By: Leslie Lagerstrom & Todd A. Savage
My name is Leslie Lagerstrom and I am a mom, author, and advocate. If you met my son Sam, he would want you to know that he loves to travel, ski, and laugh. He would also share he is addicted to Scrabble, in case you might be a fellow competitor. As his mother, I would want you to know he has got the best sense of humor, loves volunteering to teach kids how to ski, and is one of the kindest people I know (my bias notwithstanding).
Sam is also transgender. He knew his true gender identity early in life and began transitioning to be the boy he knew he really was at the age of 8. This is not something he hides, but also not a fact he feels the need to share because it does not define him. It is just part of who he is, a small part of the whole, but unfortunately being trans was all that his classmates could focus on while growing up, which brought about years of harassment and bullying.
When Sam was in fourth grade he told me matter-of-factly that he had become the outcast to both genders. Girls never could relate to his masculine ways, and boys did not want to be associated with ‘…that kid who used to be a girl,’ as they would say loudly while laughing for all to hear. I watched with despair as the bullying he experienced in the middle grades morphed into him being ostracized in high school, becoming invisible to his classmates who just could not get past the fact he was transgender. As strange and sad as it might sound, I think if Sam were to choose he would rather be bullied than being completely ignored. He led a lonely existence, some days not interacting with anyone but his teachers.
I would have given anything for another parent to reach out to me. To offer a kind word to a mother who was hanging on by her fingernails. When I share our story one of the first questions I inevitably get from audiences is, “If there is a transgender child in our kid’s classroom, how can we help? How can we support the child and their family so that they feel like they belong?” Here is my common reply:
- Educate yourself and your family – don’t rely on the grapevine to help you understand what it means to be transgender. Ask your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, or school principal about where you can find helpful resources. Plan a family discussion on the subject so your children get the right information too. That said, don’t be surprised if they already know more than you on the subject – kids are amazing.
- Offer clues that you are supportive – sometimes a simple gesture can relieve an incredible amount of stress. Wearing a rainbow pin or tee shirt that has a supportive LGBTQ message on it will not only let kids like my child know you are an ally, but might also spark positive conversations with other people in the school community.
- Encourage your child to be inclusive, not just in school but in life – everyone wants to feel like they belong and transgender students are no exception. Many times they can be found eating alone in the cafeteria or unable to find a partner for classroom activities. Encourage your child to extend a hand, a kind gesture to kids in need. Your child will not only be a ray of sunshine for a lonely kid, but they will also be modeling respect for other kids to emulate.
- Stand up for the parents when you hear incorrect information about the child, their family, or what it means to be transgender – we encourage our kids not to be bystanders and then we do it ourselves (I am guilty of this too). It takes courage, but don’t be afraid to correct people who are spreading false information, making light of transgender people, or leading efforts that will negatively affect your school community.
- Don’t Be Nervous – sometimes our desire to show support is hampered by the worry that we may say something wrong. You can put that worry to rest. If something comes out the wrong way you will not hurt the child nor their parents as long as they can tell you are trying. In fact, you correcting yourself and moving on will be seen as a sign of respect.
Supporting School Culture Is Important, Too – A Note from Dr. Todd Savage
As a school psychologist that works with K-12 teachers, students and families across the nation, I have witnessed the success that can come when parents actively advocate for bolstering positive school climate initiatives at your child’s school and throughout the district. Learn about what is already underway in terms of building and maintaining school connectedness (i.e., relationships) within the school community, social-emotional learning programming, positive behavior supports, anti-bullying and bystander education, school safety and crisis preparedness, and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts. Families are an important part of the school climate equation and your contributions to the creation and maintenance of a positive school climate will go a long way for everyone, particularly transgender and gender diverse students and their families.
Finally, stand as an ally with your child’s school as the personnel there works to honor transgender and other gender diverse students. Being visible in this regard signals to other parents and families not only your support, it models strength when pressure may exist in the community not to be supportive. Sometimes all it takes for some people to muster the courage in the face of opposition is to know they are not alone in doing the work.
About the Authors:
Leslie Lagerstrom is the creator of the blog Transparenthood™, which chronicles her family’s experience raising a transgender child. She is a contributor to The Huffington Post and her essays can be found in two anthologies, Mamas Write and Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God. Committed to spreading awareness on the subject of transgender children, Leslie frequently shares her family’s story, speaking in front of audiences across the nation.
Todd A. Savage, Ph.D., NCSP, is a professor in the school psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF); he is also a past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Throughout his career, he has produced scholarly work and professional development for teachers, administrators, other school personnel, and family and community members around supporting LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender and gender diverse youth.
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.