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    Inspiration from Nonagenarians and Students from SF’s School of the Arts

    SFBT_MarriageEquality_1For readers unfamiliar with the word—don’t worry—nonagenarians are not the latest addition to the wonderful and ever expanding alphabet soup that is the LGBTIQ movement. Nonagenarians are people in their 90s, and Stuart’s dad at age 92 is making the most of his years despite the challenges of old age. We recently celebrated Thanksgiving with him and his wife at the Southern California retirement community to which they just moved. The community belongs to a Baptist consortium of retirement communities. One evening as we were walking to the dining hall, Stuart’s dad seemed to be acting a bit curiously. He kept mumbling about introducing the two of us. Although his inclination seemed natural, he appeared a bit preoccupied about it. In the end, we thought little of it, being happy to meet a few of his new friends.

    After all the residents had sat down for dinner, the facilitator of the community offered a Christian prayer before the meal. And then she asked if anyone had brought any guests they wanted to introduce. At this point, Stuart’s dad shot his hand in the air and motioned for the microphone. As soon as he got it, he rose and announced how happy he was that his son Stuart and his son-in-law, Stuart’s HUSBAND John, were visiting for the holidays. Stuart’s dad didn’t just want to introduce us to a few new friends; he wanted to introduce us to everyone and to make it a marriage equality moment. Stuart’s dad remains an outspoken advocate for progressive tax policy, his professional life work and passion. And he has brought that passion to marriage equality. Even at age 92, he understands the ongoing need to educate others about the lives of LGBTIQ people. He didn’t just sit there; he made it happen.

    A couple of days after returning to San Francisco, we had the honor to speak about marriage equality, LGBTIQ advocacy, and our journey as activists in a very different setting: the first ever LGBTIQ Studies class offered in a public high school—right here at San Francisco’s Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (see page 21). Historic firsts don’t just happen by themselves; they happen with the passion and leadership of people like Lyndsey Schlax, the brilliant teacher who had the vision to make this class a reality and the savvy to find supporters in the school district and city government to make it happen.

    We were awestruck by the depth of knowledge and understanding about the LGBT movement and its history that the students had gained from the class and by the students’ engagement with it. They had studied everything from the Harlem Renaissance to the impact of World War II on LGBT Americans to the Anita Bryant anti-gay campaigns of the 1970s. They knew details about the evolution of marriage equality movement over the decades, and the distinctions between the due process and equal protection doctrines that formed the basis for last summer’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. When we showed them a photo of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, they recognized them immediately and knew the contribution they had made. The students had studied LGBT art and created their own art works. And they were integrating the various elements of art, history, psychology, and political science that they had studied in class.

    This is exactly what public education should be: Giving young people the knowledge, background and skills to be active, educated, and responsible citizens in a democracy, and helping them find their own creative voices.

    On a recent afternoon, the doorbell rang, and when I went to the door I was surprised to see two young Mormon missionaries, one of them only 18 years old. I took a deep breath and decided that I would engage them in conversation. I educated them about Proposition 8, which unlike Lyndsey’s students, the two missionaries had barely heard of, and I talked to them about the harm the Mormon Church sadly continues to do to LGBTIQ people. I encouraged them not just to believe at face value what others told them, but as young people to open their minds, to learn from people with different life experiences, and to study history.

    We really wish these Mormon missionaries—and indeed every high school student in America—had the opportunity to take Lyndsey Schlax’s LGBTIQ studies class and to get to know amazing students like hers. If—and we hope when—they do, they will gain the understanding and confidence to be able to speak up like Stuart’s 92-year old dad.

    John Lewis and his husband Stuart Gaffney, together for three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.