‘Beyond angry’: LGBTQ parents fear impact of NC’s Parents’ Bill of Rights

·3 min read
Chuck Liddy/cliddy@newsobserver.com

When Anne Sutkowi-Hemstreet and her wife moved back to Durham to raise their children, she began organizing playdates with other LGBTQ parents to make connections and find their community. While their preschool-aged children played, Sutkowi-Hemstreet noticed other parents’ experiences were not what she’d expected from the progressive city her family returned to.

“They were feeling like they were the only queer family,” she says of these conversations. “The teachers maybe used language like ‘moms and dads,’ and so it kind of excluded queer families. They weren’t sharing books that included queer families.”

For Jennifer Straeffer, the mother of twin sons, making sure that both her cis and trans sons were safe at their new high school was imperative. She organized a meeting with the principal before the school year and says the boys are both having a great time in school. She did note, however, that despite Wake County Schools’ avoidance of gender and sexuality conversations when he was younger, her son knew he was trans before he came out at 14.

While these parents are living different experiences with their children and their personal identities, they are both reckoning with the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” introduced by NC Republicans and led by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, that would ban grades K-3 from teaching about LGBTQ issues. In other states, bills with this same name have been dubbed “Don’t say gay” bills.

“As a mother of a trans teenager, I am beyond angry,” Straeffer says.

These families are fighting for their existences to be unquestioned, just like other family structures. “These kids are coming from families that are supportive and families who have affirmed them, ‘whoever you are, is beautiful,’ and they’ve prepared them to be who they are, but then they are sending them into a system that is not honoring that,” Sutkowi-Hemstreet says.

Gender and sexual identity of course, aren’t currently being taught in North Carolina public schools, but exposing children and school staff to their stories makes our schools safer and more accepting places.

Sutkowi-Hemstreet works for Rainbow Collective for Change, a group that gets schools books about LGBTQ families, and helps teachers and administrators navigate having students with different genders, sexualities, and family lives in their classrooms. While the panic is that children are being taught about sex, Sutkowi-Hemstreet stresses that that isn’t what she and others want to teach your kindergarteners.

“There are families with two moms, families with two dads, families with one parent, grandparents who take care of kids, foster families, adoption, multiracial families, families who live far away from each other,” she says, describing the age-appropriate curriculum. “There’s so many different families, but love is what makes a family.” When it comes to gender, the explanations are also fairly simple: we’re all the same but we are also all different, and embracing those differences will make you happier.

These heartwarming messages, however, are not widely accepted in North Carolina public schools. And whether North Carolina Republicans like it or not, children and adults are going to continue being gay and trans. When they are, it’s better for schools to be prepared and make these children feel safe, especially if they do not have the same safety nets at home.

Allison Dahle, a state representative from Wake County and one of four LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, says that no one is calling her office and saying they’re scared of what their child is learning. But when bills like this, trans sports bans, and books in schools come up in the legislature, they send a message.

“My focus is always going to be the young people hearing this and feeling as though they are devalued for something that is not their fault, and [are] already being harassed or made fun of in school, and what that does to their psyche, and what that can do to our suicide rate. ” Dahle says.

Bills like this one, no matter if they’re more limited than Florida’s, as Republicans say, just mean we let these kids and their families suffer.

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