San Francisco’s private, all-boys Town School does a yearly Dia de Servicio around Caesar Chavez Day, where the students do community service, like raise money for Japanese earthquake relief, and take field trips learning about different cultures. This year, the second grade class took a trip through the Castro. Not every parent was happy about this.
Per SFGate’s “Mommy Files”:
The guide walked the boys by Pink Triangle Memorial Park where 15 granite pylons rise above the ground in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders who were persecuted, imprisoned and killed during and after the Nazi regime. A few other stops on the tour included the wildly colored Hope for the World Cure Mural, a pictorial depiction of the AIDS epidemic; the Human Rights Campaign Action Center, local headquarters for a civil rights organization promoting fairness for LGBT Americans; and Harvey Milk’s camera shop, which the former gay activist and pioneering politician once lived above.
That seems like an interesting and informative educational experience. Now who could ever have a problem with that?
While the vast majority of the parents of the few dozen seven and eight-year olds who attended the trip were supportive of the school’s decision, it raised the hackles of at least a handful, some of whom reportedly kept their kids home from the excursion and reached out to media outlets to express their disapproval.
According to SF Gate blogger Amy Graff, one parent reached out to that media outlet to express “frustration, anxiety, and confusion around the field trip.”
Another mother contacted CBS 5 Eyewitness News, asking them “why would you talk to a young child about sex with a man and a woman let alone a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It just doesn’t seem right. They are not ready for that.”
This attitude makes total sense because obviously the best way to raise open-minded, tolerant adults is to keep them cloistered from everything different or uncomfortable until their late teens.
The school claims that the excursion, which was led by a respected historian and guide with experience leading kid-appropriate tours though the Castro, focused on the historical and civil rights aspects of the area as opposed to things related to sexuality. The school’s headmaster, Brewster Ely, sent an open letter to the Town School community vigorously defending the trip.
“It is our responsibility at Town School to ensure that all boys within our care feel safe and validated,” wrote Ely. “At Town we have long taught that it is important to be open-minded about difference, and we are pleased that we have boys at school who have gay parents.”
The trip raises the long-standing question of how child-friendly of a neighborhood the Castro actually is. While there’s an ever-increasing number of Castro residents, both gay and straight, raising children there, it’s a place that sees more than its fair share of nudity.
Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, noting everyone was appropriately ashamed of their bodies back in Walnut Creek, has recently been on a one-man crusade to get the “Free Willy Brigade” to cover up. Unfortunately for Nevius, the cops couldn’t become the fig leaf patrol until someone complained–which had yet to happen.
A more interesting issue than Nevius’s suburban prudishness is, although the school said that sexuality wasn’t a topic of the tour, it’s dubious that it’s even possible to give what’s essentially a lesson in the history of the West Coast gay rights movement without mentioning sexuality. It would be like talking about farm workers rights movement without mentioning that the majority of the workers were Latino.
Identity-based neighborhoods like the Castro didn’t just spring up because the people had the same taste in clothes or music, they happened because that’s where people who were experiencing discrimination elsewhere could go about their lives in relative peace. Any tour of the Castro that deliberately ignores the issue of sexuality wouldn’t make a lick of sense and the school’s intimation that it would seems slightly disingenuous.
This isn’t to imply that the only way for second-graders to understand what the Castro is all about is to get an up close and personal look at a sex toy shop. Rather, an acceptably chaste, completely age-appropriate discussion of non-hetero normative sexuality is not only possible but what one might hope occurred during the tour.
The Castro isn’t the only area of San Francisco the kids are going to explore as part of their continuing study of the city’s neighborhoods–next they’ll be going to Chinatown and the Mission. Honestly, explaining to a group of seven-year olds what’s going on any given sunny Saturday afternoon at Dolores Park is going to be infinitely more difficult than anything happening in the Castro.