S.F. school district council will support queer and trans students and families

‘We all as human beings deserve to be loved and respected’

Of the 50,000 students enrolled in the San Francisco Unified District, queer and transgender youth and their families now have an affinity group to make their presence visible with the new Queer and Trans Parent Advisory Council.

The council was a long time coming, especially in an area considered to be the gay mecca of the world. Ideas for the council were introduced almost a decade ago by Our Family Coalition, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

“For one of the major queer-accepting cities in the world, it was kind of shameful that our school district didn’t have a body or an avenue that was direct for queer parents to provide input and feedback on how to care for our students and families,” said Rick Oculto, Our Family Coalition’s education manager.

The Board of Education approved establishing the group Feb. 8. Commissioner Alison Collins said the QTPAC will serve “as a voice for students and families in our district that we know exist and yet may or may not be counted. I have witnessed parents and children having to advocate individually for their schools to be more welcoming and more inclusive. That shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of an individual child or an individual parent.”

In its first year, the council is expected to cost $480,000, which includes salaries and benefits for a full-time liaison and a project manager. It also would cover creating gender-neutral forms and signs for more than 1,000 single-stall restrooms throughout the district that would make them ADA compliant.

The expenditure comes when the district is facing a $125 million deficit for fiscal year 2022-2023. But council proponents encourage looking beyond the price tag for providing queer and trans visibility.

“This was a gaping hole in the essential services that should have been provided in the first place,” said Oculto. “This is not an experiment; this is not a frivolous decision. This is a manifestation of the value that should have been there all along.”

During the Feb. 8 meeting, a parent identifying themself as Celestina, a queer mother to a nonbinary seventh grader, stressed the council’s importance. “Whether or not you believe in LGBTQ rights … I would really urge you to think about the fact that we all as human beings deserve to be loved and respected,” they said.

Jenny Lam, vice president of the board, backed the decision, adding the district’s road ahead should not hinder support toward students. “I think we have to acknowledge that there are tough decisions ahead for this district, for this board. We have to see things holistically.”

Advisory council membership will consist solely of SFUSD parents and caregivers, but leadership positions will be reserved for those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. The council is also free to explore possible student representation.

Members will work with LGBTQ+ community-based agencies and organizations as well as other parent advisory committees and councils to act as district family advocates. When possible, the QTPAC will promote LGBTQ+ visibility and history through recommended books, curriculum, school celebrations, classroom posters, murals and art. For transparency, the council must report to the board every April.

QTPAC advocates say they are eager to collaborate with other councils to bring issues to the district’s attention.

“We know that those communities are not insular to other identities,” said Oculto. “They have members that are LGBTQ, they have members that have disabilities, they have members from different cultural backgrounds within them all influencing one another.” 

Of the four existing advisory councils, two are the African American Parent Advisory Council and the Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Mātua (Parent) Advisory Council. The other two are the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and the English Learners Advisory Committee.

Last month, the AAPAC held financial aid workshops, ensured Black History Month would be highlighted this month, and recognized students in academics, sports and other extracurricular activities.

The Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander PAC identifies the concerns of community members and brings these issues to the attention of school staff, administration and other community stakeholders.

The special education committee is part of the Special Education Local Plan Area, a group of school districts, charter schools and county offices of education that provide special education and related services to students with disabilities. The organization has promoted assistive technology, understanding of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and providing access to workshops where students and their families can learn about services available to them.

The ELAC advises the principal and School Site Council on programs and services for English and assists in the development of a school’s needs assessment and efforts to promote the importance of regular school attendance.

jsalazar@sfexaminer.com

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