Navigating Questions About Diverse Families in the Classroom

by Guest Contributors

Elementary teachers often find themselves on the receiving end of challenging questions from students.

Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Consultant

Elementary teachers often find themselves on the receiving end of challenging questions from students. Why is the sky blue? What is infinity? and the perennial Where do babies come from? More recently, however, questions about safety, diversity and inclusion are popping up  in schools across the nation.

HRC’s newly released survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 reveals the deeply damaging fallout the November election has had on LGBTQ youth across the United States:

  • Among young people who reported seeing bullying and harassment, 70 percent had witnessed incidents motivated by race or ethnicity, 63 percent had seen incidents motivated by sexual orientation, 59 percent had seen incidents motivated by immigration status, and 55 percent had witnessed incidents motivated by gender.
  • Over the past 30 days, about half of transgender youth reported feeling hopeless and worthless most or all of the time, and 70 percent said that these and similar feelings have increased in the past 30 days. Thirty-six percent had been personally bullied or harassed, and 56 percent had changed their self-expression or future plans because of the election.

How can educators answer challenging questions in a way that both affirms LGBTQ families and educates all students? Know what to say when students ask questions.

While some educators choose to say nothing at all for fear of pushback, saying the wrong thing, or not being supported by their administrators or school board, Welcoming Schools provides plenty of resources to support teachers in these difficult situations.

Welcoming Schools created the resource Who Can Marry Whom? Inclusive Conversations About Marriage to help schools respond to questions after the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, and teachers constantly tell us that it’s an invaluable guide for discussing LGBTQ people and diverse families in their classrooms.

As you navigate hard questions about diverse families, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Keep your answers simple and straightforward.
  • Focus on themes of love and commitment.
  • Emphasize that all families deserve respect.
  • Remind students that “love makes a family.”

Educators need to be proactive in anticipation of these types of questions. Practice responding to questions and comments during a staff meeting. In the classroom, read aloud books that feature diverse family structures, such as And Tango Makes Three and The Great Big Book of Families.

At a time when many are wondering about what the future for LGBTQ equality holds, it’s increasingly important for schools to engage students in conversations about family. That dialogue often begins with a question. Make sure you’re ready with an answer.

HRC's Welcoming Schools is the nation's premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.