Cathy Renna

Back to school...

Filed By Cathy Renna | September 03, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: Bill Konigsberg, gender, GLSEN, Groundspark, GSA, If You Believe in Mermaids Don't Tell, LGBT youth, Out of the Pocket, Renna Communications, school, sports

This week, millions of kids and young adults will stream back to school. It is a perennial media story usually focusing on the cost of supplies. Sadly, the stories of the challenges so many students face did not make it into the news - the bullying, teasing and other challenges for those who are "different."

Yesterday, I watched my nearly three year old daughter meet her first teacher, explore a new environment called "the classroom," and now await with both pride and trepidation as she begins pre-school early next week. But it's not her I worry about this week. We found an accepting school with other LGBT parents and look forward to the beginning of my child's formal education (it is a Montessori school after all). The kids I worry about are the LGBT kids, the gender-non conforming kids and the kids with LGBT parents who are not in the same situation.

The reality is that most kids who fit in these categories are not so excited about school. They are returning to an uncomfortable, sometimes hostile environment. And the schools themselves don't have the tools to handle the kind of atmosphere queer and non-gender conforming kids, as well as kids with LGBT parents, have to live with every day. Teachers do not confront anti-gay bullying - some even foster it themselves - and administrators see the problem as "kids being kids."

However, the news isn't all bad. Groups like GLSEN, Groundspark and the GSA Network are all trying to promote better policies in schools, the formation of gay-straight alliances and provide training and resources to educators at all levels to deal with harassment and bullying.

We have the pleasure here at Renna Communications to be working on two new resources in an area that sorely needs them - fiction for tweens, teens and their parents. Two very different stories that will resonate with many of us and should be required in every middle school and high school library in this country.

First, we have "If You Believe in Mermaids, Don't Tell." Thirteen year old Todd Winslow is a good kid trying to "fit in" with his classmates and campmates over the summer. But he knows inside he is different - wishing he could express himself in the way he wants. Read: fabulous! I won't give away too much, but he does secretly shoplift a Barbie doll and hides it in his clarinet case. And then there is the mermaid thing. The joy of this book is that is feels so real - it is an experience that many of us share, no matter what side of the gender boundaries we crossed.

The other book is written by a journalist, and person I have admired for a long time and am thrilled to be working with - Bill Konigsberg. As a journalist who came out in his ESPN column and someone who has been a pioneer in covering LGBT issues and sports, it should be no surprise that he has written a fantastic coming of age tale about a gay high school quarterback who is outed and has to deal with the aftermath of that - in addition to all the other pressures of growing up.

There a few real-life examples that Bill has drawn on here that you will recognize, and it is one of those books you read and think: movie. Hopefully someone will have the guts to make that movie someday. "Out of the Pocket" comes out September 18th and is published by Dutton, so you can find it soon in your local LGBT bookstore or order it online. As a bonus, I learned a bit about football, since I do go against stereotypes in some ways myself.

It amazes me that there are not more resources for K-12 students, these two books are great additions to any library. Now all we need is a book about a non-gender conforming teenage lesbian who struggles in school but later finds acceptance with her family and friends. I feel a fictional biography coming on.

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I love how you talk about worrying about your three year old daughter, Cathy... It's endearing. Worry is an necessary prerequisite for parenting isn't it?
Although I realize schools still aren't an ideal environment for LGBT kids even today, it is heartening to know that some improvment has taken place. The only way I found anything on the subject of homosexuality in school was either glossed over in psychology books, or through diligent research of archived periodicals. I was lucky enough to be one of the few who found the books I needed in local bookstores. Reading -- knowledge that I wasn't alone and different didn't necessarily mean "bad" -- was the best remedy to an otherwise dismal school experience.
I suspect that with a dedicated and loving parent such as yourself, your daughter's going to be way ahead of the curve.

I really want to read the Mermaids book. It sounds like an absolutely endearing tale. Do you have a copy? If so, I'd be happy to read it and review it for the site.

The star quarterback is gay and has a huge crush on the hunky baseball player (yum)...where were these books 15 years ago?! In my day we had to pick out the homoerotic themes in A Separate Place and The Color Purple ;-)

I really want to read that mermaids book too. book-buying is the first thing I'm doing on my next trip to the US.

Both of these books sound really cute.