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Back to school: How to support your 2SLGBTQIA+ child

Supporting youth can look like stepping in, stepping back, asking questions — but always letting the child lead.
Avelino Gomez Back to school Squamish
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Back to school is an exciting but also a challenging time for many children, teens and their parents. 

How can parents or guardians best support their 2SLGBTQIA+ youngsters? 

The Squamish Chief sat down with Sea to Sky Allies' Kristin Trotter, a therapist, and parent Catherine Trueman for a chat about just that. 

For clarity, 2SLGBTQIA+ is an acronym for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, and additional sexual orientations and gender identities.

The plus sign — or sometimes an asterisk — added to an acronym means the inclusion of identities not explicitly included in the abbreviation.

Trotter noted that children, especially young people approaching puberty and going through their teen years, are struggling to figure out who they are and their identity. 

 "And so there is a natural tendency to explore your gender and your sexuality in that period of time, right? And so... following your young person's lead," she said. 

Trotter added that it can be painful for youth when parents make dismissive comments about shifting gender identities as being just a trend or because of the influence of a friend group rather than an important milestone.

"It's important, and who knows where or how that journey will unfold, but... find ways to lead from behind," she said, meaning parents can be supportive of wherever their kids are at. 

She also noted that we all shift and change and try on new identities as teens as we become ourselves. 

It is a natural part of growing up, in other words. 

Trueman said she sometimes gets questions from parents concerned about how children want to dress or do their hair when they return to school. 

"And I think if your kid wants to go and shop in a different clothing section or get a different style, or try a different haircut, or whatever it is, let them explore and try that. This is their chance to figure out who they are. Be supportive, and it might change; it might not. If it ends up being consistent, insistent and persistent, you know that maybe there's more to look into, but let them just try to figure out who they are and be supportive and say, 'Do you want to try that? Let's try it. And if it doesn't stick, that's OK.'" 

Trotter noted that mental health outcomes, and outcomes of all kinds, are better for kids who feel supported at home. 

"There's not huge consequences or huge stakes to exploring a different expression of yourself," Trotter said.


Trueman noted that if a child has made a change over the summer — to their name, or pronouns, for example — it is best if parents or caregivers reach out to the school and the teacher beforehand to set that expectation that this is what they want to be called in the classroom, right off the bat. 

Parental support and advocacy at home for a 2SLGBTQIA+ child is important, but what if there is an injustice at school — a teacher refusing to use preferred pronouns or bullying from other students — but your child doesn't want you to step in? 

Trueman said supporting but also letting the child lead is key. 

"I think that something that my son has always said is just be open to listening to your child, and what they want to do and how they want to proceed. So definitely letting them lead. But saying, ‘Here are our options on how we can deal with this; we can go to the principal, the administration; I can send an email and have a conversation with the teacher directly. You can go and talk to the teacher and explain again, and if it hasn't changed, then you can come back to me, and then we decide what other options there are. But let me know how you want me to proceed for you.’"

Meeting them where they are at

Supporting your 2SLGBTQIA+ child doesn't mean pushing them beyond where they are at in their identity journey. 

Some may want to use their preferred pronouns at home, but not at school, for example, and that is OK. 

"I think it's really important to acknowledge where the child is at with that," Trotter said. 

"Coming out comes in many stages, right? And considering safety is really important all along here. So we might honour that by saying, 'OK, I'm hearing that,' and also maybe connecting them with support around what could that look like? Because, on the one hand, you're really excited about what you know about yourself in your identity. And on the other, you're not feeling safe enough to explore that further than our home now."

She added that it is never a good idea to push someone into a place that they're not yet prepared to be. 

"But we can acknowledge that not being able to be yourself can have mental health consequences...And so when we see that struggle in that, how can we support them with continuing to explore their identity and ways of being safe with that?"

Teachers set the stage

Teachers have a big role in whether any student feels comfortable at school. 

Setting out expectations from day one of school sets the stage for the rest of the year. Parents can be advocates for what their child needs to feel safe. 

For teachers, this means addressing acceptable class behaviour from the outset. 

"It is having teachers on day one in the classroom saying this is an inclusive, safe space. We don't tolerate any bullying, name calling — anything like that. And if that occurs in the school in our classroom, you will be asked to leave our classroom," Trueman said. 

Trotter said the lens could be pulled back further from the classroom teacher to the school itself. 

"The expectation that the school is going to support your child,” said Trotter. “That's going to help to resolve any concerns or problems." 

Parents can advocate for safer spaces, for using safe and gender-neutral washrooms and change rooms. 

And for not having gender divides of boys and girls for teams. 

"You can go, A/B A/B, or choose colours — whatever that is — so that everybody feels included," Trueman said. 

Physical education class can be an uncomfortable environment if consideration is not given to everyone in the class, both Trotter and Trueman said. 

"There are standardized tests that they have to do, as female or male. And so stepping in and maybe talking to the teacher, if your child wants you to... and say, 'Look, he's wearing a binder, he can't have the same lung capacity that everybody else does, it's difficult for him to do some of the things,'" Trueman said. 

"It’s stepping in [as a parent] and having those conversations and teaching the teachers so that they know, for future students coming in. They've had that experience, and they know they can make different lesson plans or know better for next time."

Trotter noted that Squamish schools are evolving, which is encouraging to see. 

Don Ross Middle School underwent a significant renovation to create a gender-neutral washroom, which was completed in 2019, for example. 

"Just the fact that they thought that it was important enough to create that space is amazing," Trotter said. 

The goal is also that these washrooms are easily accessible and do not require the student to ask for a key or travel to the other side of the school to use them.

"That's what we hope all buildings move forward to considering... all-gender washrooms are the way that we do things."  

Both Trotter and Trueman say adults in the home being proactive can help make for a smoother year for their child, no matter how young the child is. 

"This conversation [is] for anyone with school-aged children or youth, for sure, because we know that there are gender diverse and gender creative youth in Squamish,” Trotter said. 

For parents of cisgender youth

Parents of cisgender youth — meaning youth who identify as the gender they were presumed to be at birth — can also set expectations for inclusivity. 

"They need to know that they need to make this a welcome inclusive space for all of their peers," Trueman said. 

"Making sure that you're using their correct name, their pronouns; making sure that they've checked in and know what everybody's using, right? It's being respectful of that. And it's just a matter of respect. Right? So setting that expectation that we're going to be respectful of everybody in the classroom."

When it comes to bullying, Trotter said as a sexual health educator, when she goes into grade 10 Phys Ed classes, she focuses on having cis students understand the impact of their words and actions. 

"Highlighting that it's not about your intention. The intention isn't to harm, but the impact is significant," she said, noting she does hear that slurs and statements like ‘That is so gay,’ are still said by youth, which is hurtful.

Parents can advocate with teachers to consistently intervene and let students know that those types of slurs are not accepted. 

Sometimes it is the adults who say homophobic or transphobic comments. In that case, the parent can call it out when they hear it, take it up with the adult who said it or take it up with the school admin if that is more comfortable. 

"If you heard it first hand, not being a bystander, not allowing that to just go unaddressed," said Trotter.

Trueman said that parents need not be shy if they hear about bullying but instead address it directly with their kids. 

"If you do hear cases of bullying from other parents or kids, make sure that you talk to your kids about that. Have an open conversation; I'll be like, 'You know, I heard that this is happening at school. Have you heard anything about it?’ And making sure that it's understood that that's not acceptable. And we don't talk to people that way. We stand up for our friends and peers if we hear that — saying something directly to the person that's doing it, going to the administration, whatever you need to do."

The pair say they aim to create a workshop for teachers on creating inclusive classroom spaces.

What happens at school really matters for kids, Trotter stressed. 

"Kids spend the majority of their time at school, and when you think about, if they're not safe at home, at least let's create safety for them to explore who they are, be who they are, among their peers who might be more supportive than their family," she said. 

"We [can] create a culture within the school where we're talking about diversity, inclusivity, acceptance, and that's, 'My parents are two moms,' or 'My next door neighbour is non-binary,' right? Diversity happens in so many ways and many representations of it. So ... that will be included in our curriculum. We include it in our library stories. When we're … making it visible, that helps to bring everyone along."

Sea to Sky Allies hosts monthly socials on the second Wednesday of every month for parents and caregivers of LGBTQ2S+ youth, wherever they find themselves on their journey. The next gathering is Sept. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Common. 

"We're gathering together just to sit and chat, share concerns, help with education — resources, and just making connections," Trueman said. 

Pride Squamish also has socials that can be valuable for youth and adults. Check their social media channels for the latest planned events. 

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