Dear Cishet Parents of Cishet Kids: (BTW: If you don’t know what cishet means, thanks for being curious: Cishet means you are both cisgender and heterosexual, aka: identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, and attracted to people of the opposite gender.)
If you’ve been supportive, yet silent in your support of trans kids and families, it’s officially time to upgrade your game from ally to accomplice.
Legislators are playing a political game that is putting the lives of your friends, neighbors, and classmates at risk. Greg Abbott has given free reign to Family and Protective Services in Texas to investigate all trans children and prosecute their parents as child abusers.
Teachers, doctors, and caregivers now have free reign to report any trans student (even though they are technically under no legal obligation to since Abbot’s letter is non-binding.) That student could be interviewed or put into “protective custody” while they’re being investigated. PARENTAL CONSENT IS NOT REQUIRED – Parents may not even be notified of the interview.
The only reaction to this situation is under-reaction at this point. We all need to be doing something. And don’t assume that if you don’t live in Texas that you’re safe. This is just a dress rehearsal for what’s to come if we don’t stop this now.
To start with:
1. Call your friends with trans kids. Check on them. Love on them. This is as scary as it gets as a parent. Imagine for one moment someone being able to take your kids away simply because you see them and love them for who they are.
2. Speak up. Many parents of trans kids do not feel safe putting a spotlight on their child or their family. You have the emotional distance to be a megaphone for their voices. Let them hear and see you supporting their kids. This doesn’t have to be in a formal setting. Speak up a wine nights. Speak up at the pick up line at school. The more others see you speaking up, the more comfortable they will be to do the same.
3. Show up. Parents of trans kids can’t be the only ones showing up at the capitol & school board meetings to defend their kids. Aside from not always being safe physically, or emotionally, they are busy parents, just like you. Allies need to be “relief pitchers” to show up in physical spaces to provide trans kids and their families space to heal from the ugliness and have the luxury of doing the same family things you want to do with your kids.
4. Be a safe space. Sure, rainbow tshirts and Facebook flag backgrounds can often be virtue signaling, but they can also help indicate you’re a safe space. Want to be more clear that you’re a safe space? Tell people. Let parents of trans kids know that you’re a safe carpool partner, home base if there’s an encounter at a bus stop, phone to call if they need an emergency pick up, or just someone to listen.
5. Support comprehensive, LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed. Kids don’t grow up to be Greg Abbott when they’ve learned to treat classmates with dignity and respect.
6. And of course, get political! This means calling your representatives. Don’t know who represents you? Here you go! https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home This also means VOTE – and not just for presidents – The school board votes you cast may be the most important decisions you ever make for your kids.
In 2020, for the first time in over 20 years, the State Board of Education of Texas (finally) revised its sex ed curriculum standards. The newly adopted TEKS for Health Education can be found here, but for the most easily digestible source of what this all means for you and your students, check out the Texas Is Ready site.
There were also big changes this Legislative session. Jen Biundo from Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy did such an amazing write up for Texas is Ready that recaps the new sex ed changes across Texas, that we’re just going to call out some highlights here but direct you to her article for the most comprehensive information you need to know.
As a refresher, on October 28, 2019 the AISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved revised comprehensive and LGBTQ+ inclusive human sexuality and responsibility lessons for third through eighth grade students, which were scheduled to be implemented in May, 2020. Due to covid and the complexity of ensuring that students at home were only viewing the lessons for their intended grade, the lessons were put on hold for the 2020-2021 school year. All lessons are available online at the AISD website.
At long last, there were high hopes that 2021-2022 would finally be the year when Austin students received comprehensive, medically accurate, LGBTQ-inclusive health lessons….and they still can….but now you need to specifically ASK for them.
Yes, thanks to some bad bits of failed SB 442 and SB 1083 being added into school finance bill HB 1525, there are some new significant hurdles to Texas students receiving comprehensive health lessons.
BIG CHANGE FOR SEX ED
Instead of the reasonable option of parents who don’t want their kids to receive sex education (based on the AISD survey with 5500+ respondents, that’s around 5% of guardians, or 1-2 students per classroom) opting out of the lessons, school districts must now get written permission from the 95%+ of parents or guardians who want their children/students to receive sex education. Yes. You must now OPT IN to sex ed.
This is a brand new law. Many parents and guardians will not know this and many students will slip through the cracks, especially students who are being sexually abused by guardians who don’t want them to have access to the information that could help them know how to reach out for help.
BIG CHANGES FOR HOW SEX ED CURRICULUM GETS APPROVED
Although our top priority right now is raising awareness about the new OPT IN requirements for the lessons that have already been approved for grades 3-8, please note that the Austin ISD SHAC (School Health Advisory Council) has been actively reviewing, (and approving) new health lessons for grades K-2 that are now in jeopardy due to new requirements included in the same HB 1525 mentioned above.
Although we strongly support district transparency with curriculum and parents & guardians having ample time to review and provide feedback on curriculum changes, the requirements of this law will likely also present additional hurdles that make it harder for comprehensive sex ed, or even any kind of sex ed, to be passed on many districts. Those who oppose sex ed will be attending these additional meetings in full force and we’ll be asking you to help us to the same to speak up in support of empowering students with the information they need to be healthy now, and throughout their lives.
As shared in the Texas is Ready write up, “School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) are volunteer groups of parents, community members, and school staff and are charged with ensuring that community values are reflected in health education. SHACs make recommendations on many areas of student health, but because one of their duties is making recommendations to the school board on sex education curriculum, they have become something of a lightening rod for groups opposed to sex education.” We have also written about SHACs here and here.
The biggest part here is that “notification of all SHAC meetings must be posted 72 hours in advance. Additionally, audio or video recording of the meeting and meeting minutes must be submitted to the school district and posted online if the district has a website.” Our AISD SHAC already posts the notifications and posts meeting minutes. Our SHAC meetings have been online during covid and have started being recorded. Although some are fine with this given the “public meeting” nature of SHAC meetings, due to past experiences with aggression from the public which even required additional security for SHAC members at one point, it is understandable that others are hesitant to be so physically visible in a recording available to the public. You can read more about the new law, and some scary parts that were fortunately left out of the final version here under the School Health Advisory Council section.
CHANGES TO SEX ED NOTIFICATION
Last but not least, HB 1525 made some changes about how sex ed lessons need to be made available to the public.
For sex education materials that are in the public domain, school districts must post materials online, if they have a website.
For curriculum materials that are copyrighted and not in the public domain, districts must allow parents to inspect the curriculum at their home campus or review the materials electronically in a secure manner that doesn’t allow them to be copied.
Austin ISD has always made sex ed materials available at the libraries of each school in the district and for the past two years they have also been available online. You can see them here.
For in depth, continued information on comprehensive sex ed that’s inclusive of LGBTQ+ students, please be sure to follow
The first step in becoming an ally is getting Informed. We’re so glad that you’re here to gather information to help ensure that LGBTQ+ students feel safe and respected in your home, school and community.
Below are links to the information shared with each group so you can refer to your group’s materials at a later date or dive deeper into the materials that other groups reviewed. All materials and links we have shared are from GLSEN’s educational materials for educators. GLSEN offers a wide variety of training for educators to help improve school climate and personal outcomes for LGBTQ+ students.
One of the most important parts of being an ally to LGBT students is making yourself known as an ally. In order to come to you for help, students need to be able to recognize you as an ally. Even if students don’t come to you directly, just knowing that there is a supportive adult can help LGBT students feel supported
Wear a visible marker. Wear a supportive button or wristband or even a simple rainbow bracelet. These will let your child/their friends know that you are a supportive ally without saying a word.
Take visible actions. (added by IP) Share LGBTQ supportive materials on social media, attend Pride events as allies and speak out against harmful legislation. Support LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education.
Make no assumptions. When engaging with your child’s friends, their parents or school staff, do not assume you know their sexual orientation or gender identity. Don’t assume that everyone is heterosexual or fits into your idea of gender roles – Show your child that you understand there is no one way a person “should” be.
Use inclusive language. Through casual conversation make sure the language you are using is inclusive of all people. When referring to people in general, try using words like “partner” instead of “boy-friend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife,” and avoid gendered pronouns, using “they” instead of “he/she.” Using inclusive language will help LGBT students feel more comfortable being themselves and coming to you for support.
Respond to anti-LGBT behavior. Responding to anti-LGBT behavior when it occurs or when you hear about it will let students know that you do not tolerate homophobia or transphobia. It sends a strong message that anti-LGBT behavior is not acceptable to you and not allowed in your home/school. More information about how to do this available in Group 3’s: RESPOND TO ANTI-LGBTQ BEHAVIOR & LANGUAGE below.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS WHO COME OUT
As an ally, LGBTQ students may come to you for support, comfort or guidance. You may encounter a situation where a student comes out or reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity to you. You may be the first or only person an LGBTQ+ student comes out to. It is important that you support the student in a constructive way.
Keep in mind that the student may be completely comfortable with their sexual orientation and may not need help dealing with it or may not be in need of any support. It may be that the student just wanted to tell someone, or just simply to tell you so you might know them better. Below you will find more information on the coming out process and how you can be a supportive ally when students come out to you.
WHAT DOES “COMING OUT” MEAN?
Simply put, coming out is a means to publicly declare one’s identity, whether to a person in private or a group of people. In our society most people are generally presumed to be heterosexual, so there is usually no need for a heterosexual person to make a statement to others that discloses their sexual orientation.
Similarly, most people feel that their current gender is aligned with their sex assigned at birth, therefore never having a need to disclose one’s gender identity. However, a person who is LGBTQ must decide whether or not to reveal to others their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To come out is to take a risk by sharing one’s identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes to a group or in a public setting. The actual act of coming out can be as simple as saying “I’m gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender,” but it can be a difficult and emotional process for an LGBTQ student to go through, which is why it is so important for a student to have support.
One positive aspect of coming out is not having to hide who you are anymore. However, there can be dangers that come with revealing yourself. A student who comes out may be open to more anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment, yet they may also feel more comfortable and free to be themselves. One of the most important things you as an ally can do for an LGBTQ student is to be there for them in a safe, respectful and helpful way.
Anti-LGBT behavior comes in all shapes and sizes: biased language, name-calling, harassment and even physical assault. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey consistently finds that many LGBTQ students regularly hear homophobic slurs, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” at school, and most students have been verbally or physically harassed in school.
One of the most effective things you can do as an ally is respond to anti-LGBT behavior.
1. Address Name-Calling, Bullying or Harassment Immediately.
Concentrate on stopping the behavior in that moment. Sometimes it’s a simple response to hearing a derogatory term like “That language is unacceptable in our home/classroom.” Make sure that everyone can hear you. Never miss the opportunity to interrupt the behavior. Remember: no action is an action — if an incident is overlooked or not addressed it can imply acceptance and approval.
2. Name the Behavior.
Describe what you saw and label the behavior. “I heard you use the word faggot and that is derogatory and is considered name-calling. That language is unacceptable.”
3. Use the Teachable Moment (or Create One)
Make sure to educate after stopping the behavior. Decide if you are going to educate in the moment or later, and if it will be publicly or privately. If you decide to educate later you will need to create the teachable moment.
4. Support the Targeted Student.
Support the student who has been the target of the name-calling, bullying or harassment. Do not make assumptions about what the student is experiencing. Ask the student what they need or want. You will have to decide whether to do this in the moment or later, and if it will be publicly or privately. Suggest that the student visit with a counselor only if the student requests extra support.
WHAT DO I SAY WHEN THEY SAY “THAT’S SO GAY”? RESPONDING TO UNINTENTIONAL ANTI-LGBT LANGUAGE
Almost all LGBTQ students regularly hear the word “gay” used in a negative way at school. Though many downplay the impact of expressions like “that’s so gay” because they have become such a common part of the vernacular and are often not intended to inflict harm, most LGBTQ students say that hearing “gay” or “queer” used in a negative manner causes them to feel bothered or distressed. Especially because these expressions are so pervasive in our schools, it is critical that an ally treat this like all other types of anti-LGBTQ language and address it.
Not all students may understand why this language is offensive, so you may need to educate the students on why this is anti-LGBTQ language. For example, ask them why they would use “gay” to mean that something is bad or boring. Let them know that it is offensive and hurtful to LGBTQ people when they use “gay” to describe something as undesirable. When challenged on using this type of language, a common response from students and adults is that they did not mean “gay” to mean homosexual. They may say that it’s just an expression and they don’t mean any harm by it.
The chart below suggests some strategies for dealing with these types of responses, including the benefits and challenges for each strategies.
For public service announcements, lesson plans, discussion guides and other resources that address anti-LGBT language, visit www.ThinkB4YouSpeak.com/educators.
For many LGBTQ students, student clubs that address LGBTQ student issues (used to be called Gay-Straight Alliances or GSAs, now more accurately referred to as Gender & Sexuality Alliances) offer critical support. These clubs are student-led, usually at the high school or middle school level, and work to address anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools and promote respect for all students.
The existence of these clubs can make schools feel safer and more welcoming for LGBTQ students. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey has found that compared to LGBTQ students without a GSA, students in schools with a GSA or similar student club:
▼ Reported hearing fewer homophobic remarks;
▼ Experienced less harassment and assault because of their sexual orientation and gender expression;
▼ Were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, and
▼ Were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
▼ Were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns
▼ Reported a greater sense of belonging to their school community.
GSAs, like all student clubs, must have a faculty advisor. As an ally, you may need to advocate for the rights of students to establish a GSA in their school and to find a supportive advisor.
Although some opponents of GSAs have attempted to restrict the existence of or access to these clubs, the federal Equal Access Act of 1984 requires public schools to allow GSAs to exist alongside other non-curricular student clubs.
For information about starting a GSA or GSA activities, download GLSEN’s Jump-Start Guide for GSAs at www.glsen.org/jumpstart.
If your school is like my son’s, you may encounter people handing out these flyers or leaving them on windshields during school drop-off and pick up.
Those of us who love and support LGBTQIA+ students may read this list as a “thank goodness they’re covering this stuff!” list, but the people who created the list are using it to try to spread fear and misinformation.
AISD elementary and middle schools are each holding information sessions for parents to learn more about the revised K-8 human sexuality & responsibility curriculum. Please attend to show your support for comprehensive sex ed that’s inclusive of the needs of LGBTQIA+ students and to make sure you have information straight from the source to help shut down these misinformation campaigns by anti-LGBTQ groups.
In the Informed Parents of Austin Facebook Group, the question comes up a lot about how parents and teachers can make sure that they are helping create a safe and inclusive learning environment for LGBTQ students.
I wish I could take credit for having a fabulous list of suggestions, but the truth is there are amazing organizations and writers covering this exact subject on a regular basis. In fact, GLSEN has an entire section of their website dedicated to the most granular level of inclusion topics for educators and you can find them all right here.
Since parents and teachers are some of the busiest people in the world, I’m going to do some cherry-picking of the easiest and most turn-key tips that you can put in place right away. I do encourage you to take a deep dive into the materials I link to though since many of us who are CIS-gender & hetero allies often aren’t aware of the level of discrimination present in even the most seemingly “everyday” parts of the education system.
Austin ISD kicked off LGBTQ Pride Month this week by raising the Pride flag during a ceremony at the district’s headquarters. The Pride flag will remain in place for the week of June 3rd and will also fly over the courtyard the week of October 7th, in honor of AISD’s district-wide Pride Week.
On February 25th, Austin ISD’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on a revised human sexuality curriculum scope and sequence which would finally guarantee students across the district access to science-based, comprehensive sex-ed that is inclusive of LGBTQ students.
The fight is far from over though as the board will be voting on the final lessons plans in May or June. Be sure to follow our Facebook Page & Facebook Group to learn how you can help support us at these important meetings.
Since that meeting, we have received many requests from parents in other school districts all around Texas, and across the country, who want to know if Informed Parents of Austin can help them get comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and LGBTQ inclusion policies in their school districts.
Yes, and no.
Yes, we can provide you with a toolkit of all the important things we’ve learned these past couple of years so you can hit the ground running and start getting parents in your community Informed and Involved today.
But, no – we can’t do the work for you. The only thing that made this change a reality was local parents showing up and doing the work. Whether writing letters to the school board or showing up at SHAC meetings, there is no short cut. As much as I would love to show up to all of your district’s board meetings, the trustees from each district only want to hear from parents and guardians in their district.
The good news: the work itself is not “hard.” Sure, you may have to show up to a meeting for a couple hours once a month, but if you can make time for a Netflix binge night, you can make time to ensure that all students in your school district have a health curriculum that helps keep them mentally and physically safe and healthy.
We’re in the process of working on our toolkit now, so sign up below if you would like to be notified as pieces are added and be sure to follow us on Facebook and join our Facebook group. (Please note that due to an increased level of questionable group requests, we are being extra diligent in our screening.)
In the meantime, go to Google and search your district’s School Board and SHAC meeting dates as well as your school’s Campus Advisory Council meeting dates and put them on your calendar. Look up their public comment policies and get comfortable speaking for two minutes in support of ALL students in your district. Don’t worry, our toolkit will have lots of talking points to help get you started.
Thanks for your interest and thanks for all you do to support ALL students in your district.
I was disappointed to receive a letter from Dr. Goodnow stating that despite an overwhelmingly favorable vote on the SHAC Health Subcommittee’s recommendation to move forward with the proposed revised human sexuality and responsibility curriculum, there will be a one-year delay in implementing this curriculum.
I was at the June 6th SHAC meeting where the proposal was presented and have been at almost every SHAC meeting during the 2017-18 school year. During the public comment period of each of these meetings, I have used my two minutes to share my support, as well as the support of the almost 1,000 members of the Informed Parents of Austin Group, for comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of the needs of LGBTQ students. Read more
One of the most powerful actions you can take to support LGBTQ kids and families in your school district is to attend your district’s SHAC meetings.
SHAC stands for School Health Advisory Council. In addition to doing important things like making sure our kids have healthy lunches and excellent physical education programs, SHAC boards also guide school districts’ policies on LGBTQ inclusion and preparedness/sensitivity training for teachers as well as age-appropriate sex-ed programs for students.
We focus a lot on the Austin Independent School District in this group, but the fact is that ALL school districts have SHACs, and no matter where you live, if you care about defending your kids against vocal anti-LGBTQ groups and groups demanding abstinence only “sex ed” then you need to start getting involved in these meetings, or even sign up to be a SHAC board member.
I’m listing the contact information for the SHACs in the Austin area here, but please take a moment to google “__________ SHAC” (with the _______ being your school district) to find their meeting dates or even sign up to be considered for the board.
If you’re a little introvert and nervous about attending (like I was,) I’ve put together a little “How to Attend a SHAC Meeting” about how our meetings in AISD work. I’m guessing they are similar in other districts, but this at least will help give you the assurance that they are not scary. You do not need to talk. You just need to be there, and be informed.
I am not sure about your district’s SHAC meetings, but ours are regularly visited by vocal members of groups specifically designed to shame and block the rights of the LGBTQ community. Our general rule is to not engage with these people and to focus your efforts on the SHAC board members who have the power to influence change.
If your district is like ours, and already has programs that support the rights for ALL students, then simply show them your appreciation and offer your support for future programs. If your district does not have programs in place that support equal rights for LGBTQ students and families, join our group, and we’ll get you the resources to help.
One of the most effective ways to let key decision makers at AISD know that you support initiatives that support the LGBTQ+ community is to attend the monthly SHAC meetings and sign in as representing “Informed Parents of Austin.”
It can be a bit confusing and intimidating the first time you attend any new gathering, so here is a quick overview of what to expect when you attend a SHAC meeting.
Know where & when to go: The meetings are the first Wednesday of every month from 6:30pm – 8:00pm in a meeting room at the new AISD Headquarters located at 4000 S. IH-35 Frontage Road, 78704 unless specified otherwise. (See map below)
Someone will be at the main door to provide access and directions to the meeting room on the 2nd floor The full schedule, agenda for the upcoming meeting and minutes from past meeting are all available here. Always check for the latest information here before attending.
When You Arrive: There will be a table with a sign up sheet, agendas as well as the Speaker & Comment cards. At the beginning of each regular meeting of a district advisory body, time will be provided for public comments.
At the time of this post, the SHAC public comment period is typically 10-15 minutes, and speakers are usually allowed 2 minutes each. Speakers may be asked to sit in a designated area until called upon by the presiding officer to speak.
You can read all the Communication Rules here, but here’s the most important part: “Persons wishing to provide public comments will be asked to fill out a speaker card. Persons wishing to speak must acknowledge on the speaker card that they have read these requirements. Persons will be called upon to speak usually in the order speaker cards were received. However, in cases of large numbers of persons wishing to speak, cards may be drawn randomly, at the discretion of the committee coordinator. If persons who have signed up to speak do not have an opportunity to do so because time runs out, they may provide written comments on the card provided. In addition, any person may provide written comments without signing up to speak.”
Where to Sit: The SHAC board members sit at the tables and there is typically a separate seating section for guests.
The Meeting: Here’s a sample agenda to give you an idea of the flow of the meetings and topics discussed. The public comment period is at the the beginning of the meeting and is limited so definitely bring hand outs in case due to time constraints, you only have the opportunity to provide written comments.
Do I HAVE to DO Anything?! As a SHAC meeting guest, you are under no obligation to speak at any time – You can truly just act as a “fly on the wall” while taking in the information discussed.
If you do have something you want to say, but are hesitant to speak in front of the group, you can submit a written statement on one of the comment cards which are located on the table as you enter the room.
Since these written comments are kept with the records of the meeting, (and the “anti” groups are definitely submitting their comments,) even if I don’t have a specific, urgent topic, I encourage you to submit a general statement of support, such as:
My name is _________ and I am one of the 1,500+ members of The Informed Parents of Austin. I would like to thank the SHAC board for continuing to support programs that encourage equality and inclusiveness for LGBTQ+ students and families. I also support your efforts to include age appropriate sex education in the AISD curriculum. I, and the Informed Parents of Austin, are here to support you in any way to ensure these programs are made available to all students in AISD.
Note: The SHAC board is there to attend to a wide variety of subjects pertaining to the health of our students and AISD staff, from Physical Education programs and Lunch Menus to staff insurance plans and school nurse coverage. During any given meeting, there is very little chance that any LGBTQ+ or sex ed topics will be raised, and even if they are, as observing guests we are not allowed to comment on them during the discussion when guests are each allowed two minutes to give a brief statement. We are there to get information, be a counter-presence to the anti-groups and let the SHAC board know that we support their inclusion initiatives.
There are typically several anti-group representatives present at these meetings. I have learned to follow the HRC’s recommendation to not engage with people who are fighting against our goals, but to support the decision makers who support equality for LGBTQ+ students and families.