Finding the right school for your kids is difficult for anyone, but gay dads sometimes have to face an additional challenge making sure that the school that their kids go to is open to diversity and inclusivity of LGBTQ parents. How to start looking for the right school for your kids? And how to help your kids’ school be more inclusive? We talked to Steve Disselhorst, an adoptive gay dad and co-chair of Our Family Coalition, an organization that works for equality of families in education (among other things).
Our role as a parent is to create a safe environment for our kid at school. Sometimes it requires spending extra time in talking to the teachers, the principle, and whoever provides this environment, to make sure that your class and school are inclusive supportive of same-sex families, and specifically for two-dad families. Especially when it comes to activities at school around days like Mother’s Day.
“In our house, the month of May is the most difficult month of the year,” shares Steve Disselhorst, a coach and consultant, and co-chair of Our Family Coalition. “Mother’s Day is real. We live in a culture that really adores mothers. If you look at a lot of kids books there’s always a mother figure. So for us, we had challenges with Mother’s day.
“We had a negative situation that happened, not in kindergarten, but in preschool. They were very open to LGBTQ families, the director was adopted so she totally understood our kids for being adopted, but then came Mother’s Day and I went to pick up my daughter the Friday before Mother’s Day, and I looked up on the wall and it said, ‘what’s your mom’s favorite to cook,’ ‘what’s your mom’s favorite color,’ ‘what your mom’s favorite…’ and I was horrified. I was literally in tears and went up to the teacher and said How could you put my child in this position, she can’t answer these questions.
“So that was a big learning lesson for me. So now when the school year starts and I get a new teacher, during the first parent-teacher conference, [I say to her] we’ve got 8 months to work on this: what are your plans for Mother’s Day and how are you going to include our family, and what do you plan to do and can you share that with me in advance of Mother’s Day – and that had worked really well.”
Regardless of how much we try to protect our kids, bad kids can happen, even in the most accepting schools. In our discussion with Steve, he shared an incident that happened where his daughter was picked on for having two dads and no mom.
“The most important thing that I do, I do a lot of it, I talk to my daughter about how it feels for her,” Steve says. “‘how does it feel when they say that to you,’ ‘how do you feel that you have two dads,’ ‘how do you feel that you don’t live with your mom.’ Those are the things we talk about because I need to help her understand and build the tools because I’m not going to always be there to protect her. She’s going to grow, and she’s going to change, and maybe at some point she’s going to be embarrassed of her dad-gay or straight-being around.
“My role as a parent is how do I teach her to understand what she’s feeling, how these things are impacting her and then how does she resolve them: either talking to me or talking to her friend or her teacher.”
“I don’t believe in trying to take away discomfort,” Steve says, “I believe in trying to be present and witness discomfort–and move through it.”
Our guest: Steve Disselhorst
Steve Disselhorst is a proud husband, father, consultant and coach. He is the
founder of his own firm, which focuses on personal & professional leadership development and diversity, equity & inclusion consulting. Previously, Steve worked as a Diversity & Inclusion Business Consultant for Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. During his tenure, he focused on a leadership development program to advance historically under represented groups to become future senior leaders.
Steve is the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Our Family Coalition whose mission is to advance equality for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) families with children through support, education, and advocacy.
Steve and his husband have two children through adoption – one through
private, open adoption and the second through foster-adoption. Steve is an
advocate for social justice, LGBTQ rights, transracial adoption, and foster
Co-Hosts: Yan Dekel, Alex Maghen
Guest: Steve Disselhorst, Our Family Coalition
Opening Theme: Hercules & Love Affair, “Leonora” buy here
Articles and Resources Related to this episode:
Kid Power: An organization that teaches kids personal safety
Our Family Coalition inclusive schools resources
HRC’s work around inclusive schools
Safe Schools Template Letter
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Daddy Squared: The Podcast is a part of GaysWithKids.com