It takes more than a one-time discussion or film screening to support queer youth
By Anayvette Martinez
OPINION During Pride, San Francisco is overflowing with LGBT community events, vibrant energy, and rainbow flags. But how do we as a city celebrate diversity and teach each other about the practice of allyship during the rest of the year, especially in our schools where youth are growing and developing?
Imagine a school where LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning) and ally youth are leaders in creating environments where all students can thrive — a school where students who bully are not punished, but taught how to become allies. Imagine LGBTQQ youth every day leading their classmates with the support of school staff trained in LGBTQQ youth inclusion and their family members knowledgeable of LGBTQQ issues.
Now stop imagining: LYRIC's new School-Based Initiative is making it happen, with programs in Everett Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann, and Balboa High — and soon, hopefully, more.
LYRIC (the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center) knows school communities can't be transformed unless every potential ally is engaged, trained, and empowered. It takes more than a one-time discussion or film screening. Our seminars for students, professional development series for entire school staffs, and workshops for families reach deep into the classroom, into the schoolyard, and into students' homes.
In the most recent student survey results released by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), 33 percent of LGB students and almost half of transgender students report skipping school because they feel unsafe. Twenty-two percent of LGB students report receiving mostly F grades, while only 1% of their heterosexual peers say the same. More than 1,000 LGBT SFUSD students reported attempting suicide. Our LGBTQQ students deserve more.
Through LYRIC's new initiative, we're creating the school communities many of us longed for when we were young, giving LGBTQQ students today what most of us didn't have. This work takes all of us.
LYRIC's work in schools comes from a very personal place for me as a second-generation queer Latina. As a youth, I had a difficult time navigating the San Francisco school system. I struggled to accept my own identity because I didn't see myself reflected or celebrated in my community. This resulted in years of anger displacement, which led me to transfer in and out of multiple middle schools.
As an adult, I worked at Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission (now Buena Vista Horace Mann). I saw how important it is for students to not only feel safe in their schools but to feel celebrated for being who they are. It became apparent to me that there needed to be a deep and intentional intervention.
I found in LYRIC an organization that shared my vision for school inclusion and transformation. We began the process of building a new model by talking directly with students, school staff, and families about what they needed to see change. As the director of LYRIC's School-Based Initiative, I have seen first-hand how a holistic model transforms schools into safer and more inclusive communities.
I am blessed to be a queer mother of color to Lupita, 8, and Diego, 6. The work I do today through LYRIC's School-Based Initiative is not only about my past experience as a queer youth, but also about creating the kind of world I want my kids to grow up in. We all have a role in making sure our school communities are safe and accepting places where LGBTQQ youth — where all youth — can be proud.
Stay in touch with LYRIC at www.facebook.com/LYRIC.LavenderYouth, and see how you can help.
Anayvette Maria Martinez is LYRIC's School-Based Initiative director.