LYRIC Seeks Funds for School Program
The 19 middle school students, a mix of seventh and eighth graders, had gathered for the last time May 14 to review what they had learned over the course of the school year.
One by one the preteens raised their hands, introduced themselves, and stated the gender pronoun they prefer before relaying to their classmates and teacher what lessons struck them the most. Topics ranged from stereotypes and various genders found in the animal world to gender expectations and how to be an ally.
Next they discussed what they had enjoyed about the previous week’s activities held to celebrate LGBT Pride at San Francisco’s Everett Middle School, located on Church Street between the city’s gay Castro district and the Latino Mission district. One boy acknowledged he liked being a leader during the Pride day workshops.
A girl explained that she had come to understand not to judge people based on their appearance and actions for "everything lies on a spectrum."
Asked to explain the importance of the class, Luorong Lamu, 13, said it helped her to learn about a new community.
"I didn’t know much about the LGBT community," said the seventh grader, adding that what she will take with her is that "you can’t judge people or bully."
Lamu said she plans to teach other students why they shouldn’t "call other people gay or a fag."
Fellow seventh grader Kian Lonergan, 12, agreed that the class had helped him to appreciate people’s differences and not to judge others.
"I think the purpose is to learn about the LGBTQ community and teach everybody else the good information and not the hallway trash," said Lonergan.
The class was one of several taught at three of the city’s public schools, two middle schools and one high school, by the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center. The LGBT youth agency’s school-based initiative aims to teach students and their families, as well as the faculty and staff at the participating schools, about the LGBT community.
Begun three years ago, it is designed to leave a lasting impact on not only the individual students but also within the three schools. Rather than hold one or two day seminars about LGBT issues, LYRIC realized it needed to conduct more in-depth training to ensure that the lessons seeped into not only the students it taught but also changed each school’s culture.
Once a week during their elective class called leadership, the students at Everett and Buena Vista / Horace Mann, a K-8 school, are taught by a LYRIC staffer about LGBT topics. While the middle school students tend to identify more as straight allies, the majority of students taking a similar class at Balboa High School are LGBT.
"We’ve seen a lot of kids take on leadership roles," said Max Gardner, an eighth grade algebra teacher at Everett. "A lot of kids changed their perceptions and tell other kids ’Don’t say fag, that is offensive.’"
During the Pride day celebration earlier this month, a handful of Everett students came out, said Gardner. One female student also approached teachers to ask them to use a gender-neutral pronoun rather than she.
"It’s been a cool experience watching it and being a part of it," said Gardner, adding that he is hopeful LYRIC will return to the school in the fall.
Anayvette Martinez, the director of the LYRIC program, noted that the students who came out were not enrolled in the leadership class.
"It speaks to how this impacts the school," said Martinez, 33, who identifies as queer and is raising two children with her partner. "We want it to be about a school transformation."
The students she taught this year at Balboa, for their required project in the class, petitioned the school to set aside a gender-neutral bathroom. Transgender issues are a key component of the classes, said Martinez, as data shows students struggling with their gender identity face a host of obstacles that can led to dropping out of school, drug use or suicide.
"Trans youth are more susceptible to bullying, truancy and suicide," she said. "With the youth, I want to start that conversation very young."
Data from surveys of students enrolled in the San Francisco Unified School District during the 2011-2012 school year found that 1.3 percent at the middle school level identified as transgender. School officials estimated the total population of transgender middle school students at 137.
In high school, the data showed 1.6 percent of the student body identified as transgender, with a total population estimated at 259 students.
Those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning was nearly 16 percent for a total of 1,639 middle school students, with most selecting "not sure." In high school the percentage of LGB and questioning students was 11 percent for a total of 1,770 students.