The first time I was invited to be a guest on Bill O'Reilly's talk show, I couldn't believe the reason. How could including families with two moms or two dads in thrid grade lessons generate enough controversy to put me in front of millions of Fox News viewers?
It was 2006 and a small school district in New Jersey with good intentions catapulted into the national spotlight because they were planning on showing a short film I directed, That's a Family!, to their third graders. The teachers were doing a lesson about different kinds of families and wanted a tool that would help them show the full range of family types in their own community. That's a Family! was a key part of their lessons plans.
After one parent complained and decided to call his local TV station about it, a firestorm ignited. I couldn't believe how some people twisted the actual content of the film or the intention of the curriculum, and Bill O'Reilly bought it, hook, line and sinker. Why did I think that young students should be taught about homosexual sex or trained to be activists for marriage equality, he demanded.
Of course when I asked Bill if he had actually seen the film, he said no, just as most parents don't actually know what the exact content is of the lessons being taught to their children. I realized we needed to be more organized and strategic about how to communicate with parents and the media about these kinds of situations.
GroundSpark decided to form a coalition to get more systematic about figuring out best practices for building support for LGBT-inclusive schools. We formed a network of education, media, advocacy, religious and civil rights organizations that could offer timely, thoughtful support to educators that need help with messaging their reasons for adopting inclusive policies or lesson plans.
Through the work of this network, we've seen that when talking about sexual orientation or gender identity, emotions can run high, misconceptions can spread, and divisive politics can get in the way of doing what is best for students and families. We've observed that many parents don't know how to talk to their own children about people who are gay or lesbian, and therefore don't have any idea how teachers will do it either! And we've witnessed that, when left to their own imaginations, some parents conjure up far-fetched, frightful scenarios.
But we've also learned that there is a formula for success--tested strategies that can help teachers and community members break through the barriers. And now we want to share those strategies!
For the first time ever, an easy-to-use toolkit exists to help teachers, administrators, and community members talk about inclusive schools, persuade decision makers, and connect with others in their area for support. The toolkit is based on years of on-the ground experience that our "rapid response" network has accumulated from supporting school personnel who are grappling with these challenges.
The free guide contains talking points, how-to's, and worksheets to help encourage and support schools to address stigma related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
As for Bill O'Reilly, when he finally did see That's a Family! and the actual lessons planned for the New Jersey elementary school, he agreed with me that all students should experience them, (but in 4th grade instead of 3rd!). If Bill O'Reilly can come around, just about anyone can.
Building Support for Schools that Openly Affirm the Diversity of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity can be downloaded for free.