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    LGBTQ Studies Is a Class Whose Time Has Come

    studiesBy Lyndsey Schlax

    Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts is a special place. Our students are dedicated and talented, our faculty and staff are smart and unique and passionate, and our community is beyond supportive.

    For years, our school has been on the forefront of creating an inclusive school for students who identify as LGBT. We have an annual Drag Ball every spring, our school colors are a rainbow, and our student body strives to make students of all orientations and genders feel welcome. So it makes perfect sense that our school, Asawa SOTA, would be the place to launch LGBTQ Studies in California public high schools.

    One of the lovely things about a class like this, which is so focused on a culture, is that rather than the content of the class being closely tied to chronology, it can be issues-driven instead. The history we study will be infused with art, with literature, with politics and economics and film.

    studies3We can focus on an artist, like Keith Haring, and talk about his impact on the fight against AIDS, and then compare his influence on the movement with someone like Joey Terrill. We’ll examine the portrayal of LGBTQ individuals in the media—what roles do LGBT individuals play, how are they cast, what do they represent, how has the media changed. We will talk about what makes a movement take hold, such as why did the Stonewall Riot start Pride, but the fight at Compton Cafeteria did not? What was it about the methodology of the fight for Marriage Equality that made it successful, and what is the next step?

    I’m excited to lead my students through thoughtful discussions of these issues, to hear from them what they think is important, and to infuse all of their learning with art and music and storytelling. Using MP3 video players that the students will check out from me during the first few weeks of school, they’ll hear Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey sing the blues while we study the contributions of gay and bisexual people to the Harlem Renaissance.

    studies2When we look in-depth at the Trans experience in the United States, they’ll listen to episodes of Invisibilia and Snap Judgment about people who have transitioned. When we study intersectionality, through a critique of Paris Is Burning, they’ll watch videos of vogue-ing and see how an underground art form moved its way into the mainstream, and will discuss what kinds of obligations an artist has to her subjects. We’ll do a walking audio tour of the Castro, stopping by many of the places that have been so important to the movement, and using the city of San Francisco as a living classroom.

    The content of this class is inspiring to me as a constant student of history. The ability to use so many forms of media to present that content is thrilling to me as an educator. LGBTQ Studies is a class whose time has come, and I can’t wait to see other schools add this to their list of offerings.

    Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts is teaching what district leaders say is the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course. For more information about the school, please visit