Under the stated intent of making schools “safer” for all students, the San Francisco Unified School District has launched a website – believed to be the first of its kind – that provides resources designed to “meet the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth” in its schools.
“April is Gay Pride Celebration!” touts the website’s home page. “Check out some of the event options in our ‘Host an Activity’ section.”
In addition to the “Host an Activity” section, loaded with suggestions on how teachers can celebrate Gay Pride Month in their classrooms, the website includes dozens of resources, including district policies on sexual expression and discrimination issues, curriculum for teaching on LGBTQ issues, a list of district-approved speakers and presentations, studies, and testimonials from school officials on how they’re making their schools more friendly to LGBTQ students.
Susan, a school nurse from Burton High School, for example, explains the steps her school is taking:
“Probably the most fun activity that we’ve organized and I think the most informative for the students is what we call the Rainbow Café,” writes Susan. “One week during Gay Pride Month … we have a room that’s set aside and there are snacks. The [Gay-Straight Alliance] has usually chosen a topic, and each day at lunch there’s a speaker on a different topic. So Monday might be gays in the military, Tuesday might be gay parents, the next day might be gays and religion, and then it might be legislating civil rights for gays. We usually culminate the week with a Day of Silence. We’ve asked teachers to give extra credit to allow kids to come who wouldn’t normally come. But because they get extra credit, kids who wouldn’t be exposed to this kind of programming will be taught to think about it.
“Another fun activity we do at the high school level,” Susan continues, “is we bring the New Conservatory Theater every year to perform ‘The Other Side of the Closet.’ Students then have an opportunity to hold a discussion afterward. It’s fabulous.”
When asked about challenges she faces in creating an “equally safe, equally loving, equally equal environment” in schools, Susan responded, “I think any time you talk about youth relative to sexuality, and sexual behaviors, there are barriers to overcome – whether they’re personal barriers or family barriers or whether they are barriers within the schools. … But I don’t think they’re insurmountable. We always manage to either cross over them or get around them.”
Susan joins 16 other teachers and administrators from around the district, explaining how they use materials and activities like those listed on the site “to create a safer climate for LGBTQ students and their families.”
The site also includes a curriculum section with prepared elementary-age lessons, such as “All Families are Special” and “My Two Uncles.”
The site includes links to other organizations supportive of LGBTQ students and families, a glossary defining various vocabulary terms on sexual diversity, and detailed policies on handling LGBTQ issues – including an anti-slur policy, parental notification policies, and policies on dealing with transgender issues, such as how to address transgender students and which bathrooms and locker rooms they are allowed to use.
It’s even scattered with quotes from students, such as a 7th grader from Hoover Middle School, who affirms, “Most people have a mom and a dad. I have two moms, and it makes me feel unique.”
And while the site acknowledges that some parents may object to overt teaching about homosexuality in the classroom, the school district affirms in its Q&A section, “All children deal with LGBTQ issues, possibly at home and/or at school. Children watch TV and movies that discuss, satirize, and ridicule LGBTQ people. Our obligation as educators is to confront stereotypes and address inappropriate language to make schools safe for all students and families. These discussions are not about sex, but about respect for differences.”
Further, the site explains in its parental notification section, “A discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning people does not constitute a discussion about human sexuality or family life education and does NOT require parent notification according to the California Education Code.”
Specifically, the website states, parents do not need to be notified of homosexual parents talking to students about their careers, intervention in name-calling incidents that violate the anti-slur policy, reading books that highlight LGBTQ characters or celebrating Diversity Days or Gay Pride Month at school.
And while presentation of most of the website’s materials, presumably, don’t necessitate alerting parents, the school district also includes a list of approved speakers and presentations that do require parental notification, including presentations on puberty from Planned Parenthood, a presentation for 4th through 6th graders on dealing with hate crimes and prejudice associated with sexual orientation from Community United Against Violence and dramatic productions for K-5th grades on HIV-AIDS prevention.
The stated goal of the website is “to support educators with tools and resources to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) topics in a school setting. Our goal is to create a safer learning environment for all students with an emphasis on LGBTQ youth and their families.”
Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, explains in his own words:
“Our schools are vibrant communities which reflect the diversity of San Francisco,” Garcia writes on the website. “We strive to make sure that our LGBTQ families, students and staff feel welcome, supported and celebrated. For this reason, SFUSD is offering important educational resources on this website.”