This Might Be The Most Important High School Class You Never Took

Last week, San Francisco's Ruth Asawa School of the Arts announced it would be the first public high school in California to introduce a semester-long LGBTQ studies class into its program. The course, which is slated to debut this fall, is an elective that will study the history of the contributions of the LGBTQ community in the Bay Area and beyond, as well as discuss LGBTQ portrayals in media and pop culture over time. While some private schools in the area have offered a similar class, this is the first time it will be offered in a California public school. This comes after a state law passed in 2011 mandated that LGBTQ studies is a required topic for all California schools to integrate into their curriculum. Whether or not the establishments choose to dedicate an entire course to the topic or weave it into their current social studies or US history offerings, is ultimately their decision. We chatted with instructor Lyndsey Schlax, who will be helming the class in August, on what she plans to cover, why this course is so groundbreaking, and why other schools should follow suit. Why do you feel this class is so important?
"Well, I think there are a few reasons. One is timeliness. There is so much happening in the LGBTQ equality movement right now. And, in popular culture we’re seeing a huge amount of discussion around transgender men and women and what that experience is like — people really starting to to understand. Figures like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner are really at the forefront of what’s going on, and I think it's an amazing opportunity to take this culture moment and say, there are academics here, too. There is history, and let’s learn about it and talk about. "Another big motivation is I’m also a history teacher, and the history classes are all about the dominant narrative. For so long, it’s been this story of old white men, and in order to change that you need to have a focus on particular issues and what other people — who weren’t writing the history books — happened to be experiencing. I hope by designing and teaching an LGBT studies class, we will really start getting these stories into the dominant narrative and having it be something kids are interested in leaning more about." What do you want students’ main takeaway to be after this course?
"I want them to know what the longer fight for equality has been about. I also want them to understand that change doesn’t always happen right away. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not coming. And, to know some of these stories — they know Harvey Milk but there were a lot of other people who were a big part of this movement that they don’t know. I want them to know about identity and how it shapes our experiences and how these experiences lesbian women, or gay men, or transgender men have had in terms of fighting for rights, access, and respect. Also, how to be a good ally. They need to know how to ask questions, have conversations, and be an activist about these issues." What are some tools other schools can use to make this happen?
"One of the big things is that the community needs to be behind it. In San Francisco, they absolutely are. I hope we can find really good lessons and things other districts can learn from — even if they don’t end up offering an LGBTQ class. Hopefully, there are things they can add in their U.S. history or government classes. " What are you most looking forward to covering in the class?
"I’m really excited to lead the kids through some critical analysis of media and pop culture portrayals of the LGBTQ community. We’re going to look at some early stuff — what coded language and behavior looked like, some of the poetry of Langston Hughes. Also, we’ll discuss the art of Keith Haring and how that was used to change the conversation around the AIDS crisis and how it promoted activism around it. I’m also excited to talk about marriage equality and the politics and groundwork and parallels between the Civil Rights movement and what’s happening for LGBT Americans now. I think those things from a historical perspective will be fascinating."