Helping Families Navigate Challenging Conversations

by Diana Fox, Executive Director of Reach Out, and Omar Gonzalez-Valentino, M.S., LMFT, LPCC

Recently, schools have implemented policies to notify parents if students identify at school in a way that is different from their birth-assigned gender. The policies have sparked controversy and debate around the role our schools play in the relationships between parents and children. More specifically, these policies have inspired conversation about the responsibility of schools to tell families how their kids choose to identify at school. 

Regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong” for schools to insert themselves into what is essentially a family conversation, the issue being raised here is not about schools and legalities. And it isn’t about parents’ rights. 

What is the real issue at stake in gender notification policies? 

The real issue surrounds the children we’re raising in the Inland Empire and beyond, and whether they have the support and tools they need to adequately explore the world they’re growing into and find their places within it. It also lies within the fabric of these families–have we as a community adequately equipped families to navigate difficult conversations with their kids? 

No matter our personal beliefs on this topic, there is no denying that the world our kids are growing into is vastly different than the one into which their parents and grandparents were raised. Unless the seeds of communication and understanding were planted during their grandparents’ generations, many families may not have the ability to engage in open communication about issues surrounding gender identity and sexuality in ways that don’t alienate one party or another. 

For these families, the notifications have the potential to do real harm. If a child hasn’t confided in their family, we can assume there must be a reason. While for some, the reason may simply be a lack of trust, for others it may be founded in legitimate fear for their own safety. Certainly, the goal of this policy is not to endanger those of our children who already live in less-than-stable home situations. 

However, that’s an unfortunate consequence these policies can have. 

A Call To Action 

Let’s assume notifications proceed. Let’s assume not all kids will be safe once their families are told something they don’t want to hear. 

What can we do–or more importantly, what can those most affected: our kids–do to reinforce the support for their well-being and that of their peers? As adults and concerned citizens, we can continue to inform ourselves, to learn and grow, to accept differences among people (even people we consider part of us, because in truth, our children are individual human beings.) We can continue to fund resources for mental health and crisis intervention, and we can continue to talk to–and listen to–our children about the things we each struggle to understand. 

And our kids can continue to express their identities however they feel called to do, while making it safe for their peers to do the same. They can charter clubs and associations like the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) at their schools to provide resources and support for one another. They can embrace and utilize wellness centers and counselors provided by organizations that use grant funding for exactly this purpose. And if they are in fear, they can access crisis centers and other resources to help manage their situations. 

But the real call to action for all of us is to work harder on opening lines of communication, slowing down and asking ourselves to both talk and really listen. After all, the greatest illusion around communication is that it has actually occurred. 


Merrill Crisis Center

The Merrill Center is a short-stay crisis stabilization unit (CSU) that offers 24/7 services to adults and youth. The Merrill Center aims to increase access to crisis services, reduce inpatient hospitalization, reduce the amount of time that law enforcement is involved in a mental health crisis, and strengthen the existing outpatient behavioral health services. Merrill Center is under contract with the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health.

The center features 20 chairs with four reserved for serving youth of all ages. We serve adult and youth residents of San Bernardino County.

Walk-in clients are welcome. Individuals in crisis can access CSU services on their own or by referral. Referrals to the Merrill Center will be accepted from the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) outpatient clinics, full-service partnerships (FSP), DBH Community Crisis Response Teams (CCRTs), law enforcement and first responders, hospital emergency rooms, mental health assessment teams, and other county medical clinics and departments.

Address: 14677 Merrill Avenue, Fontana, CA 92335

Hours of Operation: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The United Way Inland Southern California Crisis Hotline: 

The Inland SoCal Crisis Helpline is the regional 24/7 crisis and suicide hotline for Inland Southern California. It is free and confidential and you may remain anonymous. Trained counselors are available to provide support and resources to best help you. Bilingual counselors are available.

951-686-HELP (4357)

Riverside Pride, Inc: Riverside Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Pride Inc. 

(Or Riverside Pride, Riverside LGBTQ+ Pride Inc for short) is hard at work improving life for the LGBTQIA+ communities in the Inland Empire. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Text or call 988 or chat

Talking to kids about identity: Planned Parenthood offers resources to guide tough conversations. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender nonconforming people are a part of every community and beloved members of many families. Learn how to discuss sexual orientations and gender identities with your kid, and how to support them if they’re LGBTQ.