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    End of Semester Thoughts

    studentTeacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts is teaching the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course, according to district officials. In this column, students from her class will be anonymously sharing with the San Francisco Bay Times their thoughts about related matters, and what they are learning in the groundbreaking course, “LGBTQ Studies.”

    In prior articles, the students were asked to write about particular topics. Here, the students were given free reign to address subjects of their own choosing.

    Student, 12th Grade

    San Francisco is likely the most well known city in the world for its LGBTQ community. The SF Pride Parade is the largest yearly gathering and celebration of LGBTQ people and allies nationwide. It is not particularly surprising that an arts school in the middle of San Francisco is the first public high school in the country to offer an LGBTQ studies class.

    However, as a student in said class, I was surprised when, while doing research for a project in the school’s library, several of the websites I attempted to visit were blocked by our school’s content filtering service. I have since found out that the school district has taken to blocking numerous LGBTQ news and advocacy websites, tagging them as inappropriate content. Even some of the most well established news sites, such as and The Bay Area Reporter’s website, were blocked. The SF Bay Times site was blocked until recently, when the teacher of our LGBTQ class, Ms. Schlax, managed to get it removed from the block list.

    Filtering LGBTQ content in schools is not a new phenomenon. There is an ongoing project of the ACLU entitled Don’t Filter Me, dedicated to combating LGBTQ censorship and information restrictions in public school systems nationwide. Lightspeed, the filtering service that is used by SFUSD schools, was actually commended by the ACLU for being one of the fastest filtering services to respond to the Don’t Filter Me project by removing its preset blocking content relating to LGBTQ lifestyles. This commendation was near the start of the project’s conception in 2011.

    School districts in states from New Jersey to Kansas have been in the process of removing such discriminatory filters for years. For some reason, the San Francisco Unified School District has opted to keep its filter in place. It is depressingly ironic that a student in a city once referred to as the Gay Mecca might run into numerous informational iron curtains simply by searching the city’s former title.

    Student, 12th Grade

    Recently in LGBTQ Studies class we watched a documentary called The Celluloid Closet (1995), based on the book by writer and LGBT activist Vito Russo. The film explored the history of LGBTQ people in American cinema. As a student of the Media and Film Arts department, I was intrigued by the history of Hollywood screen depictions of LGBTQ people. The film consisted of various interviews of people connected to the entertainment industry talking about their own experiences. It chronicled almost everything related to LGBTQ representation and experience in film and television from the silent films to 1995.

    It was interesting re-watching clips from certain films with new eyes and realizing that many were indirectly homosexual in theme. Many of the big films from the Golden Age subliminally hinted at homosexuality and often portrayed gay men as sissies or villains. Even after The Hollywood Production Code faded, LGBTQ people were portrayed cruelly as gay or lesbian stereotypes until the early 90’s.

    Film is an extremely powerful medium because it is a combination of all artistic forms and because of its wide reach. Film and television not only take inspiration from culture, but also can also help to shape culture. That is why it is extremely important to include underrepresented communities in film and television. Only with positive roles will the LGBTQ community generate tolerance and recognition. In recent years there has been an influx of film and television shows with LGBTQ themes. It is an exciting time for the LGBTQ community after the recent nationwide same sex marriage legalization, but there are still many communities, such as the transgender community, which need to be represented in the mass media, film and television. With greater representation there will be greater acceptance of the entire LGBTQ community.

    Student, 12th Grade

    I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in a class like this. My school was the first high school in the nation to have an LGBTQ course. Throughout the semester, we covered many different topics and had many guest speakers come to speak with us. The guest speakers personally told us their experiences with the LGBTQ community and their personal journey. The speakers were all very wonderful, and informed us on LGBTQ issues. It was a unique experience having heard what they had to go through.

    Coming into the class, I knew next to nothing about the LGBTQ community. But a semester later, we covered many important topics, such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Lavender Scare, AIDs pandemic, Harvey Milk and many others. An activity I specifically enjoyed was the walking tour we did throughout the city. Each individual walked through a guided podcast tour as we learned about certain landmarks. I liked that we got to experience things first hand.

    I am very happy to have been able to take this course. I have learned many things that I never would have otherwise known. Now that I am more informed, I can help spread awareness and to do my part to help the LGBTQ community.

    Student, 11th Grade

    Over the past eleven years of my education, I’ve studied each war, each controversy, each new amendment and each election of United States history at least three or four times. When it comes to the big events, like the World Wars, that number is probably closer to six or seven.

    I am not saying that this history is unimportant. To the contrary, history is my favorite class almost every year. History, the stories we tell about the mistakes and triumphs of our past, makes up the foundation of our understanding of the world around us. Our knowledge of history colors the way we see contemporary issues and, as often stated, prevents us from making the same mistakes over and over again.

    So no, I do not want to study less United States or World History. I want to study more. I want to learn not only about the World Wars and the Civil Wars, but also about human beings in all their forms. I want to learn not only about the struggles of prominent, mainstream figures, but also about the struggles of those forced to live in the shadows. This is the fundamental importance of both LGBTQ Studies, which is now drawing to a close, and Ethnic Studies, which I will be taking next semester: to see a more complete picture of the human narrative, one that includes minorities of all kinds and sheds light on their histories, their mistakes, and their triumphs.

    Student, 12th Grade

    As my last submission to the SF Bay Times LGBTQ “Student Voices” column, I’ve chosen to write a letter to future students of LGBTQ Studies classes. I hope this letter gives you courage and proves to be helpful:

    Dear LGBTQ Student,

    This isn’t going to be like any of the other classes you have taken before. If your teacher is as cool as mine, and if they’re teaching this class they most likely are, you will never worry about making a grade, taking a test, or being uninterested in the subject. This is not an academic class in which you are overwhelmed with facts; you will instead find yourself thoroughly im-mersed in a whole side of history you might not have been aware of before. You’re getting the chance to see through a pair of new eyes.

    This experience will be new to you and you will make mistakes. In this class, making mistakes is a common occurrence and part of the learning experience. Please, don’t beat yourself up or feel like a failure for using the wrong pronoun or term, because one of the reasons this class was created was to teach students these things. Apologize, move on, say “they” if you’re unsure of pronouns, or ask. You’re going to learn about how to be a good ally over time; don’t sweat.

    Some of you may face difficulties from outside forces who don’t agree with you taking LGBTQ Studies. Just know you are not only being open minded, but also brave. It takes a lot of courage to go against prominent beliefs. My advice for students going against the grain, their family, etc.: it is okay to blur your face until you are ready.

    Blurring your face doesn’t necessarily mean your mouth will be censored. If you’re like me, you will find yourself telling anyone and everyone who’s willing to listen about the class’ awesomeness, civil rights, your latest project, field trips, films, and guest speakers. A side effect of being an LGBTQ Studies student is bragging about it. Another side effect is having a more accurate view of the world and who’s in it.

    I’m so excited for you. I’m excited for all the experiences you’ll have. I’m excited for LGBTQ experiences being taught, and I’m excited for the changes this class will bring. Recently, I learned a major factor in one’s ability to impact society is having a lot of information. With that information, one can decide how to use it. I hope that all you will learn will influence how you choose to make positive change.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit