Coffee Chats expand LGBTQ+ home to school connection

Community. Connection. Support. One thing they all have in common is that they are essential in any circumstance, but especially when it comes to underrepresented identities one example being the LGBTQ community.

“There’s a team of us who are really looking to expand and kind of grow the connectedness of the queer families here at SPA,” Middle School Learning Specialist Jay Rainville-Squire said.

This team consists of Intercultural Life Program Specialist Alexis Irish and Director of Intercultural Life

Dr. Naomi Taylor, among others. A recent coffee chat was held for families of students who identify as LGBTQ. Discussion at the event centered around clubs and affinity groups offered at SPA: clubs Action for Gender Equality/Gender and Sexuality Alliance; affinity group Rainbow Connections and special interest group Lovelace Society.

In addition to affinity groups, “We talked about what curriculum is discussed in middle school specifically when it comes to LGBTQIA+ issues,” Rainville-Squire said.

At the end, there was time for parents to ask questions.

The coffee chat was prompted by climate survey data from the Strategic Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging sent last year. The survey focused on five parts, one being student experience.

Director of Intercultural Life Naomi Taylor examined the data and set goals: “When you break down student experience based on the data that we received from that survey, one population is our LGBTQIA+ students […] they had marked their experience being slightly lower than their counterparts, students that are not LGBTQ. So we wanted to be able to be responsive, to be able to bring families together in terms of support.

To Rainville-Squire, the journey of identity is an ongoing process that may find families in different stages of understanding and support.

“I think what’s difficult when it comes to issues of identity [is] we’re all at different places of our journey of awareness and self-actualization. And so there were parents who came to this meeting who are years into their journey and have supported their kids since they were in elementary school and feel really comfortable…and then there are people who are just for the first time grappling with the issue of identity. So I think families were coming there for very different reasons.”

No matter the stage in the journey, Hannah Brass insists support from family members is crucial. She is the group leader for the GSA/AGE club in the upper school.

“Students need to see that their families are supportive of their identities. Other parents who aren’t accepting also need to see that being queer isn’t bad or unusual, so they should support their kids,” Brass said. They believe that events such as these, which seek to bridge the gap between school and home life, help students who want to be out at school to become “more visible and active around campus,” which in turn helps foster acceptance.

The idea of bridging the gap was an important objective for this event, particularly for Taylor, who believes that effort is required from all areas of a student’s life to help them feel safe expressing their identity in all environments.

“It really is a school, student, parent, community effort,” she said. “Isolation… prevents a strong partnership. It prevents the knowledge and wisdom of the whole group to be able to support as needed.

So I think parents as partners is crucial because then students don’t feel like they have to toggle between one identity or space at home and at school.”

The first two chats took place in February and March, with a goal of connecting the group regularly in the spring.