LGBT issues in SF schools
by Seth Hemmelgarn
With the new school year set to start next week in San Francisco, a former youth commissioner hopes to see a resolution calling on the Board of Education to make it a priority to protect LGBT students adopted by the panel.
Reported incidents of harassment and discrimination appear low, based on information from the district, but school officials indicate they want to remain vigilant.
Protecting LGBT students can be controversial. Earlier this year, the San Francisco Unified School District unveiled a Web site (http://www.healthiersf.org/lgbtq) that thoroughly covers LGBT-inclusive curriculum and ways to address harassment.
The site, apparently the first of its kind in the country, sparked dozens of vitriolic comments saying things like "faggots" are "undesirable perverts" and "you will suffer the consequences" for talking about LGBT issues in schools.
Christian Castaing, a 17-year-old high school student who identifies as bisexual and served on the city's Youth Commission from August 2008 to June 2009, came up with the idea for the resolution. He said the only way to really combat discrimination and ignorance "is with learning and understanding, and so I just figure what better place than at schools?"
Among other things, the resolution proposes that the school district establish a procedure for recording, tracking, reporting, and responding to incidences of harassment and discrimination, and that the procedures include responsive measures.
The resolution also asks school board members to work with members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create greater awareness of discrimination faced by youths who are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning or who are LGBTQ.
Kim-Shree Maufas, president of the school board, said she had not seen the resolution until the Bay Area Reporter e-mailed a copy to her this week. She said that the process would be for the resolution to go through the board's student advisory council, with a commissioner co-sponsoring it.
"I would certainly look to be a co-sponsor," said Maufus.
Maufus said that she's "never against the young people on the Youth Commission speaking out."
But she also said her initial reaction was that the district is already making efforts to protect students.
"The resolution doesn't seem to really acknowledge that the Board of Education and school district has been doing that work, especially this year," she added.
"The board has voted over and over again to support this type of policy ...," said Maufus. "This is not anything controversial to us. ... Yes, we agree, yes, we believe, and yes, we will continue to do that."
Maufus, whose mother is a lesbian, said her daughter – who graduated high school in 2007 – always referred to her "two grandmothers."
"For me in particular, this is a no-brainer," said Maufus. "I've seen first-hand some of the discrimination, and it's unacceptable."
Castaing told the B.A.R. that the Youth Commission, the city's Human Rights Commission and the Board of Education's student advisory council have voted in support of the resolution, and he said that it would be brought to the school board this month or next month.
Castaing said the idea for the resolution came after he saw a presentation from the HRC's Nadia Babella on LGBT issues in schools and the passage of Proposition 8, the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that 52 percent of California voters approved in November.
Despite his part in drafting the resolution, Castaing indicated there's a good climate at his school, City Arts and Technology High School.
"We've never really had acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Castaing.
Babella, the discrimination investigator and mediator for the HRC, wrote in an e-mail that the resolution is needed because even in San Francisco, kids have to hear comments like "that's so gay" and much more.
"The school, through its LGBT support services program, is working on this and we want to lend our support and voice to those efforts," she wrote.
The HRC passed the resolution unanimously, wrote Babella.
Jessica Link, the student advisory council coordinator, told the B.A.R. that the council also voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.
Web site draws homophobic remarks
It appears that there's plenty of work to be done.
While the school district's LGBT-related Web site received some positive feedback, it also elicited dozens of harsh comments. The B.A.R. obtained copies of those comments through a public records request. School district officials redacted the names on the comments.
One comment suggested educators should discuss "how the gay life style" calls for a life of sexual fantasies of having sex, molestation and rape of boys and girls from the age of 3 to 21.
"They need to know the truth to protect them selve rom the freaks ou
Another said, "IM PULLING MY 2 CHILDREN OUT OF THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS TODAY. ... ANY TEACHER THAT IS TEACHING THIS PERVERTED STUFF TO MY INNOCENT CHILDREN ARE SUBJECT TO THE SAME CONDEMNATION BY GOD."
A third comment also showed hatred for LGBTs.
"There is NO room in the school system for this kind of bullshit," the message read. "It will be a cold day in hell before any of my kids are subjected to the idea that fagots [sic] are anything besides undesirable perverts. The School Health Programs Department should be teaching that being a fagot is NOT HEALTHY! In closing let me say I hope you and your union drop dead."
Kevin Gogin, who works in support services for LGBTQ youth for the district's school health programs department, said it was unclear whether most of the messages came from inside the district.
The comments indicate "we have work to do," said Gogin.
He said school officials hear concerns from parents who want to teach their children about these issues themselves, "but all we have to do is look at our data to see that fourth and fifth graders are hearing it every day in school," said Gogin, referring to comments such as "fag," "dyke," and "that's so gay."
Survey data of San Francisco students from 2007 posted on the district's Web site show that 82 percent of pupils had heard other students make such harassing remarks at least once in the past year.
About half of the students had heard the comments 12 or more times. However, nearly half of students surveyed had never heard teachers or other staff stop people from making such remarks, according to the data, which is based on samples from two larger surveys done by the district. One survey is from 2,000 students, the other is based on data from all students in grades 5-12.
The San Francisco Unified School District has a Safe School Line that LGBT students can use to report incidents or make complaints. Asked in a May e-mail how many reports there had been, Rickey Jones, the district's pupil services director, responded that the line is monitored by the school health department, but, "We have no reported incidents regarding LGBT complaints/issues that have been referred to the Pupil Services Department."
LGBT family groups, however, report that bullying is a problem.
"We often hear reports from parents that their children are being bullied," said Mark Snyder, communications coordinator for the Our Family Coalition, a San Francisco-based LGBT family advocacy group.
He said that, "even in schools that are known to be welcoming and inclusive, bullying continues to be an issue for our families."
The organization trains school administrators and staff, and has school forums each year where parents can network, learn about the work the group does, and strategize about how to make schools more welcoming.
Gogin said that more curriculum and activities have been added to the Web site. He said educators and administrators "love" the site, and school staff have also provided more information and ideas on what to do.
Plans for the site include updated curriculum and statistics, said Gogin, and there might also be tips from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays for parents who "might be coming to an awareness that their kids are gay."
Gogin said there are a couple of LGBT-related trainings broken down by grade level that are coming up this year. For example community leaders and teachers model teaching the family diversity curriculum, which encourages students to talk about diverse kinds of families, including families headed by same-sex couples. The curriculum also includes lessons addressing teasing and bullying.
Gogin said district staff would be doing a segment on LGBT-related issues at a national professional development event in San Francisco in September.
Asked in an e-mail about the Youth Commission resolution, Gogin responded that he did not remember reading it before, but he also brought up several things the district is already doing, noting that the district's Web site shows policy, procedures, and guidelines that address creating safer schools for LGBTQ students and families.
Gogin wrote in an e-mail that the Support Services Division, and particularly Support Services for LGBTQ Youth, "provides professional development, consultation, and resources to teachers and administrators throughout the district" addressing LGBTQ youth.
Among other examples of what s being done, Gogin wrote that educators are expected to teach family diversity lessons at the elementary level, and sexual orientation curriculum at the secondary level.