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    A Friendship Forged at Historic Tan Oak Park

    By Lyndsey Schlax

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She has resumed teaching that groundbreaking class. In this column, her students share their thoughts about LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more.)

    I Will Never Forget a Friend I Made at Tan Oak Park

    Student, Grade 12

    Nestled near a watering hole, a highway, and thick California redwoods is Tan Oak Park. To an outsider, it appears as a cluster of family vacation homes, or maybe a small campsite. Tan Oak Park, however, means so much more to those who live there. Since 1989, this cabin campground has housed many who are long term victims of HIV/AIDS and their caretakers.

    A couple of summers ago, I had the privilege of working there. I helped to clean up the park and some of the cabins when I stayed there for a week with a friend. We lived in a small trailer that was parked near some of the people that resided there. 

    Upon our arrival there was one man, a long-time resident of the park. Henry showed my friend and I nothing but support. As we grew closer with him, he slowly opened up and began to tell us his story. He was young, but he was missing his teeth and his cheeks were sunken in. He said he contracted the virus long ago. A decade had gone by, and he was still fighting. He was the first HIV/AIDS survivor I ever met. 

    Growing up as a teenage female in San Francisco, I often heard about AIDS but never really made a connection between my life outside of the classroom and the disease. Tan Oak Park gave me a new perspective on HIV/AIDS. Of course, I can never truly understand it, given my privilege in the situation. The best that I can do is to make an effort to connect, emphasize, and support those whose lives have been directly impacted by HIV/AIDS.

    Making friends with Henry, I was able to understand the life of some AIDS victims: those without stable resources who are living day by day, not knowing when it will be their last. He seemed to have moved past depression, anger and the control the disease had on him. He was instead trying to find love—he had a crush on the owner of the park—and desired to learn new skills.

    I miss him, but I hear he has since moved into a bigger facility on the campsite. Keep fighting, Henry!

    For more information about Tan Oak Park: http://tanoakpark.org/index.html

    HIV/AIDS in the Minds of Youth

    Student, Grade 11

    As a young person, seventeen to be exact, I had until recently very little knowledge of the profound and intense effects that HIV/AIDS has had, and continues to have, on a multitude of communities as well as on the world as a whole.

    While I had been somewhat familiar with the dangers of the spectrum of conditions in the past, and knew why unprotected sex must be avoided, I had no idea how prevalent the effects of HIV/AIDS are today. I had no idea that there were seemingly endless sufferers of HIV/AIDS in Africa today, for example, and that the health care they are receiving is minimal and inadequate.

    I also had no idea that, in some of these suffering communities, there are people who believe that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure the disease. This idea has contributed to a large population being affected. This is utterly horrendous, and means that thousands of young women are being raped with the intention of curing people who have HIV/AIDS, but is really only spreading the infection. The situation highlights the importance of education about HIV/AIDS.

    I have never been so inspired to take action than I am right now, due to the education that I received about HIV/AIDS. It is imperative that my generation be educated about the virus because we are the ones who need to take action to help eradicate it.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/