Bay Area teachers who promote LGBTQ acceptance create welcoming school environments
By Brian Bodestyne, Jenny Hu and Darren Macario
Schools in the Bay Area need to support the LGBTQ community. Many schools use a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) club, but not everyone does because students might not feel comfortable creating or joining such a public group. Therefore, schools should show support for their LGBTQ communities by encouraging teachers to promote LGBTQ acceptance in their classrooms.
The lack of LGBTQ clubs / programs at Summit Shasta does not seem to affect school-wide acceptance of LGBTQ rights. The GSA club has been inactive for more than a year, and Dean of Instruction and Culture Adelaide Giornelli reports that no student has approached faculty about the issue. Does the lack of a GSA club mean that promoting LGBTQ acceptance in the classroom is now the primary way to make the school environment more welcoming to students?
In the Bay Area, lesbian and gay adolescents are increasingly coming out at younger ages than earlier generations, according to the Family Acceptance Project. The Williams Institute of Law states that 10.3 percent of California’s public middle and high school students identify as LGBTQ. According to a 2009 California Healthy Kids Survey, “Nearly half of LGBT youth surveyed […] reported being ‘pushed or hit at school because of their LGBT identity” and only 37 percent accounted that their school had a GSA club.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that schools should encourage student-led clubs that “promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment” and that teachers should be trained on “how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
At Summit Shasta, there is no GSA club, nor are there many incidents of LGBTQ-targeted harassment/bullying, according to administration. Dean of Instruction and Culture Adelaide Giornelli explains: “Incidents of bullying, which includes any use of homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, anything like that type of language […] that criteria is considered a disciplinary offense […] if it’s a repeated offense, that student will have to do work to restore their standing with the community.” Ms. Giornelli said teachers are supportive of the LGBTQ community by having posters in the classroom. Later, she commented that while there is no active school club / program for LGBTQ discussion at Summit Shasta, “Students who feel like this is an important thing to address […] should please reach out for faculty support.”
Shasta freshman Alonzo Huerta, an openly gay student, believes that the LGBTQ community at his school doesn’t need a GSA. At Shasta, Huerta states that having a GSA club would be good for celebrating “the accomplishments that we’ve made but it’s just us being people. […] There are some rude remarks but […] I don’t take offense to them much. […] I feel like it would make things worse because the whole point is that we don’t need one […] to be ourselves.” Huerta later commented that teachers being silently supportive of the LGBTQ community is fine.
In contrast, Elijah Calip, a freshman at Archbishop Riordan, a San Francisco private high school, says that LGBTQ support groups allow “deep conversations with students who include themselves in the LGBTQ community and how they are supported in their school.” Calip and his fellow freshman schoolmate, Justin Samaniego, both believe that their school community, including staff, generally is supportive of their LGBTQ population.
Samaniego mentions that there are “derogatory speeches” about the LGBTQ community in their school but adds, ”People with problems they face such as being a part of the LGBTQ community and the criticism they receive is something I want to help them overcome. I want them to embrace the way they feel and […] their sexuality. […] Even though some students may be apart of the LGBTQ community, they treat others equal […] and that should be the way teachers treat their students in all schools.”
According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), California Education Codes outline that school policy enable student expression of gender identity in dress, thought/speech, name, and faculties. It appears that as LGBTQ peer acceptance thrives in the
Bay Area, so does the LGBTQ community in schools. Westmoor freshman Jasmine Osuna believes that there should be more support from school staff. Osuna states that, at her school, people are unwilling to go to counselors because of trust issues: “They don’t really show appreciation to people in that community. The school acts neutral and fair to every kid.”
2016 data from Support Services for LGBTQ Youth, established by SFUSD’s Board of Education, shows that including “LGBTQ-inclusive education, LGBTQ pride and safe space posters, faculty training, Genders and Sexualities Alliances, groups, peer education, restorative practices to address bullying, and referrals to LGBTQ-inclusive sexual and mental health services and programs in the community” quintuples the chance that people will seek services with their school’s wellness center or health clinic. While Bay Area schools foster safe LGBTQ communities, continuing to promote LGBTQ acceptance at school, in the classroom, in discussions, will help students to seek staff support.
Featured image (at the top of this post): Shasta English teacher Laura Friday displays a LGBT Safe Zone Sign in her classroom. PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Bodestyne