You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 181. I got to hang out with Steve Disselhorst to talk about diversity and inclusion in kids schools, Steve has done work around diversity and inclusion for years and was such a joy to hang out with. He is a dad to two tiny humans and has shared in this interview with me what he has done to support his kiddos schools with diversifying their bookshelves or making sure that their curriculum is inclusive. There's so many little gems in here and so much that you can bring to your kiddos school so that we're making sure that their education and what they're exposed to at school is inclusive of all folks. It was so fun to hang out with Steve. And I'm so jazzed to share this interview with you so that you can go into the new school year with tools in your toolbox. All right, folks, let's dive in.
Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, Alyssa Blask Campbell.
Hey everyone. Welcome back to Voices of Your Village, today I get to hang out with Steve Disselhorst and we're going to chat about cultivating a culture of inclusivity at your child's School. Hey Steve, how you doing?
I'm great. Thank you for having me today. Excited to be here.
Yeah, I'm jazzed to hang with you. Can you share with our village a bit about like your background and kind of what brought you to this work?
Yeah, so I'm a gay dad. I have two adopted children. Five and my daughter will be nine in April and so we are a multiracial family and our children have many differences. So they have two dads, they are ethnically, they're different and we have a lot of differences. And so for our children and how they show up in school, we would like to support them and their efforts to make sure that their differences aren't seen in a negative light. And they're really seen in a positive light and so that that's that's how I've come to the work.
Yeah that's awesome. And so important, my husband when he was in elementary school six, seven years old, his mom and dad got divorced and his mom remarried a woman. And so he was navigating this as really one of the only kids in his school that he knew that had two moms. And so I've just seen also decades ago now, but have seen like a little bit of what that journey was like for him and I think your work is so vital in making sure that there isn't a centered culture in whatever that is. And that there isn't that this is the norm and these are the others. So thanks.
For sure. So when like entering into school your daughter is your oldest, yes?
Entering into school with your daughter. What was your experience personally in like navigating the culture at your, at her school as a queer parent.
Yeah, so great question. I think are both of our kids were in daycare prior to joining, to going to school. And so we started to see, so the daycare my daughter was in was at the company I worked at. I was very fortunate to work in a company that actually had an on-site daycare that was managed by Bright Horizons. And so it was, it was a great day care, but we started to see, early on that. You know, the daycare was set up in a really hetero hetero normative way. And that there was a lot of focus around, you know, heterosexual couples and a lot of the education and schooling was in that way and it was it was not discriminatory, but it wasn't mindful of difference. And so we started to see that pretty early on, we had a couple of sort of things that popped up in her day care that were concerning. And so we, you know, I started to lead an effort to educate that specific day care site, which had a large number of kids. I think they had about 750 kids there, and so, I started to lead an effort with the leadership at that daycare, to really help educate them on families of difference. And then the, the site sort of site manager who is part of Bright Horizons, in the larger organization started, to kind of carry, that workouts to, for a regional perspective. So that was the first introduction. So I had a had, an idea of what we were going into, but what was funny was that I sort of because of the efforts that the daycare got sort of lulled into complacency, because they were very interested in supporting the kids and we did a number of things at the daycare to make the kids feel in, our family, feel included. And then when my daughter started kindergarten, I didn't really make any, you know, I was we were up front when we spoke with her kindergarten teacher that we are same-sex family and but we didn't go beyond that, and then at the end of, you know, her first year in kindergarten came Mother's Day and Mother's Day in our houses is is a challenging day for for our daughter and in preschool and kindergarten Mother's Day starts about three weeks before because there's a lot of prep, there's a lot of decorating and cards and which is, you know, wonderful, I believe in supporting and celebrating Mother's. But at the same time for our family with two dads, it's a challenging time it brings up a lot of questions for our daughter and so I saw that and I was like oh my God, I forgot we went through this before. You know at the preschool we went through this and so so then I came up with a plan, sort of to move forward with with a broader plan across the school.
Yeah. Can we chat about that? Real quick, like what like what is, I was just having this conversation. One of my best friends here is non-binary and as a parent and we were chatting about like mothers and fathers day and they were like yeah I don't know what the solution is but I don't feel like I fit into either of them and so we were brainstorming, like what can this look like as we're moving forward with inclusivity. What did you guys navigate with Mother's Day? Like what kind of I guess I'm curious from the teacher perspective. What was the approach?
Yeah. So it's a great question. I think the irony of the timing of Mother's Day and Father's Day, Mother's Day happens during the school years. Father's Day happens in many cases during the summer. So so while we, you know, during the summer, we would be by ourselves as a family. So the way we navigated, this was really after the kindergarten where we had kind of forgotten, when we started, when our daughter started first grade, we spent a fair, we actually set up a, you know, a parent-teacher conference in advance of her starting first grade. And were very, you know, explicit around, you know, our family is different and we want to ensure that our daughter feels included. And with that, we would like to provide you with some ideas around books that you may be able to include and and they were very open to it. And so we actually every year as a part of our you know, donation to the school. We donate to the library and we give them a list of recommended books. And then often we'll do is buy books for each classroom that are inclusive of queer families. And within those books, there are, you know, non-binary and also young children that are transitioning. We know that also the work that I'm doing now is also is for my family, but it's more inclusive of the broader community because we are seeing children transition at a much earlier age and we're also seeing kids come out at a much earlier age. So the work that we need to do is really start very young in creating a safe space, for kids to come out and so families like ours, where our kids are different. But also for the children that are in the schools that are start to identify themselves as different early on creating that space.
Yeah, that's rad here for that. For sure. So, books are an awesome tool for this. And I'm wondering like with I think so much of this is it's it's are like subconscious programming and we're not mindful of it. So often, right that like oh yeah we just celebrate Mother's Day and school. I taught in early childhood for a long time and so many of those things I think we're just like that's just what you did. And without questioning like, what are these patterns? What are these habits that were navigating? What are we promoting? I guess celebrating and then not celebrating, bringing awareness to that. I think is such a huge first step, when so many of us, are operating from this autopilot of whatever our cultural context was.
So when you were chatting about like, what's the plan for Mother's Day? What, did you do like a caregiver's day? Like, how did y'all navigate that with the school?
Yeah, it's a great question. We did it, we didn't we didn't try to change the tradition and you know, it's funny. I was on a another interview on this topic. And, you know, I have a mother, my daughter has a mother, you know, women bring children into the world in my view, it's important that we honor and celebrate them. So I am supportive of Mother's Day. It was really what we did was really around creating an inclusive platform for when Mother's Day, is celebrated creating a platform. And what I mean by that is just as the kids are doing exercises around creating cards and gifts that it be inclusive of whoever is the parent, whether it's, another Dad, or it's a Grandmother, or it's an Aunt or Uncle, because we know many families are different, right? And that kids are raised by a number of different people. So we really focused on how do we create an inclusive environment for the kids could celebrate who the person they would consider as, as you know, that that maternal figure for them.
Yeah, that's awesome. I dig that. I think it's a nice way then to also be able to include folks like birth moms and adoptive moms and foster moms and yeah.
Exactly. Right. It's exact, and it's so our daughter has a relationship with her birth mom and so we are during that time, she, both of our children are adopted and they we know where their birth mothers are. So we do celebrate them and we celebrate them every day in our lives. We talk about them every day in our lives. So, because they brought a, they brought them into our family so we definitely talked about them and for Mother's Day, you know, will make cards for them in advance and we'll send, you know, pictures of them and where they're at. And so yeah. So it's important that we do celebrate that.
yeah, I love that. I think that's healthy for development. We have a whole series. We interviewed an adoptive parent of birth, mom, and foster parent and an adoptee and like looked at like a whole, it was a 4 part series on like different points of view of this kind. I learned a lot and a lot. So, we're there, when you're looking at like potential areas of growth, overall, from your experience, with both kiddos now, navigating childcare and then in school, you know, you noted books and then like cultural traditions. Are there other things that you're like, hey, if you wanted to be an advocate in your child's school, like here, are things that we commonly, see that you can kick start with beyond those.
Yes, I think one of the big things that we have done is that most kids that are in preschool as well as in, you know, kindergarten and even first grade, I think they stopped at around second grade, but they have family of the week, right? So they celebrate, you know, the family, each kid gets to celebrate their family and they do during circle time, they sit down and they talk about their family. And so, one of the things that I always do is I'll talk to the teacher in advance and I, we'll talk to them about how she or he is going to talk about their family. And what I asked the teacher to do is I ask the teacher to be the one to talk about families that are different. So it's very important that the, the leadership and in the classroom, the leadership is the teacher, that the teacher normalizes the family, and it takes away any type of burden from the child, to be the one that's actually, you know, realizing. So, during that week, or the week before, we ask that the teacher will do some of the books that we potentially brought in to start reading about different families. So that when our kiddos are going up and talking about their families, they've already had the kids in the classroom. I've already heard about families that have, you know, two Dads or two Moms, or Grandma raising them and so that when she gets up and talks about her family, it's like, oh, we heard about that. Oh, this is so cool. Right? Like so that's one of the big things. And so it's interesting because each teacher is in a different place, right? And so the approach that I've taken is I've taken the approach of starting at the teacher level and then going up to the principal level and then we've actually I've actually gone up to the superintendent level. Overall because my goal is, you know, protect and serve my family, but I'm not the only family. And so I'm sitting there thinking about where can we have the larger impact and also it's just you know how do we get all the teachers thinking about this, right? And so so that's sort of the approach that we've used. And, you know, it's been, I would say it's been pretty effective folks want to do the right thing that are. I mean, what I've seen in education is people want to do the right thing and so, you know, they may have blind spots but they're pretty open when they're they don't feel threatened, right? They're pretty open to new ideas. So yeah, it's been great and the superintendent of our daughters and our sons public school. You know, she is a woman of color, African-American superintendent, amazing woman. And so I brought in, you know, how can we create an lgbtq inclusive curriculum and then she's talking about a bigger equity piece. So then it was like, how do we move this up and create this umbrella for all people. And so we actually started to work together then on sort of what is that look like? And she's been doing, they've been doing for me since the kids are home now I've had to take a little step back from being so engaged on it but they have continued forward on their their equity policy for the district.
Dreamy, that's so nice. Have you found folks along this journey in advocating for your kids and for inclusivity across the board who weren't receptive of, who were like this doesn't feel comfortable for me again coming from that place of like, we all learn social programming and biases that were coming to the table with. And I mean, I just feel like you're in such a tough spot of like carrying the burden of inclusivity with you as well. And yeah, I it's so hard to do bias work and like, so I think walking in and saying like I'm going to support you through bias work is really challenging to do. Have you had to navigate that at all?
I would say. So, you know, we live in a bubble, right? So, we live in the Bay Area, we don't live in San Francisco. We live in the suburbs and the suburbs, we live in, where the were my kids, go to school, the schools got like probably 600 kids we're one of the only lgbtq families in that school. So there is definitely a cultural barrier, but being in the Bay Area, we don't face a lot of resistance when we bring forward. It's mostly that people are like I hadn't thought about that right now, and they're there in most cases pretty receptive, with one teacher I they would never ever be explicit about, but I there was something, there was a wall and I couldn't quite I couldn't quite figure out if it was a personality thing or if it was this you know, queer family thing and I never really put my thumb on it to be to be to be honest. But she would agree to do, you know, the things that we asked, and, but in general, folks have been incredibly gracious and willing to try to do the work.
That's awesome. That's so rad, I think, yeah, I think across the board in education and maybe again, it's because I live in a bubble here to in Burlington Vermont and but that in my experience yeah it has been mostly folks being like, Oh yeah, this just is new to me, but I'm down. I'm down to explore it.
And in California, we actually they passed a law. It's called the fair Education Act, and it's stands for fair, accurate accurate inclusive, and respectful, and it's really to bring in lgbtq history into the classroom and really starting at an early age. So there is a law in place. And so, so when you go in and you if you do get resistance, there is a law on the books in California. Now while it isn't funded by the State Department of Education, there isn't funding around it. That's where we oftentimes we'll get the resistance is that there's not funding to implement. But because of California's law, what we've seen is that actually the two largest textbook markets in the US are, California and Texas. So the textbooks have are being adapted for the nation. Based on these two states in California is very progressive. And we know in Texas, we, there are obviously progressive pockets but from a state perspective. So the these textbook companies have had to face this dilemma around, Texas was pushing back Board of Education, on LGBT inclusive history and California was all in. And so you'll start to see these books are going to trickle across because they write these books for, you know, publication across the nation. So we'll start to see more of those books come into the classroom and so, you know, teachers can then and, you know, various different places gloss over them. Right. We all have a choice of how we want to do our curriculum in the classroom, but they will be there.
That's awesome. Oh, it's so interesting to also, just look at that dichotomy of the politics between the two states, you know, like wild that it's Texas and California, two opposite ends of the spectrum there. That's so interesting. Also, really cool California man, I feel so much love for Californians. So anyways, I have shared about this on here before but Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, your Surgeon General is like, one of my favorite humans and one of my dream guests, her focus on ACES and work around kids who I guess like she goes up stream, you know, and I feel like so much of that happens in California where y'all are going upstream and that's what I'm here for.
Yeah. So I know her.
Get out of here!
Has she been on your show?
No. Can you please connect me? Because it's like, one of my dream guests.
I used to work at a company called Genentech. She did a partnership with Genentech for basically, for ACES. So she came and spoke at the company. I've met her, don't know her well, but, you know, I have a son who's came through the foster program. And he, I learned about ACES, because when we, when he came into our home early on, you know, we got him at about five months. And he the first year, year and a half, he was, you know, he was he was struggling and that primary care physician was kind of like maybe it's this and maybe it's this and I was like, wait a minute. And so I started to do some research and actually tried, she has a clinic in bayview-hunters point for kids and we were considering bringing them to that clinic just so that he could get an ACE score. So I you know, I love her work. I actually have her book on my nightstand, she's amazing, and now she's our Surgeon General. Right? So it's just just incredible. Yeah.
Yeah it's nice to have. I feel like a culture of folks who are working toward that goal of inclusivity, and yeah, I hope that we can model that across the board in other states as well. That's rad. When you are like initiating the conversations of connecting, and collaborating and contacting schools and a lot of our folks are in early childhood here as well. So looking at that childcare and preschool range through that Elementary Ed for sure. But a lot of folks here in early childhood when you're initiating that conversation what are some like hot tips for folks who are like oh I want to bring a culture of inclusivity into my child's classroom. I think what I hope is that this doesn't always fall on queer parents, or on black parents or to say, like I have to carry the burden of inclusivity but instead that white folks and hetero couples can say, I want my kid to be exposed to this. I want them to understand differences and not as othered. And so if folks are walking into this what are some like key tips for just like even initiating that conversation.
I mean, I think one of the things, you know, you know, when you're touring schools, sometimes you know, like our son went into about two years ago when into, he had been at an at home daycare and then was going into more of a formal sort of preschool you know, and we went around to a few that were in the neighborhood. And so I came up with a series of, you know, sort of questions and so one of the things is, do you have a equity policy like, really high level or what is your Equity policy at your school or at your daycare? And, you know, depending on the size of the daycare or the school, if you're, if you're part of going. If your kids going to a Bright Horizons, they're thinking about these things, right? And if they're in a smaller daycare, they're probably under resourced and not thinking about them, but they're open to it. So, that's where I really started as like, then, I'll ask questions around, like, do you have, you know, an equity inclusive curriculum, hmm? Right. Like, and then then, if they're kind of like scratching their heads, I talk about like what's your non-discrimination policy? What's your, you know, and depending on like is there inclusivity in your forms and policies for for non-binary, for lgbtq for others? And then really like who's responsible for teaching and educating your teachers and administrators about racial Equity issues, LGBT Equity issues and like what are you thinking and doing about it. So I'll start with those questions and slowly turn it around and they're, oh my God. What is this guy doing right?
There like, I lost you with so many terms. Yeah, totally.
I mean, we have to advocate for change.
We, and there's a lot of people that want to make the world a better place. So yeah, these are the things we can do.
Yeah, I think those are rad questions. We have a Seed Certification program through Seed and it's been really cool to see teacher's so that it's like eight workshops from different experts in early childhood and to see teachers like going through it then they have to do an assessment after each workshop and it's reflective practice assessment. So the questions you would have to have watch the workshop to be able to answer the question. But it's not like multiple choice that you need to write some things for us and it's been really fun to, we have one on self-awareness and bias, one on connecting with families. It's really focused on diversity. And one on Anti-biased curriculum for anti-racist classrooms and reading the responses from teachers for those has been awesome because you're right. So many in these schools are across the u.s. like it's it's a virtual program. And so we as we're like pulling them in its folks in all different pockets, schools in Alabama, schools in Colorado Etc. And it's been so cool to read the responses of folks that you're right are like open to this, and they're just like, man this challenge just what I've been doing. I've been running on autopilot I haven't thought of this or we have an all white school and I hadn't thought about ways that I can be doing this work with my all white children, right? That I think so often when we're looking at inclusivity, it is being initiated by folks, who already feel othered, feel marginalized. And I'm really hoping we can move in a direction or we can say, like there doesn't have to be a black kid at this school for us to be teaching anti racism. In fact, there shouldn't have to be right and so that I think that's really helpful for folks to be able to be asking and to be challenging to be questioning especially if you find yourself in like a rural place that maybe is like white and Christian and hetero largely or whatever that we are still asking these questions and challenging these systems in those spaces too.
Yeah. And I would just say like, you know, For me, I do diversity equity and inclusion consulting, as well as leadership coaching. And one of my sort of my leadership coaching focus areas is on underrepresented communities and then leaders who are working at creating more inclusive cultures, so I'm a little bit ahead of the curve, but there are just, you don't have to be super knowledgeable. There are just some open-ended questions and then you can sort of see the response. The other thing that in environments that are a little bit less welcoming you know, there's a bunch of different avenues you can take. First of all, you start with your teacher, you go to the principal, you go to the superintendent and then if that doesn't work, these are public meetings. You go to the Board of Education, you raise your darn hand when they say, is there, any comment from the floor and you start to ask? What is your policies? What are you doing? And I'll tell you in this day and age after George Floyd's murder last year. People are turning their heads and they are going to do the work to find the answers and so those are some things and then if you get further push back, go to your board of education for the state or go to a Human Rights Commission for the county wherever you're at, you can join the PTA. You can start to build allyship, right? Like some of this is about creating allyship so you can step in and be the advocate and the leader in this. But you can also cause you'll find other people in the community that agree with you that are like, we need to work on this and then you just start to build ally's across to start to make that change. Once there's a big big enough voice, right? It's taken more seriously.
Totally. I love it. And I think you're absolutely right that like now it's being paid attention to in a way that it was brushed under the rug before and easily brushed under the rug, right? Like and it's about, it's about time that we're paying attention, Rad Rad, do you have anything, resources that you would point, folks, to outside of this books that are whether it's I'm thinking not necessarily kids books, although you can toss some of those out there but books or tools or resources, websites, things organizations that folks might find helpful in navigating this.
Yes. So specifically for lgbtq families, there's a national organization called Family Equality and they do work across the entire United States. They also have a policy arm that's based in Washington DC that works on policies and working towards creating equality for lgbtq families are focused on legislation around surrogacy rights, depending on the, the state, as well as they're working on, you know, obviously adoption rights, right? And so, you know, lgbtq people adopt at, like, 7 to 1 the ratio Heterosexual families. So lgbtq people are bringing a lot of children out of the Foster system into their homes. And so, there's work by Family Equality, relative to that, and they work on education as well. In California we have an organization. I used to sit on the board for it. It's called Our Family Coalition and they're focused on, and there's a ton of resources on our family coalition's website specific to LGBT inclusive education as well as Family Equality Council. HRC also has a program called welcoming schools. The Human Rights Campaign which is a National lgbtq Organization focused on all human rights for lgbtq people but they also have a welcoming schools program that folks can tap into. And then as far as racial Equity, I would check out the Center for Racial Justice in Education. The NAACP does a lot of work as well. And then I would suggest folks look into their local communities and check to see, you know, who's the leading organization in that Community where they can find resources relative to racial equity, racial justice in the schools.
Sweet thank you for those resources. We will link everything in the transcript. So if folks are on the go, you can't jot that down, you can always go to voicesofyourvillage.com and check the transcript. Steve, what do you want to leave our folks with today?
What do I want to leave them with? Well, I love your oh my God, I love your daily posts on Instagram. If you're not following on Instagram, follow on Instagram because you know as parents we are doing a lot of things and while we have best intention we often don't do as well as we can and those daily reminders are so helpful.
Yesterday I post one that I knew, it's every single time it's triggering for folks. And I sent it my like right-hand woman Rachel at work. I sent her like a gif of this person like, peeking from behind a log. I was like, I just posted something that I know is going to be triggering and I want to look at comments and I don't want to look at comments at the same time. Yeah, we get down and dirty over on Instagram.
It's really good stuff. So thanks, I'm putting in a plug for yourself but it's great. So, I mean, I think the plug for, you know, I wrote a book, it's titled Determined to be Dad. It's a memoir. It's about my journey of coming out and and then becoming a parent through the adoption process and, you know, just really sort of focuses in on the internal barriers that I faced growing up in a very heteronormative environment and then the challenges that I faced trying to create my family, right? So I'm for, you know, for lgbtq folks out there, it's also really intersects with heterosexual folks that are really struggling with fertility issues and sort of starting to think about are there different avenues for me to, you know, create a family? I think that was that's a important part of the book that I talked about is that intersection. Like, and then also for, for, you know, parents that are starting to, you know, experience their children as being lgbtq for the parents, sometimes there's loss, and that identity of, you know, having a child that they think is heterosexual. And so, the book will help folks in that journey of like, you know, I talk about my parents journey, right? Like around how they struggled with it in the beginning, and then became, you know, obviously loving and wonderful about it. So, so that would be the plug that I would have. I'm also, I do coaching for lgbtq people looking at creating families and sort of helping them kind of go through the questions around, like, what what are their values? What's important about family to them and then sort of helping them through the process.
Where can folks access the coaching?
Yeah. So my website is stevedisselhorst.com and it's under my services section. So it's my last name is, it'll be on that. It'll be a post there, but there's not many of me. So you can find some stevedisselhorst.com and then I'm obviously on all the social media platforms, as well. Same, same name, same name, it's straight forward.
Rad, we'll link all that jazz, one thing that I'm hoping to see a shift in that is like one of my pet peeves, is the assumption of heterosexuality until proven otherwise, you know, that like it starts A: so young and that like you, even the idea that like you have to come out, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this you know that like there's this assumption, my child is straight until they come out to me or share otherwise and I would challenge parents on that.
Yeah, I mean this is such a, it's such an important like topic, right? Like I hear you my son, like I could see when he went into this, this more formalized preschool sort of a shift in his, you know, a shift away from being more like connected and physical and in it was like you could just see him starting to be in these with a lot of boys and like this sort of switching and, you know, moving into this more competitive and and so it's really, you know, sort of fascinating like how early that happens. I was really shocked. And so, yeah, gender identity, right? Like that starts at an early age and then and then, you know, sexual orientation, right? And so yeah, I think that would be would be a Utopia right, totally. There was not a neat, you know, sort of come out, it just, you just, are you just are. Yeah.
Totally. I and if folks want to dive more into gender identity, we, I interviewed Trystan Reese forever ago. Episode 13, one of my very first ones on the podcast. We dove into gender identity if people want to dive into that.
Yeah, I know him.
His story is amazing, he. Yeah, he's got a book coming out this year. I think.
Yeah. Yeah, he's been knee-deep in writing for sure. Yeah, rad awesome, Steve, thanks so much for hanging out with me. This is awesome and I hope folks can pull some of these tools to bring into their kids school, their kids, Child Care Etc.
Great yep. Feel free to reach out if you have questions. Thank you.
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