Despite ongoing controversy, the San Leandro Unified School District showed major progress in the battle to combat homophobia by hanging posters welcoming people of all sexual orientations.
During January teachers began putting up posters that were designed by the Gay- Straight Alliance of San Leandro High, a club with 30 members that is part of the Gay Straight Network.
The posters show rainbow colors going horizontally with the words: "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Youth," followed by three purple and black triangles and the statement: "This is a safe place to be who you are. This sign affirms that support and resources are available for you in this school."
"We are proud of the signs, and we have done a lot of things in the past year. We plan activities and have a place for students to come together and feel safe," said Gay Straight Alliance advisor Tom Laughlin.
The decision to hang the posters was made during a 2002 court settlement between the school district and a former San Leandro High English teacher. Karl Debro, who filed the lawsuit, said the conflict began during the 1997-'98 school year when a gay couple and a number of teachers were attacked for raising issues of sexual orientation and race in the classroom.
Debro, who continues to teach at the school, said that he was trying to make San Leandro High a safer place for students.
"We put posters up and talked to students and the parents attacked us," said Debro.
The conflict escalated to lawsuits from parents arguing that Debro's teaching of sexual orientation and race issues violated their religious beliefs. Debro on the other hand, argued that by censoring him, superintendent Himmelberg violated his freedom of speech and civil rights. The parent's arguments were not enough to win the lawsuit that ended with a settlement of $1.1 million to Debro.
An article printed in the San Francisco Chronicle stated that five teachers had opposed putting up the fliers, fueling further accusations of homophobia in the school. However, Debro said, "There was nobody that said they are not willing to post up the posters in their room."
Members of the San Leandro High School administration say they are organizing a response to the poster controversy. According to Principal Amy Furtado, the school is also pursuing training for the teachers. "there was a workshop last year and a follow up this year. This is not a 'complete five hours and you're done' type of training, but an ongoing self-development."
San Leandro High School students are also participating in educational presentations from the Gay Straight Alliance. For National Coming Out Day, the students decided they wanted to go to classrooms to bring awareness to issues of homophobia in the classroom. They also did a presentation early this year that focused on sexual orientation and religion.
Laughlin said "The adults stay out of the presentation as much as possible."