Rainbow Family Tree

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Our invisible family - life at primary school

I have started to write about our families experience as a gay family sending our daughter to school for the first time and our experiences of being on the inside at a local high school where my partner teaches. The contrast between the two experiences is quite stark. At the high school our family is visible, celebrated even, but at the kindy and primary school level we are virtually invisible. This is our story as the invisible gay family at our local kindy and primary school.

I have to say we have been ‘lucky’, for want of a better term, when it comes to preschool care. Riley’s daycare centre had an out lesbian carer and a commitment to supporting and celebrating all kinds of families. It was a pleasure (well most of the time) to sit on, and eventually chair, the parent management committee and in the three years we were actively involved at the centre homophobia was never an issue.

I guess we started to get a sense of the invisibility of our family structure when we enrolled Riley in kindergarten. We felt like the outsiders among a sea of straight people. We were the only gay’s in the village. We attended a ‘get to know the families sausage sizzle’ and no one spoke to us, I didn’t get the sense that we were deliberately excluded but eye contact was rarely made and no-one tried to start up a conversation with us.

Within the kindy there was no homophobia or questioning of our family, it was a sort of acceptance but not quite. There were no picture books or class discussions that reflected our family but having said that offers to provide resources were not declined and accommodations were made for doubling up on mother’s day cards, discrete enquires were made about father’s day. A few kids asked Riley why she had two mums but only in that 4 and a half year old questioning kind of way.

Kindy is a funny place, a place where your child may or may not form some friendships and it’s over in a blink of an eye (6 months on average). Riley didn’t make any best buddies and kept her friendship group from daycare which meant there was no real opportunities for us to connect with other parents (connecting with straight parents is the topic of a whole other blog I should write!). Before we knew it we were talking to principals at ‘big schools’ and she was getting ready to ‘transition’ (fabulous term and no-one really got the humour of that statement but us).

So how do you choose a gay friendly primary school? Well I think the answer to that question is you don’t. You choose a school based on a range of different factors and a sense of whether a school is gay friendly is but one. You see, as we found out, gay families are pretty much invisible in primary schools, at least where we live anyway.

We went to two different schools to sus out the curriculum and staff and the reason we chose the school she is at is really about the educational style and approach, coupled with gut feelings. We questioned the principal about whether there were any other gay families at the school (or had been), apparently not, well not known to him anyway. We were assured that the school was an inclusive environment and homophobia wouldn’t be an issue. But with no other gay families we definitely felt like we were entering the unknown.


(Part 2 soon I promise)

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Comment by Melina MIchelle Magdalena on May 24, 2011 at 21:05

I like the way you have a two-edged view of visibility and invisibility in schools.

I hope that as Riley's education progresses, you feel more supported and visible, because it's something you'll probably have to help Riley feel comfortable about.

I became visible as a lesbian to my older children only when they were in senior high school (which is when I found a partner ;-) and I wondered for a long time whether any of their friends "knew" about me and us, but it was never something we were able to talk about comfortably. It has been interesting to see which friends of my children have continued to be friends, and which ones still come to our home. I speculate often, about their homophobia but it is just speculation and I don't really know whether those that have dropped off, or don't come to our home anymore, have other reasons for this.  

Looking forward to part 2! And I especially like your bits about how you chose her school.

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