Youth activist Harmony Cruz-Bustamante speaks to community members at Rally for Trans Youth in New Haven . Jennifer Diaz

I am a resident of New Haven, a city where there have been growing and concerted efforts to ensure each of our children is affirmed in all of their identities in our public schools, for example, through the coalition-building work of the New Haven LGBTQ+ Youth Task Force.  

And while we have been making some steady progress here, a recent bomb threat targeting the New Haven Pride Center shows why this work is still vital.  

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I am also a parent, and I have found that we parents and caregivers sometimes forget that our understanding of the world and school, and how we need to protect our children – while well-intentioned – may not be grounded in the current realities of the world.  Sometimes we fail to realize we are working against the ones we love because we are treating people the way we want to be treated and not the way they want to be treated. 

In Connecticut, right now, we have young people going to board of education meetings to fight their own parents and caregivers, because their adults believe that schools are making decisions and policies that are not aligned to their values.  

Trust me –I hear and identify with people who say, “I know my child best and I know what I went through and I don’t want my child to experience those things.”  

Have you checked with your child about how they feel and what they believe?  And how their school’s latest decisions and policies to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment are actually supporting your child and their friends in ways that you yourself may not be?

Jennifer Heikkila Diaz

I write this piece as an adult who has been unlearning a lot of socialization imposed on me, especially in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

I have only begun to engage deeply in this personal work in the last few decades. I write this piece as an educator, who has witnessed and supported many students and colleagues as they have also worked to unlearn and deliberately navigate the world we live in, so that they can live joyfully and contentedly as themselves. I write this as a parent who is trying to do better by my own children, to support them in knowing and being themselves, rather than living by the labels and perceptions put on them.

My children are elementary school-aged, and so far, I think they are unapologetically themselves.  It is beautiful to see them exercise a self-determination that I never believed I had as a child and young person.  This is not to say I never get in the way or act in adultist or ageist ways –-I definitely have my moments and that is part of my learning and healing journey as a human.

The foundation of anything involving a group of people is community.  Community means that we build relationships with each other and co-create an environment where each person is seen, heard, and valued.  In a classroom or school, that means each parent/caregiver, each teacher, and each student matters as a whole person. They each bring their strengths as well as learning and education from outside of the school building from personal interests and experiences and from what their family and communities have taught them.  This means that all of the intersections of a student’s identities and communities matter and are affirmed.

Knowing each person deeply means the lessons learned in the classroom can be responsive and affirming of all students.  This means that teachers and school staff need to actively unlearn in an ongoing way so much of what we have been taught and have internalized about the multitude of identities and communities represented in our classrooms.

We parents and caregivers need to do this work.  And, it starts with getting to know our children every day and backing them up. 

And it is urgent that we affirm and back all of our children up now, because:

  • In 2022, over half of the most challenged books were attacked because they had LGBTQIA2SP+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, 2 Spirit, Pansexual) content.
  • In 2023 alone, there have been almost 600 anti-transgender bills introduced across the United States: 376 are active; 85 have passed; 125 have failed.  

While I often hear people talk about the exclusion and injustice happening across our country and around the world, we should not forget that anti-trans bills have been introduced in Connecticut this year, and numerous Connecticut towns have seen attempts at book banning in their libraries and schools.

I share all this today — on Transgender Day of Remembrance.  According to the Trans Murder Monitoring report, so far in 2023, 320 transgender and gender diverse people were murdered worldwide (94% of them trans or trans-feminine women, 80% of the victims were affected by racism).  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been tracking fatal violence against transgender people since 2013.  In 2023 so far, HRC shares that, in the United States, at least 25 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered through gun and interpersonal violence.

There are systems that continue to oppress historically excluded communities in Connecticut.  We as adults should not accept that the ways we were brought up in those systems are alright for our children to endure, just because we survived them.  Some of us did not survive.  Our children are growing up in different times, and many teachers are trying to do right by every child, valuing and affirming them as whole people.

We parents and caregivers need to think differently about how we partner with educators and with our children.  Our world is changing faster and faster, and our young people need and deserve better from us if we are truly invested in creating safe and supportive communities with them in which they can lead and thrive.

We need to listen for a change.  Then, go to the board of education meeting and fight alongside our children, not against them.

Jennifer Heikkila Díaz is a Member of the Connecticut Mirror Community Editorial Board.