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Seattle School District Introduces Lessons On Gender Identity For Elementary School Kids

Ashley Gross
Lisa Love, manager of health education for Seattle Public Schools, shows two of the books the district will use to help elementary school children understand issues of gender identity.

 (Updated at 2:30 pm, Nov. 15, 2017, to correct that schools are not required to inform parents before the books and lessons will be used in class.)

The Seattle school district is introducing books and short lessons to teach kids in kindergarten through fifth grade that there are many ways to express gender. District officials said it’s in response to a growing need and in line with updated state health education standards.

The district put together a task force of parents, teachers, community members and administrators to find grade-appropriate books that address issues that have increasingly been popping up in school organically.

For kindergarten, there’s a book called Introducing Teddy. In it, a bear named Thomas is sad and finally tells a friend, “I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.” Thomas asks to be called Tilly instead. The friend, Errol, says that he doesn’t care and that “what matters is that you are my friend.”

“We’re not talking about body parts. We’re not talking about sex. We’re not talking about anything that would put kids in an uncomfortable position to have to disclose,” said Lisa Love, manager of health education for Seattle Public Schools. “Instead, we’re talking about how people are behaving and how we treat them, and that’s sort of a universal value that we can share of being kind and supportive of one another.”

Love said the number of calls she gets about supporting transgender or gender fluid kids in the classroom has tripled in the past five years.

Tiffany Kelly was part of the task force that chose the books. She has a transgender son who went to kindergarten as a female but was miserable.

“He was able to let us know that he really wanted to start first grade with `he’ and `him’ pronouns and being recognized as a boy and it was such a gift to see how happy he was,” Kelly said. “It was like he was a different person. It really was.”

Jeff McHegg is another parent and task force member. He said the aim of the books and lessons is to make sure all kids feel accepted at school.

“There’s gender nonconforming kids in school right now and they’ve been in school since schools have been around and they’re going to be there in the future, and that’s what we’re trying to do is recognize them, provide a safe environment for them and go on from there,” he said.

The school district is piloting the books and lessons in 12 elementary schools over the next month, and the schools may choose to send parents information and web resources ahead of time, but are not required to notify parents. Then the district will gather feedback, make tweaks and introduce the books and lessons to other elementary schools in January. 

Love said that parents who object to having their kids take part can opt them out of the lesson, but she emphasized that the books help reinforce the importance of kindness and respect for everyone. 

Here are links to more resources on gender identity:

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.