You Made Me Feel Safe Tonight
These were the words I heard after the school board meeting tonight. I created an event to support Fargo School Board's decision to go against the new pronoun law and support queer kids. I wanted people in seats that these issues directly affect so the board could see their stance's impact. Our supporters did not disappoint, the meeting was standing room only.
Not everyone who came to support the board spoke, and that was okay. Those who choose to speak talked about their own children, their own lives, and what their lived experiences as a queer person, or a parent raising a queer child have been. These stories were incredibly moving and I am so grateful for the courage displayed tonight.
Those in opposition to the decision also showed up at the board meeting. A smaller group for sure, but they made themselves known in different ways. One woman who runs a parent's rights social media group had to be cut off because she was yelling, calling the superintendent out by name, and being extremely hostile to the entire board. Another parent told the board that parents have no business keeping their child's secrets saying, "My child will talk to me, not teachers".
I took notes tonight and saw some overall themes of the opposition. I do believe parents have their children's best interests at heart, and I think that is where this is coming from, but those against the board's decision seemed to be very concerned about how the action will impact them and their children. Hint: it probably won't.
Here are the themes I saw:
Children are Property: These kids belong to their parents and must do what they say, no matter how they feel about it.
Kids are independent beings with their own thoughts and feelings. Some kids do not have a connection with their parent which allow them to divulge such a personal feeling. They might feel more comfortable talking to an adult outside their home if they do not feel their parent is safe or supportive.
What can we do as parents to create an environment that allows our kids the trust and safety to talk to us?
Secret Keeping: This was brought up many times; the idea that kids are intentionally keeping secrets from their parents because school adults (ie. teachers) told them they cannot tell their parents their secrets.
One parent alluded to child abuse; saying school adults are coaching children to keep secrets from their parents.
Schools have obligations to the children they educate; schools must keep the best interest of students in mind. This might involve not divulging information about a student's basic care needs, health, or overall well-being to their parent if the situation is not safe.
Does this mean that teachers coach students to keep personal information from parents? Of course not, at the end of the day, the relationship a child has with their parent will be the thing that guarantees open and honest communication.
Mental Health: "You're as sick as your secrets". This was a quote from a man who works with teens in crisis. He used this quote to illustrate that keeping secrets such as gender identity or sexual orientation will harm a child's mental health. I believe he was trying to say that teachers should not be able to keep sensitive information from a student's parent. Teachers should be obligated to tell a parent anything that a student tells them.
One supportive adult in a queer youth's life can reduce the risk of suicide by 40%. A teacher might be the only person a queer child considers safe. Maybe they hear anti-queer talk at home, or their parent uses queer slurs when speaking, where do they turn if they do not consider their parent safe and understanding? When living in an environment such as that, will a queer teen want to come out to their parent? What happens if a queer teen has no one?
Mental health improves when queer kids have access to a supportive adult. 84% of queer youth said they do not have a supportive adult to turn to when feeling sad, hopeless, angry, or anxious.
The biggest takeaway from the board meeting tonight was that Fargo Schools have taken one big step forward in supporting all students in the district. Our work is not done; we need to keep advocating for the rights and safety of queer youth in the district and show how important it is for these kids to feel seen. All kids do better when schools have inclusive policies and practices; bullying goes down, physical altercations go down, and mental health goes up. We need to show the rest of the state that just by taking this one important step, our district has started the journey of a healthier climate overall.