A family of four came to speak to my high school juniors and seniors. Two dads and their 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son talked about their family, the adoption process and their experiences with discrimination and prejudice.
This class offered career guidance and placement in classrooms with young children as assistants for the remainder of the school year.
I had sensed a thread of intolerance and inflexible thinking in our classroom discussions. A few of the most rigid thinkers were quite outspoken. We had been talking about the differences children bring into any classroom and how my students (as future teachers) needed to be aware of the differences, and discover ways to be welcoming to all families. This was particularly tough when it came to LGBT issues.
Anticipation for the speakers was high.
It is not uncommon for teens to parrot the opinions of their parents. This age is also the time that teenagers begin to define their own beliefs.
As our guests spoke, my class was enthralled. They hung onto every word. Each member of the family spoke and shared. When the daughter spoke, many students leaned forward to listen. She was soft spoken but she spoke with conviction.
I watched my students and was proud to hear their respectful questions and insightful comments. Everyone identified with the love of this family. For some students, this was the first and only positive experience with the LGBT community. Myths were being dispelled right before our eyes.
When one of the dads spoke about the difficulty finding a pediatrician for his children as babies, my students showed outrage. They were shocked to hear of the daily discrimination this family lived with all year long, in every aspect of life.
The daughter shared that she had been bullied by some boys in high school for weeks and how the school administration did nothing. The parents rallied to get Safe Space training for the staff, especially the vice principal, who had denied bullying was a problem.
At the end of the talk, the biggest complaint I received was that I had not allowed enough time for the speakers. I passed out a student feedback form and received some wonderful handwritten comments. The most important ones to me were from the previously outspoken students who had already said they could not tolerate LGBT families.
“I try to keep an open mind about people different from myself, but I actually forgot how similar we all are,” one student wrote.
“I do not agree with gay/lesbian situations, but accept them as people who have feelings and need to be loved like everyone else,” another stated. “I don’t know any gay/lesbian families, so I had never seen that before.”
“I am glad that I am learning more,” wrote another. “My view on this topic is evolving and I’m so, so glad to be exposed to this information.”
This was transformation in progress. All it took was the introduction of people with real-life experiences to help students face their bias. That social contact led to an exchange of candid conversation and the willingness to listen.
Bliss teaches at Sierra College and lives in California.