By Graciela Slesaransky-Poe
Associate Professor of Special Education
Over the years, I felt very proud to have been recognized for my professional contributions to the field of inclusive education. This past weekend, the recognition was, not only as an educator, but also as a mom. And it felt great.
Five years ago, Judy Sheppard, Matthew Sheppard’s mom, came to Arcadia as a Distinguished Speaker and made a call to “come out.” Her call made sense to me. The more we are out, the more people will understand that we all live, learn, work, play, and worship with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people, their parents, families, and friends. I thought that, unfortunately, some parents come out in memory of their children. I decided that, instead, I would be outspoken, public, and affirming—my way of “coming out”—in celebration and honor of my child and the many children we know, so that they can enjoy happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
Working in the field of special education, while supporting families and schools create more inclusive educational communities, I’ve learned directly from many passionate and committed moms and dads how to advocate for their children. I’ve witnessed the courage, determination, and leadership these parents exercise as they create a better world for their loved ones. This was my turn to apply what I learned. I did that by further expanding my teaching and service to pre-service and in-service educators on creating inclusive and welcoming school communities to embrace children who have gender variant interests and expressions, LGBTQ families and educators.
I was invited to be part of the National Advisory Council for Welcoming Schools (www.welcomingschools.org), a program of the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org), and have been working with many local and regional schools to create welcoming and safe spaces for children, families, and educators to be who they are. My child’s own school is a wonderful example of what is possible, as illustrated in the attached video.
So, this past weekend, during the 2011 Human Rights Campaign Dinner at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., my family was honored moments before President Barack Obama took the stage. The Welcoming Schools video was shown, followed by my brief remarks. As I said in front of the 3,000 people in attendance: “My family went back and forth discussing whether it would be ok to share our personal story in public. We all agreed to be here, because we know that stories like ours carry an important message for other families—that children can be who they are, and be happy, be loved, and fully embraced. Though I am feeling a bit vulnerable, I am glad we took the risk, and I am deeply moved by the love we received from this community.” I added that: “The work of HRC is very important to me. Welcoming Schools is improving the well-being of students across this country. It is preparing the next generation to embrace and celebrate diversity, and to respect themselves and each other.”
Knowing what a powerful influence kids have on one another, I was pleased to introduce Greyson Chance, a young voice with a positive message giving hope to youth through his extraordinary musical talent. Greyson Chance was discovered on the Internet, and was signed by Ellen DeGeneres to her music label, where he just released his first CD, called Hold On ‘Till the Night. He wrote the song “Purple Sky” to inspire kids when they are feeling alone and sad. It’s his gift of hope to young people everywhere.