Feature

 Gay- and lesbian-headed households are reported in nearly every U.S. county, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet every day countless children-including those with same-sex parents and those who may question their own sexual orientation-experience bullying and name-calling because they're deemed "different."

In an effort to combat this statistic, psychologist Peter Goldblum, PhD, MPH-a pioneer in the development of mental health programs for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community-has partnered with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the San Francisco Unified School District to help elementary schools promote respect and acceptance of diversity.

"Actual or perceived sexual orientation is one of the most common reasons that students are harassed by their peers, second only to physical appearance," he notes.

Goldblum is evaluating HRC's newly developed Welcoming Schools Guide, which helps schools address family diversity, gender stereotypes, name-calling and bullying. Teachers and administrators receive training on how to respond to typical student questions-about what gay means or how two men can have children, for example-and set a positive, inclusive tone for students from all kinds of families, says Goldblum.

Since the early 1990s, the San Francisco school district has integrated counseling for LGBTQ youths and their families, as well as an LGBTQ-focused curriculum for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Professional development for teachers is also offered through the district's Support Services for Gay and Lesbian Youth program, says the program's director, Kevin Gogin.

"The piloting of the HRC curriculum is to see if it will work with existing curriculum to address LGBTQ issues in elementary schools," he says.

Goldblum, who directs the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology's (PGSP) Center for LGBTQ Evidence-based Applied Research, is evaluating the additional HRC program's effectiveness at three San Francisco elementary schools. Throughout this school year, under Goldblum's direction, a group of PGSP professors, students and community psychologists will conduct interviews and focus groups with teachers, parents and administrators at the schools in an effort to understand their perceptions of the project and barriers to its success, such as the ways in which students respond to specific lesson plans.

He'll also be observing classroom interactions to get a sense of student engagement with the curriculum and will integrate this qualitative information with findings from a concurrent LGBTQ quantitative school climate survey. The survey was developed and conducted at nine test schools by Laura Szalacha, EdD, professor of public health, mental health and administrative nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to measure the program's outcomes. The hope is that HRC will expand the curriculum to all elementary schools in San Francisco by September 2009, and that as more schools focus on these diversity lessons, the prevailing norm will be one of respect for all students, says Goldblum.

"We're really trying to change the overall atmosphere in elementary schools," he says.