On January 11, Bank Street School for Children welcomed national LGBTQIA+ parenting activist and author Jodie Patterson, SFC ’84, who spent a day on campus with students, families, and educators.
In the morning, Patterson engaged students at the Upper School assembly around her personal experiences as a mother and activist for her transgender child and discussed themes from her book, Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope. She invited children to think about the love that families share with each other and to recognize the importance of tough dialogue sessions, which she calls “The Lab,” for open conversations and even disagreements.
In her visits to the first grade (6/7s) classrooms, Patterson pulled from her own memories and personal experiences at Bank Street, illustrating the wonder and curiosity that the school nurtures. She invited children to ask questions while reading her book, observing how openly they talked about her son’s trans experience and how they did not question him being a boy. She noticed most children wanted to learn more about the things Penelope liked, such as karate, pancakes, and his relationships with his brothers and sisters.
At the Middle School assembly, Patterson invited students to think about and share the times in their lives when they have not felt supported or affirmed, how that felt, and who has helped them through those moments. She reminded students how important it is to be an ally for people who feel unsupported.
Doug Knecht, Dean of Children’s Programs and Head of the School for Children, said, “We were so pleased to welcome Jodie back to Bank Street to engage with our students across the 6/7s through 9/10s. The children had a chance to ask her questions, and the discussion was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from her and feel proud of the ways our inclusive classrooms are teaching everyone to embrace each person’s gender identity.”
Following her book signing in the lobby, Patterson led a group discussion with parents and educators around larger societal issues, including the growing visibility of gender identity amid the concurrent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence. She spoke about the importance of challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes, recognizing and supporting all gender identities, and creating more inclusive spaces.
In the discussion with adults, Patterson said, “The LGBTQ community is one of our fastest growing constituencies One out of every five Gen Z are LGBTQ and one in four high school students identify as LGBT. There’s a higher sense of visibility but, at the same time, there have been more murders and violence against trans people by cisgender people. We need to come up with a stronger support system.”
Patterson answered questions from participants and welcomed stories from parents who discussed their own experiences and questions in their journey toward supporting and embracing their child’s gender identity and navigating family dynamics.
She gave some advice to one of the parents, saying, “At first I tried to raise my kids the way I am, a Black woman from a family of activists and changemakers who also wanted her children to value feminism. It turns out that these levels of identity didn’t have the answers I needed, and I was a frustrated parent because of it. I felt like I was failing my kids. But then I understood that I needed to be more open, to not see the world as binary, We’re not one of two choices. Nature is not binary, birds are not fluffy or sleek, trees are not either tall or short. It’s everything all at once. As a parent, I needed to give my children the space they needed—to be.”
G Capone, Assistant Director for Equity Initiatives, said, “Collaborations across our community, like this day with Jodie, significantly advance awareness of nuances across trans and queer narratives. During Jodie’s book reading to children in a 6/7s classroom, one student called gendered names, ‘things of the olden days,’ which was a special way to witness intergenerational understandings of gender. In each setting, she opened up such a rich dialogue with both students and adults.”
Patterson is an author, a changemaker, and the mother of five children. She is the first Black person to hold the position of Chair of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Board, the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization. As a globally recognized activist, she speaks at conferences and to various organizations on topics of identity, gender, and radical parenting, advocating for transgender and non-binary children and working to create more inclusive spaces that promote diversity and understanding at home, in the classroom, and beyond.
The day with Patterson was hosted by the Bank Street Office of Social Justice, Equity, and Inclusion and the School for Children Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team. To learn more, explore Bank Street’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.
Read Jodie Patterson’s Meet Our Alumni profile.