District creates a program on LGBTQ+ issues

Increasing calls for education about the issues of race in the U.S. inspired the Acalanes Union High School District to create cohort academies and teach Acalanes High School students about race and equity. To bring light to LGBTQ+ issues, the district is partnering with Acalanes’s Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) club and Campolindo and Miramonte High School’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) clubs.

These clubs at Campolindo and Miramonte worked with the district to create the first LGBTQ+ equity cohort module. 

Every year since 2003, QSA has taught freshman English classes at Acalanes about LGBTQ+ terms and issues, and this year, to expand the program, QSA reached out to other schools in the district to create a district-wide lesson.

“[QSA Co-President and junior Emerson Brown] and I knew that Acalanes was the only school to have Peer Ed, so we wanted to collaborate with the other schools to make the level of LGBTQ+ education across the district equal. On top of that, having a broader community of fellow LGBTQ+ people is always helpful in making members of the community feel less alone,” QSA Co-President and Acalanes junior Autumn Long said.

In addition to wanting to expand teachings outside of Acalanes, QSA wanted to create the cohort after noticing a lack of teaching on LGBTQ+ topics and a survey taken by all Acalanes students showed an interest in learning about the issues. 

“While I believe talking about race is crucial, oftentimes other forms of inequity get pushed aside. When we got the results of surveys on what students wanted going forward, many put down LGBTQ+ issues,” Long said. “Even before we got the results of the survey, [Brown] and I and our friends that go to other schools noticed the lack of education high school students get on LGBTQ+ topics, even with the little amount that is taught in [Human Social Development].”

The club began educating teachers about LGBTQ+ issues after noticing many teachers lacked prior education on LGBTQ+ topics.

“We started with a smaller group of teachers: the Acalanes Equiteam. That ‘workshop’ for them went well, so [Leadership teacher Katherine] Walton and [QSA advisor Erik] Honda agreed that we should go forward and educate a broader group of teachers,” Long said. 

After successfully training several teachers, QSA presented the idea of a cohort module at a district LGBTQ+ meeting, and after receiving positive feedback, the club began working with other clubs around the Acalanes district.

“Being close friends with the Acalanes QSA presidents has made it very easy to communicate and work with each other. We all want to make sure that every student has equal education and access to resources so we proposed to get the entire district involved,” Campolindo SAGA Co-President and junior Aeryn Armstrong-Azhar said.

Given the brief, two 45-minute periods available to present the module, student organizers condensed the information into two lessons covering the most important aspects of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The first half of the proposed lesson will focus on the basic terminology associated with sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

“We want to talk about facts, to some extent, so that the goal of the presentation is to introduce sort of the basic framework of these issues. So just like a basic level of knowledge that a lot of people don’t really have,” Miramonte SAGA Vice President and junior Abby Wallach said. 

The curriculum will also cover current laws in place to ensure LGBTQ+ student’s protection on campus. These include Assembly Bill 537 and Assembly Bill 1266.

AB 537 incorporated perceived or actual gender orientation into existing non-discrimination laws in California public schools and protects LGBTQ+ related student clubs such as QSA. aB 1266 affirms the rights of students to use facilities that align with their gender identities, regardless of their gender on record, and allows students to play on sports teams consistent with that gender identity. 

QSA and SAGA stressed the importance of framing sexual orientation and gender identity in a manner accessible for all students, as everyone, no matter how they choose to express themselves, possesses both. 

“While it is true that there’s only a certain group of people that have been discriminated against for their sexual orientation and gender identity, there are shared characteristics and we want to present it that way,” Miramonte’s Wallach said.

The lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the district is one of the larger issues student organizers hope to overcome with the implementation of the cohort module. 

“I know that as a queer student in the Acalanes Union High School District, every time LGBTQ issues are mentioned in curriculum, that is very important to me because I just haven’t had a lot of exposure to LGBTQ historical figures or events or themes at all,” Wallach said.

The second half of the lesson addresses the bias against the LGBTQ+ community, which persists as a local and national issue, and how that bias impacts everyday life for students.

“I wish that more people would be more educated about and less biased against transgender people. I feel like in California at least, people are much more aware and accepting of people who have sexualities that aren’t straight than (they are of) people who have genders that don’t align with their gender assigned at birth,” Long said.

Additionally, the District hopes that the increased awareness of bias will reduce the high number of microaggressions against the LGBTQ+ community reported through the new Bias Incident Reporting System this year.“We’ve given some students surveys on what we were missing in the early days [of the equity lessons]. And we heard loud and clear from the student surveys: homophobia is something we really have to combat on campus,” McNamara said. “The other thing is in looking at the reporting that students have been doing, homophobic comments have come up over and over again … This is something we need to talk about.”

The presentation specifically emphasizes the importance of recognizing the harm that common microaggressions and slurs inflict upon members of the LGBTQ+ community. The student organizers hope that this awareness will discourage all future microaggressions, which reinforce damaging stereotypes and diminish the LGBTQ+ experience.

“We want to talk about … different sorts of homophobic acts and how they can be harmful. [We have] the end goal of discussing how to avoid those and how to not just be an ally, but actively be an ally and speaking out against microaggressions and misconceptions,” Wallach said.

By building up student consciousness of these misconceptions and their harmful effects on the LGBTQ+ community in both lessons, the student organizers hope to encourage others to take everyday action towards allyship.

“People need to know why it’s so important to put their pronouns in Zoom or anywhere else they have their names. It’s such an easy thing to do, and it is a tiny show of allyship for transgender people,” Long said.

In this way, the simplest acts of allyship contribute to a safe and equitable school environment for all students as LGBTQ+ issues continue to impact the student body today.

“I think that, especially as we talk about these issues, more and more people are coming out of the closet. And so, knowing how to be a good friend, how to be supportive and accepting is really important because that’s something that everybody is going to experience at some point. And it also just creates a more inclusive community that in the end is going to benefit everybody,” Wallach said.