Cover Story

Considering San Francisco's large lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community, it may not be surprising that San Francisco Unified School District is the nation's only public school system with integrated support services for LGB youth. The school district established an office dedicated to providing educational materials to students, staff and parents about sexual orientation issues and counseling sexual minority students 11 years ago. But the road to implementing those services wasn't without the roadblocks that educators elsewhere face when they try to address sexual orientation.

"For many, there is an [impression that] as soon as you talk about sexual orientation, you must talk about sex," explains Kevin R. Gogin, director of Support Services for Sexual Minority Youth for San Francisco public schools.

Or, he says, there are presuppositions that "this doesn't happen in this community" or that educators don't need to talk about these issues because the community has, for example, a high Asian, Latino or Catholic population. Gogin and his colleagues overcame such false assumptions to establish the school district's LGB support services by mounting a vigorous education campaign that focused on the need to create a safe school environment for all students.

Today, the program takes a three-prong approach to serving its student body, which is 89 percent ethnic minority:

  • Curriculum. The office provides suggested resources that kindergarten through high school teachers can use to address diversity issues, school safety and sexual orientation in age-appropriate ways.

  • Professional development. Teachers receive training on general sensitivity and how to incorporate diversity into the curriculum.

  • Working with individual students. The office offers counseling to individual students on sexual orientation issues and refers students and families to community resources.

Gogin's office also designates and trains a sexual minority youth liaison (SMYL)--often referred to as "the smile people" for their acronym--in each middle and high school building. As the point-persons in their school for sexual orientation issues, they help implement the curriculum, coordinate health-awareness activities, pull together bulletin boards and keep books and pamphlets on hand for students with questions.