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November 4, 2010

waiting for my bus on my morning comute i could not help but pick up today’s sfweekly. an image of a tattered rainbow hovering over a persons head with tears streaming from their face with the cover story, wounded pride, it’s not so fabulous to be gay in san francisco – if you’re a teen by lauren smiley corresponded.

while the article insinuated that many local kids have parents from cultural traditions that openly scorn lgbt identity (making life difficult even among a seemingly lgbt normative community) i became more keenly aware to the findings she covered from a school climate survey commissioned with etr associates, in 2007.

this survey found that of the 13,000 san francisco unified school district students in 5-12 grades who participated that derogatory remarks based on sexual orientation and gender identity are made frequently in schools citywide, regardless of neighborhood and that teachers and staff often do not intervene when such comments are made.

throughout the day i began to think that although i cannot articulate the explicit qualitative and quantitative differences between the cultural communities that smiley’s article focused on and the implicit demographic diversity of the bay area jewish community, some experiences are universal. for example, reading about the covert means to feel normal with other self-identifed lgbt young people at a night club reminded me vividly of my own early 1990’s teenage experiences. i began thinking that if 34% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual middle schoolers reported attempting suicide in the san francisco survey that other schools in communities from san mateo, to santa rosa, to stockton would show little variation on these alarming san francisco school district numbers. so i continued thinking that the same jewish students that attend these schools also attend our jewish religious schools. and that without a doubt if 56% of transgender students reported playing hooky because of a “lack of safety” in san francisco these same experiences could disquietingly appear in our jewish day schools… do they already?

while our 2010 lgbt alliance study shows that lgbt jewish adults do not report significant levels of homophobia or transphobia in the bay area jewish community, we do not have corresponding data about lgbt young people in the bay area jewish community. what we do have is our collective undocumented universal based assumptions on what potential barriers are for lgbtq young jewish people that could prevent interest or involvement in not only the jewish community but more distressingly, their own families and their own lives.

kevin gogin, who works in support services for lgbtq youth for the san francisco district’s school health programs department, suggested in an article a few years back that the nuances of anti-lgbt bullying found in schools is based on the subtle messages depicted in our daily lives that relegate lgbt individuals and families to second-class citizenship.

as i finished reading lauren smiley’s poignant article today my usual positive bubble-like feeling popped a little. wanting to believe that because the jewish community is so well-organized that we can be immune to such sad statistics did not seem possible.  reading that lgbt students are much more likely to smoke, use drugs, drink alcohol, or sniff inhalants than that of their heterosexual counterparts made me sink deeper into the bus bench. is the outcome for communities, even our implicitly lgbt-normative san francisco bay area community with a required district-wide diversity educational curriculum, even a bit more bleak? can change this bleak inevitability with creative solutions and positive focused intentions?

so i ask, please get involved and do what you can to make change locally. we don’t need to have a bleak future when we already have the best of intentions…


you can find more on lgbtq vocabulary terms, statistics, curriculum as well as training dates for san francisco public school staff available on the san francisco district’s lgbt-focused website. you can also find a few more suggestions on things to do to strengthen your jewish community here.


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