PRIDE–”the quality or state of being proud…a reasonable or justifiable self-respect…” (Merriam Webster app)
June is designated as PRIDE month, a time when members of the LBGTQ+ community and our families and allies come together to celebrate our common humanity. It is a time to stand up with others, to remind the nation everything that makes any one of us human is present in each of us in the human family. It is a time to celebrate our successes and the continued struggle for equal rights for all people. It is also a time to remember and respect those who came before, especially those in the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village.
Pride, “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect” should be the birthright of every human being. Pride is our human birthright. Elizabeth, an openly gay preservice teacher shares her story and hopes to erase stigma about the LGBTQ+ community to make the classroom a safe space for teachers and students.
My name is Elizabeth. I am a 21-year-old education major in South Carolina. I came out the summer before college and was met with very mixed responses. I was terrified of being rejected by friends and extended family and how my sexuality would affect a future career in education. Of course, my close friends and parents continued to love me unconditionally, but valued church members took it upon themselves to fill me in on “the perverse direction my life was taking.” I was verbally abused face to face in the sanctuary of my church. Bigotry and hatred runs rampant in my hometown and these fears follow me every time I return. I also experienced more abuse online where people do not have to look me in the eye.
In the flurry of emotions I turned to literature to reassure me that my life is just different, not wrong. I discovered many books and resources including LGBTQIA+ families. Yet, many of the books claiming to support and cherish gay readers held messages of homophobia and hatred. A small number of children’s books portray happy LGBTQIA+ families and individuals, yet even fewer of them are included in school and classroom libraries. It is important for books written by authors like Lesléa Newman to be accessible in classrooms so children know at an early age that they can be exactly who they are without any fear or shame.
My story is not as harrowing as my some of my peers in the queer community, but my heartbreak is just as real. I will be a fantastic teacher because of my identity, not despite it. Being gay has taught me to be an advocate for myself and for all people, especially those who are marginalized. We as educators must present our students with a safe space, a space free of fear within our classroom walls, a space where they can learn how to be their most authentic selves. Especially in a world where it is slowly becoming easier to be proud of your identity, I will strive to cultivate my classroom community with love and respect, and pride.
Perhaps what makes Elizabeth’s story so poignant is that it brings an issue out of the shadows and into the light. Her story helps us to recognize how powerful literature can be in the life of a young person. The idea that “the right book at the right time can open doors to possibility for a better world.” (Laminack and Kelly, 2019) is at the heart of her story. At the age of 21 she can name books from her youth that opened doors to self-respect, to pride in her own existence. Yet, her comment that many books she thought would be helpful actually “held messages of homophobia and hatred…” clearly makes the case that we need books that serve as mirrors, windows, and doors for our LBGTQ+ students. These books would also open the windows and doors to cisgender classmates as well.
According to the book, Reading the Rainbow: LGBTQ-Inclusive Literacy Instruction in the Elementary Classroom, there are an estimated 6 million people with one or more LGBTQ+ parents (Gates, 2014) and at least 30,000 of these children are school age (Adams & Persinger, 2013). To create more inclusive classrooms, we can begin by avoiding heteronormative language and practices such as calling children ‘boys and girls’, referring to parents as ‘room moms’, or hosting events such as ‘donuts for dads’. In our book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Think Deeply, Speak Freely, and Take Action, we share how Jennie Robinette transforms the traditional Q and U wedding in her kindergarten class by inviting any students to participate regardless of gender. In addition Jennie invited parents, including same-sex parents to come and tell the stories of their own weddings. This sent a message that anyone can be married and love each other. Students celebrated by creating “Love is love” signs.
Entry points to becoming LGBTQ+ inclusive may include connecting with diverse families in your classroom and school community, responding to instances of taunting, teasing and full on bullying, and discussing current events and children’s literature (Ryan & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2018). For instance, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, children could read Rob Sanders new book, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. With last year being the fortieth anniversary of the gay pride flag, students could read Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. See below for a list of other recommended literature.
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twist
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Buffering by Hannah Hart
And Tango Makes Three by J. Richardson and P. Parnell
Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman
Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang
George by Alex Gino
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman
My Princess Boy by C. Kilodavis
Neither by Airlie Anderson
One of a Kind, Like Me by Laurin Mayeno
Pride the Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer
Want to Play Trucks? By Ann Stott
Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian
Putting Read-Alouds to Work for LGBTQ-Inclusive, Critically Literate Classrooms (by Caitlyn L. Ryan & Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth)
Building Diverse Collections of Children’s Literature to Expand Windows and Mirrors for Youth (from the NCTE LGBTQ Advisory Committee)
We Love that Teachers are Speaking Up for LGBTQ Students (Teaching Tolerance)
To read more about valuing all identities through the use of children’s literature and rich discussion, check out our new book, Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action.
Scroll down using this link to the Heinemann blog to watch a video with Katie and Lester as they discuss how exploring identity allows us to connect with others.