Last week I published a blog post about things said during a PTA meeting I attended at my youngest son’s school. I wanted to shine a light on the homophobic, transphobic, insensitive, hateful and hurtful things that some moms said during the meeting and show that as far as we have come in LGBTQ acceptance and equality, there is still much work to be done. And sometimes that work needs to be done in heavy doses at places much closer to home than we’d like.
Almost immediately, PTA moms from our school started commenting, messaging and reacting viscerally on social media.
As they did, I stared at the PTA tagline: Every child, One voice. I’m not convinced that our PTA as a whole cares about every child and some of the voices I heard that night are not voices I want speaking on behalf of my child. That being said, of course I don’t think that every parent at our school and member of the PTA is transphobic or homophobic. That would be a silly assumption and one I never made.
I hope that the PTA moms at my school will reread my original blog post when their feelings have subsided and really take in and think about the words used at the meeting and the tone in which they were said. And, think about the words and tone used since then.
“I wasn’t at the meeting, but I talked to several other moms who were and (insert defensive comment here)…” – PTA Mom
I’m not interested in gossip, hearsay or what other moms are saying behind my back. If you were not at the meeting, please do not contact me to defend the people who were in the room who used transphobic language, homophobic language and/or hate speech. Think long and hard about the people you are defending and why. I’m open to conversations, but I’m not open to your take on a meeting for which you were not present. Instead, let’s talk about how we can make our school and community more welcoming and inclusive of all students.
“We have a great group of teachers, parents and a wonderful school.” – PTA Mom
I’m sure that if you and your child are heteronormative, cisgender and possess no special or unique needs outside of what the school and district are accustomed to dealing with, then you do view it as a wonderful school with a great group of teachers and parents. If that’s the case, please consider yourself lucky.
To the mother who wrote this in particular, when both of our oldest children were in third grade at this school, mine suffered homophobic bullying and harassment to the point that he threatened suicide during winter break. His teacher, the administration at the time and the district handled the situation so horribly that we had to seek the services of a child advocate, contact the ACLU, submit a Uniform Complaint Form and have an official investigation launched.
At the school last year, C.J. was bullied in the boy’s bathroom by a group of boys intent on looking at his genitalia to see if he has a penis or a vagina. It’s interesting to note that parents are worried about my son using the girl’s restroom (which, again, he does not) for unfounded reasons, yet my son has been harassed by boys and made to feel unsafe in the boy’s bathroom.
So, sometimes our school doesn’t seem wonderful to those of us who fall outside of what South Orange County perceives to be “the norm.”
Our family wants nothing more than for the school to be a wonderful place for every student and things are looking up. C.J.’s current teacher is beyond amazing and the new administration has been wonderfully supportive. Our school could be wonderful, and in many ways it is, but it has work to do — as evidenced at the PTA meeting (which this mom did not attend).
“I was there, and while I agree that there were a few loud mouth parents there, you need to know that at least one in particular has made loud mouth, insensitive remarks about other issues, at PTA meetings and elsewhere.” – PTA Member
So because that “loudmouth, insensitive” mom is an asshole all of the time I should excuse her? She gets a free pass to say transphobic things and use hate speech because she talks nastily about everything? No. Again, think about whom you are defending and making excuses for and why.
Think about it this way, if a person of color had been in the room, would people have tolerated the “loudmouth, insensitive” mom making white supremacist comments? I mean, after all, “that’s just how she is.” When we allow hate speech from one person on campus, we allow it from other people and the climate on campus suffers.
“You sat way in the back and if you would have stayed after the meeting, you could have had a constructive conversation.” – PTA Mom
The location of my seat should not matter and bears no importance. I walked in and simply took an empty seat. I left immediately after the meeting to pick up my kids because I had to arrange childcare to be able to attend the meeting.
People shouldn’t have to stay after the meeting to have a constructive conversation. And, if that is the case, then that time should be agendized and communicated to all members, parents, teachers, etc. I’m used to meetings where the constructive conversations take place during the allotted meeting time and biased opinions that are not relevant to the topic are shared privately post meeting, if at all.
I’m always up for constructive conversations. You can reach me at email@example.com. I’ve already had a really fruitful conversation with the one mom who contacted me requesting to talk after reading the post.
“You should have used this forum to educate.” – PTA Mom
If by “this forum” you mean the online world, I’ve been educating people about childhood gender nonconformity and LGBTQ youth for four years. I encourage you to read my blog and book to learn more.
If you mean that I should have used the PTA meeting as a forum to educate, I argue that that was not my role that night. I was there as a mom, not as the presenter or educator. I was there to listen and learn and when things started to get out of hand, I knew it was best for me to observe and not lash out with my initial reactions.
“None of those things were said” and “I didn’t hear them.” – PTA Moms
The things that I wrote were said. Every single one of them. If you were at the meeting, you may not have heard everything. But, I can tell you that from where I sat I heard all of the things that I wrote – and then some. When you have a child that is directly affected by the topic being discussed, you tend to listen very closely, as I did. I wanted to hear how people responded and reacted to this issue that my family deals with daily. I did not write in my blog post any comments that I heard outside of the public meeting – and those were much, much worse.
“You’re giving the PTA and our school a bad name!” – PTA Mom
I argue that it’s not me who is giving the PTA a bad name, but rather it is the moms who used transphobic, homophobic hate speech during the meeting and the peers who defended them then and have continued to defend them since who give our school and PTA a bad name.
My post was not meant to be a referendum on the actual PTA organization, national, local or otherwise. For me, this horrible event could have happened anywhere: a church group, sports team, scout meeting, etc. The fact that it happened at a PTA meeting is just an example of this particular issue.
That said, I do feel like our school’s chapter failed at the National PTA’s mission to connect all parents to their school community and encourage parent engagement. Tolerating behaviors that alienate parents due to bias and prejudice has to be addressed.
“I for one will never again feel comfortable asking a question at a PTA meeting… I’m worried that people will not feel comfortable to ask questions.” – PTA Mom
Instead of this all or nothing approach to speaking out in PTA meetings, maybe you should take a minute to think about the things you are saying, the way you are saying them, who is hearing them and how they could be perceived.
I teach my kids to think about what they’re going to say and always speak as if a person of every gender, ethnicity, religion, race, sex, disability and sexuality is in the room. You know, just to be respectful of others. Maybe you could try that.
As adults, we can usually tell when a question is being asked out of sincere interest and when it is being asked skeptically, argumentatively and dismissively. I’ll meet with anyone from our school who has questions that come from a place of wanting to learn about kids like my son. I’m serious; I’ll make time for every single family, do it confidentially, individually or in groups and give you nothing but honesty. All you have to do is ask and show up with an open heart and open mind.
A special thanks to the HRC, Welcoming Schools, PFLAG and the ACLU this past week. The support I’ve felt from these organizations was tremendous and critical.
Also, even though the presenter at the PTA meeting cited statistics gathered and published by GLSEN, he was not there as a representative of GLSEN.