Welcoming Schools - A project from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Gender Expansive Children and the Families who Love Them

By Kim Westheimer, December 13, 2012

This is becoming a familiar scenario: A parent lets her son put on pink nail polish or wear a princess costume or a  parent lets her daughter shave her head. The parent blogs about it, or in the case of the nail polish, publishes the photo in a popular clothing catalogue. Soon legions of people feel they have the right to weigh in on whether this parent is the best or worst parent ever.

Just this week a mom blogged about allowing her son to wear pink zebra striped shoes to preschool. When she explained that the shoes were really made for girls, her son said he didn’t care and that “ninjas can wear pink shoes too.”

Pink Shoes

These viral blogs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to families supporting their gender expansive children.

Our Welcoming Schools team has met these families in schools and conferences all over the United States, including Missouri, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Massachusetts and Nevada.  Here are snapshots of a few of them:

  • A mom who stopped struggling every morning to get her son to wear “boys clothes” to preschool after a preschool teacher said, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he’s fine here wearing whatever he wants.” And he was.
  • A dad who describes himself as a traditional Italian working class guy never imagined that his first-born daughter would become his first-born son.  Now he beams with pride when talking about his son and takes his message of acceptance to educators and school leaders.
  • A teacher who keeps a closet full of dolls for her nephew to play with because it brings him so much joy. She worries that she can’t convince the child’s mother that there is nothing wrong with boys playing with dolls.
  • A dad who bought a pair of pink high top sneakers to wear whenever he goes out with his son who likes to dress in pink.
  • A mother who recalls that one of her child’s first sentences was, “I boy.”  She did not know at the time that this was the start of her journey to accept that her child was her son, not her daughter. The mother now goes to schools with a PowerPoint presentation about accepting transgender children.

We all can learn from these racially and culturally diverse families. Most of us grew up with limited ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. These families, who only want their children to thrive, are expanding those notions for us.  

Children can be great teachers. Listen to the sister of the boy with the pink shoes.

After noting that the only response her brother got about his shoes at preschool were compliments, she wondered, “what does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers?”

It says, “It’s time for us to listen.”

The Welcoming Schools website features resources on gender and gender identity.

This Friday 20/20 will air a segment about Jazz, a transgender child, and her family who were featured in a powerful interview with Barbara Walters in 2007.

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