toronto lawyer, and his partner Eric (Tom Cavanaugh), a closeted sportscaster and former NHL hockey player. The boy, Scot (Noah Bernett), is the son of Sam’s irresponsible brother’s recently deceased girlfriend. He turns out to be a gender-bending 11-year-old who wears makeup and sings show tunes. The closeted Eric must come to terms with Scot’s flamboyance and with his own identity.
Director Laurie Lynd has used a deft touch, depicting the richness of LGBT lives without preaching or overburdening them with clichés. The film, which has the official sanction of the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a funny, warm treat for a family popcorn night.
The documentary Straightlaced, by Academy Award-winning director Debra Chasnoff, showcases 50 or so teens from various locations, who offer candid insight into the pressure of gender stereotypes. The students are a mix of straight, LGBT, genderqueer, and questioning, and from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They discuss topics such as sexual pressures, cultural differences regarding gender, and fears of ostracism or physical harm for being gay, as well as the effect gender pressures have had on their friendships and self-image.
Chasnoff and her Groundspark organization have also produced That’s a Family, a film for elementary students about different family structures; Let’s Get Real, about name-calling and bullying in middle schools; and It’s Elementary (re-released with updates as It’s STILL Elementary), a film for and about educators discussing gay issues in schools. They offer curriculum guides for all their films, making them easy to incorporate into diversity and anti-bullying programs.
HRC’s “Introduction to Welcoming Schools: An Inclusive Approach to Addressing Family Diversity, Gender Stereotyping and Name-Calling in K-5 Learning Environments,” offers more how-to information on dealing with schools, inclusion, and bullying. It is available for free download at welcomingschools.org, and chock-full of resources, ideas, exercises, and additional reading suggestions. It incorporates findings from the first year of a pilot program that tested the materials in 12 schools across 3 districts.