The preteen and teen years are often the most stressful time in an LGBT person’s life. In an effort to help combat this, the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC) has for the last three years taught elective courses in three local middle and high schools—but to continue the program, they need funding.
LYRIC’s website states that its mission is “to build community and inspire positive social change through education enhancement… and leadership development,” together with people “of all races, classes, genders, and abilities.”
To that end, the organization realized that really making a change in schools would require a much longer-term commitment than just a day or two at each one.
The result was an elective class, held once a week, called “Leadership,” in which students are taught in-depth about the LGBT community. Most of the students taking the class at Balboa High School are LGBT, but at Buena Vista Horace Mann and Everett Middle School, most identify as straight allies.
When Everett held a Pride celebration, a few students did come out—but the director of the LYRIC program and Leadership teacher, Anayvette Martinez, noted that the students who chose to be open about their LGBT identities were not part of the class.
“It speaks to how this impacts the school,” she told the Bay Area Reporter. “We want it to be about a school transformation.”
LYRIC isn’t aiming just for a change of attitudes, but of official policies as well; for their required project, the high school students taking Martinez’s class lobbied Balboa to designate a bathroom as gender-neutral. Martinez said that transgender issues are an important part of her classes, since youth who identify as trans especially need a supportive environment; without it, discrimination and harassment can lead to drug use, truancy, dropping out of school, or suicide.
“With the youth, I want to start that conversation very young,” she said.
In addition to the validating testimonials by students and staff at each school, LYRIC’s initiative was also evaluated by the firm Education, Training, and Research Associates; their brief, “LYRIC’s School-Based Initiative – Creating Schools Where LGBTQQ Students Can Thrive,” showed “evidence of positive outcome.”
LYRIC had hoped to expand beyond the initial three schools to six in the 2013-2014 school year, and to that end applied for a grant from San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and their Families for $250,000. However, a different agency was chosen; not only that, but in the last five years, the funding LYRIC gets from the city has decreased by nearly 40%.
To fund LYRIC’s public school work, the organization is petitioning Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors; the 2013-2014 budget proposal is expected to be released June 1, and LYRIC is pushing for $150,000 from the general fund.
LYRIC Executive Director Jodi Schwartz told the Bay Area Reporter that their work in schools may be on a smaller scale next year, but “We will get that funding—I am not planning for not receiving it.”
The current plan is for LYRIC to match the city funds “dollar for dollar” from donations, which will allow the leadership classes to go on at Balboa, Buena Vista Horace Mann, and Everett. Without support from the city, it’s uncertain if the electives will continue.
The initiative was also rated as highly successful by a state measure, the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) Total School Assets Scale. The Leadership program was found to encourage “caring relationships with adults at school, high expectations from adults at school, and meaningful opportunities to participate in the school community.”
In a press release from LYRIC, an SFUSD teacher identified as Gail testified that “[LYRIC] gives us ownership and says, ‘You take it on.’ We have to develop it in our own way. It’s not a canned curriculum. You actually have to think.”
To raise awareness of the program, LYRIC is holding a press conference on the front steps of San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, June 6, from 4:00 – 5:00 pm. Co-sponsored by Supervisors David Campos & Scott Wiener, the event will talk about the “new approach to school climate transformation,” reporting on LYRIC’s initiative, its goals, its successes— and its hopeful future.
LYRIC’s website can be found here.