You said it: Thankful for the Power of LGBTQ Teachable Moments and our Seat at the Table

You said it: Thankful for the Power of LGBTQ Teachable Moments and our Seat at the Table

Sean Cahill

Recently in Alameda there have been several difficult conversation going on in multiple forums about Alameda queer culture. For those unfamiliar with present day vernacular, that is a discussion of the folks in Alameda who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) and/or Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ). People, like myself who identify as gay (a term most often applied to men who partner with other men), and many others from this community group, have taken to using the word queer to more broadly define ourselves and codify the acronym. Many of you already know these identities, but it takes time for others, so thank you for bearing with it. Because of the issues being debated around queer culture in Alameda these days, I decided to take the opportunity to share a bit on where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going.

I won’t belabor the past, but will speak momentarily on where we have come from, which was a contentious environment that existed a few years back, when the Alameda Board of Education (BOE) adopted literature lessons to backfill the absence of lessons in the district K-5 anthologies that neglected reflections of California state legally protected classes (e.g. disabled, religious, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and race). For the purposes of this op-ed I will just say from the perspective of reflecting queer culture, there were no lessons in the entire elementary school curriculum. At that time, queer families, queer history, queer culture, were invisible in Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) elementary schools. To address this, in the spring of 2010, the BOE adopted age appropriate lessons plans, developed by AUSD teachers and principals, for a host of books that a volunteer community advisory group, formed by the district, selected as representative of the gaps in the anthologies. At the final stage of approval in the spring of 2010, four board members voted aye - Niel Tam, Ron Mooney, Tracy Jensen and Mike McMahon - and one member voted no, Trish Spencer. Since that point in time the lessons are expected to be taught in their respective age appropriate grade levels throughout the district.

Where are we now? Recently a public conversation erupted, which called into question the appropriateness of teaching lessons like these. I want to reflect on the outcome of this dialogue because what came from this discussion, which uniquely styled why the lessons were developed to begin with, was the opportunity to reflect the fabric of our community, provide our children and their families with a reflection of who we are, and most importantly, open the door for a discussion of how we share that space together and the way we all uniquely add to the conversation of community. Looking back on the start of the conversation, it is easy to see how moving through the opportunity we gained insight on both the need for these types of lessons and the resources that support them. Really, at the end of the day, as difficult as it may be to have a conversation that requires one to work for their right to be at the table, in the end, a richer, more cohesive, more loving community evolves. So in many ways I’m thankful the need was expressed.

Where are we going? In California, new legislation designed to protect queer culture has been passed into law. One such law, Senate Bill 48 (SB48) requires California school districts to teach social science lessons, in elementary, middle and high school, on the contribution of LGBT people to our state and nation. Another law, Assembly Bill 9 (AB9) requires school districts to implement youth safety protocols, ensuring safe school environments for all students, including those who are LGBT. In addition to these two significant laws, as well as AUSD anti-bullying policies, we are looking to the AUSD implementation of secondary level anti-bullying curriculum and enriching the California Healthy Kids Survey to reflect the needs of LGBTQ youth in our schools. We are also working toward outcomes for community events, like the upcoming fourth annual Alameda Harvey Milk Day and creating greater awareness’s around the internationally successful, Bay Area Pride Month of June.

As we look to these next steps, I look forward to working with individuals who have long been engaged in advancing the needs of youth and families. In the effort to support the loving, safe and inclusive environments so many have come to enjoy in our island home, and in the spirit of creating space for all at the table, I welcome the next step work we will accomplish together.

Sean Cahill
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mgw711's picture
Submitted by mgw711 on Mon, Nov 26, 2012

Sean, I participated in that online conversation. I was glad to be part of that "teachable moment" with folks who spoke so eloquently (and many who responded more charitably than the original op-ed deserved) about how wrong it is to say our children shouldn't be "bothered" by one part of their community.

But the most beautiful part of the conversation came at the end, when a parent of a gender-unconventional child expressed the desire to post anonymously to protect his child. You and another commenter immediately offered resources and a community of support at his school. I could possibly have thought of more to say on the topic, but there could have no more fitting way to close the discussion than that real example of the intent and positive effect of the curriculum and the community's work over the past few years.

Submitted by Sean Cahill on Mon, Nov 26, 2012

Dear mgw711, Thank you for your acknowledgement regarding the closing statements of that online conversation. I found the experience extremely moving and am so very thankful to have had the privilege of helping over the years, in the countless hours of work, which aims to provide these resources to the LGBTQ community and the many who may feel isolated, threatened or otherwise unable to speak their voice. The importance of the LGBTQ work at AUSD continues to be highlighted in our community and I am ever ready to press for more and more resources, until the need is no longer present. As the voice of LGBTQ youth and their families continues to grow, I will be continually pushing for comprehensive responses to neglected areas of support. For example, recently I attended a community meeting for local non-profits serving youth and families in Alameda, where our Social Services Human Relations Board was reporting on census data they had collected, to help these organizations better serve our community. Completely lacking in their data sets was any mention of, often one of the highest at risk groups, LGBTQ youth and families. These issues must be corrected and the safety of our children and families must take priority as we continue to grow and remain relevant in our ever increasingly diverse home in the Bay Area. I am committed to correcting these errors and look forward to the work ahead.