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    Teaching Our Children Well: A SF Pride Month Miracle

    By Doug Litwin–

    Something amazing took place at a San Francisco public elementary school on April 21. 

    On this day, the Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School held its annual Rainbow Day, as part of their 7th Annual Rainbow Week. Serving 430 students from the Mission District and other neighborhoods across the city, the school enrolls grade TK (transitional kindergarten) through grade 5 students. With LGBTQ+ visibility in K–12 education under attack in Florida and other places across the country, this Pride event speaks highly of the Flynn community and is a great example of San Francisco family values.

    Letters from Flynn Principal Tyler Woods informed families about the Rainbow Parade event and how it was in line with SB 48, the FAIR Education Act. Authored by Senator Mark Leno in 2012, SB 48 amended the California Education Code to require the inclusion of Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful references to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum. As a testament to the Flynn community, there was no measurable negative pushback from the parents after receiving these letters. 

    San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band members on
    Rainbow Day 2023 at the Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School

    On Rainbow Day, each grade level comes to class dressed in a different color of the rainbow. The highlight is the afternoon Rainbow Day celebration on the schoolyard. Woods dresses in a costume as mascot “Flynnda the Eagle,” wearing a Rainbow Cape and directing the festivities. Students line up in their grade color forming a giant rainbow flag. The event then transforms into a school parade, where the students and teachers parade in a big circle around the yard while the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band (SFLGFB) plays peppy music. Finally, everyone dances the “Cupid Shuffle” together. 

    Students at the Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School on Rainbow Day 2023

    Gretchen Schuessler, math teacher and parent at Flynn, has taught at the school since 2001. She is also a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band (SFLGFB), where she plays trombone and percussion. According to Schuessler, “Flynn started celebrating Rainbow Week and Rainbow Day in 2017. It was spearheaded by Allison Shoule, who was our PE teacher at the time and now works for the SFUSD Student and Family Services Division. In her current role, she supports Pride Clubs in schools across the district. That first year I invited the SFLGFB—the Official Band of San Francisco—to come play for the event, and the band has been back for every Rainbow Day since.”

    As a Flynn teacher and musician, Schuessler stated, “Having the SFLGFB there is a very special part of the event. In 2022, students really loved that we played ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X, and this year the big hit was ‘Industry Baby.’ Students always get excited to see me playing, and I think it’s good for students to see their teachers proudly and openly celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.”

    This year, the Band was joined by the inaugural performance of the Flynn Pride Band, consisting of 4th and 5th grade students who learned violin, trumpet, or flute for the performance. Playing in an ensemble for the very first time, the Flynn Pride Band members joined SFLGFB in a rousing rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

    Mike Wong, Artistic Director of SFLGFB’s Marching and Pep Bands, said, “Playing at Rainbow Day at Flynn Elementary is always a highlight of our year, and fulfills a critical part of our mission of spreading joy and LGBTQ+ visibility through music. This year it was so special to have the Flynn Pride Band join us, and to get the entire school to play the percussion part to ‘We Will Rock You’ by stomping and clapping. It was also great to see how much work the Flynn Pride Band members put into learning their parts so they could play with the Band, as they made leaps and bounds from when I first heard them a few weeks before the event. I encouraged them to keep practicing, and maybe one day ten years or so from now they can join the Freedom Band!”

    Michael McNamara, Paraeducator at Flynn Elementary for the past two years, co-founded the Flynn Pride Club in 2023 with Schuessler. Aimed at students in grades 4 and 5, the club met monthly, with some meetings having as many as 28 students. According to McNamara, in addition to the creation of the Flynn Pride Band, the club created a bulletin board featuring LGBTQ+ activists Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and We’wha, as well club-member messages about identity and inclusion. McNamara said, “In May, for the first time, we invited Third Graders to a Pride Club meeting, and several dozens of them came.” McNamara and Schuessler anticipate that the Pride Club will continue to be strong. In fact, said McNamara, “What was really transformative was seeing the strong interest from second and third graders who can’t wait to join the Pride Club in the future.” 

    This year’s Rainbow Day was made extra special by the inclusion of the first Grand Marshal for the Rainbow Day Parade, Honey Mahogany. After the entire student body and their teachers assembled on the Flynn playground, Mahogany captivated the group with stories about the 1969 Stonewall riots and the local Compton’s Cafeteria riot that preceded it by three years. She also spoke about how she grew up very close to Flynn Elementary School and how proud she is to still live near the area. Then, accompanied by the Band, Honey led the festive parade around the playground.

    On the inclusion of a Grand Marshal for the event, McNamara stated, “One of the ideas the Pride Club had was to invite a dignitary to serve as Grand Marshal for the Rainbow Day Parade. The students immediately got very excited. The first person they wanted to invite was Michelle Obama and the students wrote her office a letter. I knew that we weren’t going to hear back from Michelle Obama, but the students kept asking if we’d gotten a response. I thought we should approach a dignitary who is more local. I personally know Honey Mahogany and live in District 6 where she worked and recently ran for Supervisor there (she is also the Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party). I was inspired to contact Honey by a Flynn student who had previously written her biography for a Black Women’s History project. Knowing how the students were so in solidarity with trans people, as well as the empowerment of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples—which is the mission of our school—I presented the idea of Honey Mahogany to them and they got very excited and sent her a letter.”

    Upon receiving the letter from the Flynn students, Honey Mahogany said, “I was really honored to be asked to be the Grand Marshal for Flynn Elementary’s Pride celebration. This would be an incredible honor at any time, but right now, as we are experiencing book bans in schools, classrooms, and libraries across the country, as trans affirming care and practices are being banned, and as parents of trans children are thinking about fleeing their homes, being able to serve in this way at this particular time was especially poignant. It was wonderful to get to speak with the students of Flynn, to get to meet them and see them so joyfully celebrate the diversity within their community. I even got to meet a few children who identified as trans themselves. The confidence and joy I saw from those trans kids in particular reminded me that, even as things sometimes seem scary or hopeless, that there is still hope, and that these kids are who we are fighting for.”

    Amazing miracles like this don’t just happen at Flynn Elementary School. April is Pride Month across the San Francisco Unified School District (remember, schools are not in session during the citywide Pride Month of June). During Rainbow Week, said Schuessler, “Teachers choose a book related to LGBTQ+ issues to read to their class. Each class learns about an important LGBTQ+ person. The bulletin board next to the school office features photos and bios of important queer people.”

    Coordinating these activities across all the schools is Mx. Kena Hazelwood, District Coordinator, LGBTQ Student Services in the Student & Family Services Division. Kena had this to say about SFUSD’s April Pride Month in San Francisco public schools: “This year, more than ever, it has been important for SFUSD to shine as a beacon and an example of inclusion and acceptance. Throughout the year, we have been welcoming families from across the country whose families have had to make the difficult choice to leave their homes due to worsening safety concerns. The Rainbow clubs, GSAs, Rainbow Assemblies, Read-ins, and Parades being held at our schools, across the district during the month of April, are one way how we show our commitment to being a school district where everyone is welcome to be fully themselves.”

    As if coordinating the Pride Day wasn’t enough, Schuessler and McNamara also held a Pink Shirt Day at Flynn during Rainbow Week 2023. Said McNamara, “This is an international anti-bullying school campaign, which began at a high school in Canada in 2008. Normally celebrated in late February, Flynn incorporated its first Pink Shirt Day into its 2023 Rainbow Week.”

    Learn more at

    When reflecting on the miracle of Rainbow Week at Flynn Elementary School, the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” come to mind: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

    What does all this mean? We should all be thankful to live in a place like San Francisco where values of respect and understanding are taught every day. But, this doesn’t happen by accident; we all need to support our public education teachers, all of whom are true heroes.

    Author Doug Litwin is a 35-year member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band and has performed at each one of the Flynn Elementary School Rainbow Day events.

    San Francisco Gay Lesbian Freedom Band
    Published on June 22, 2023