Love for All: Creating Inclusive Elementary Schools in Sonoma County
After someone in her life came out as trans, Renee Ho began to realize all the ways in which our society leaves trans children and adults behind. As a schoolteacher, she saw firsthand how teachers are often hesitant or unsure of how to support trans students. She knew, though, that there were several LGBTQ organizations dedicated to providing training guides for educators seeking to foster more inclusive schools. But when she tried to bring in these resources to her own school, she discovered a critical oversight: none of these organizations had elementary-specific trainings.
Refusing to let her school and countless like it be left behind, she kept searching until finally, through HRC’s Welcoming Schools project, she found what she was looking for. The only downside? Because there were no trainers located in the Bay Area, she had less than two months to raise $20,000 for anti-bias trainers to travel to her school.
Against all odds, Ho and her emerging PTA group Amor Para Todos (APT)—which translates to “love for all”—raised the money and sponsored the LGBTQ anti-bias training for the entire school district. As she says, though, “in this line of work, unfortunately, there’s always pushback,” and this instance was no exception to that. The day before the training was supposed to occur, opposition from the community almost stopped the project in its tracks.
Ho never expected APT to continue after the training, but as her awareness of the struggles faced by trans children grew, so did her recognition of the importance of the organization. From there, APT grew organically. Today, APT houses a number of programs designed to serve queer and trans youths, including the Saving Lives Now project and the Rainbow Awareness project.
The Saving Lives Now project grew organically from the original mission of APT: to create more inclusive schools. Now, not only does the project provide training opportunities for schools on how to care for their LGTBQ students—it also ensures that schools are teaching a gender-inclusive sex education curriculum in compliance with the California Healthy Youth Act; advocates for the implementation of more generally LGBTQ- and gender-inclusive curricula in alignment with California education code; works on providing schools with bilingual, all-gender restroom signs; and houses APT student clubs at schools throughout Sonoma County so that “kids can come and learn to love everyone, be themselves, and make new friends.”
Not too long after APT began, Ho realized that LGBTQ people, and children especially, often “have ‘laser vision’ for rainbow-anything, because [they] know that’s safe.” With this in mind, Ho sought to create spaces where people could come together in celebration of art and intersectionality and community. This mission, which has now evolved into The Rainbow Awareness project, recognizes that “lack of representation is brutal,” and seeks to ensure that LGBTQ adults and children alike in the Sonoma County community feel safe and seen.
Just last year, APT successfully campaigned to paint a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Petaluma. And—though it has been vandalized on more than one occasion since its reveal in 2022—it still stands as a bright and colorful reminder that all are safe and free from harm. The Rainbow Awareness project has also sponsored pride flags across the county in its “raise to save” campaign, and is currently aiming for inclusive murals to be painted in elementary schools.
Horizons Foundation has been working with APT since the beginning. And without the foundation’s support, it’s likely that APT wouldn’t have been able to continue. As Ho says, “I am forever grateful to Horizons, because they are what has financially kept us alive.” And the partnership between Horizons and APT has only grown stronger over the past few years.
As a recipient of Horizons’ flagship Community Issues grant, APT will be able to contribute even further to the Saving Lives Now and Rainbow Awareness projects, bringing education and inclusive messaging to even more schools and even more kids. And perhaps most importantly, the organization will be able to provide these things to schools which otherwise would be unable to afford them—because APT recognizes and embraces the reality that everyone deserves the chance to feel understood, represented, and safe, especially in school.
The organization’s work with Horizons extends beyond just grants, though. APT first engaged in Horizons’ annual Give OUT Day—the only national giving event for the LGBTQ community—in 2019, and has been a steadfast participant ever since. As APT enters its fifth consecutive campaign, Ho says that “Give OUT Day has kept us afloat and has sustained us financially as an organization. It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year.”
Each year, Ho brings Give OUT Day to life, hosting a family-friendly day of live music, entertainment, and more to raise money for APT. This year, the event will be held at The Block in Petaluma, CA from 2-9pm on June 28.
Especially as we exist in such polarizing times—with what feels like more anti-LGBTQ laws proposed every day—Ho’s mission and message with Amor Para Todos is more important now than ever. In Ho’s own words: “At the end of the day, this work is for people in the LGBTQIA+ community, especially the youth. [...] This is for them. They are beautiful, loved exactly as they are. We as an organization and through our work want them to know that we support them, they're supported, our programs are here to support them. And if they may not have that support within families or communities, we work to give that to them so they can be the beautiful souls that they are.”