Within schools around the county, LGBTQ+ youth became visible in many ways. The first LGBTQ+ student club called the “Rainbow Alliance” formed at Santa Cruz High in 1995. At UCSC, the first college “Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) formed in 1996. The Queer Youth Leadership Awards began in 1998. It continues today honoring youth and allies. On a yearly basis, students participate in events such as “National Coming Out Day” (October 11) and “Day of Silence” (in April). The Triangle Speakers began in 1991 and provide LGBTQ+ panels to share their stories in schools and worksites. Today almost every high school has an active GSA and many teachers across the county are teaching LGBTQ history in their classrooms.
I came out in my junior year of high school partly because I was part of the first student GSA club at Watsonville High School. I can remember being a freshman and admiring an upper classmen by the name of Bash DeEldon, who I think was the first openly gay male at Watsonville High. In my senior year, with our drama teacher, Mr. Scott, we produced the “What’s in a Name” assembly for all other students at Watsonville High that were a series of short skits about bullying and harassment.
LGBTQ teens are over represented among homeless and foster care youth-even in Santa Cruz. These youth wind up homeless or in foster care or group homes in part because their families have rejected them and they are without a network of support. It’s an ongoing problem that’s not well known or acknowledged enough. Help is needed from all of us to change the outcomes for these teens.
Maryanne Rehberg, LCSW, Child Welfare consultant
We are fortunate to live in a county that supports and embraces our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Our schools continue to strive to create spaces where all students are safe, healthy, and ready to achieve and thrive. All students of every identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, and gender deserve a safe place to learn and grow.
Faris Sabbah, Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools
As a San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District Board member, our purpose is to provide a safe and supportive environment in our schools for queer and questioning students to help them to navigate the school system. I began my educational career advocating for queer youth in the 1960s in New York. I moved to Santa Cruz in the 1990s and saw there were no visible support systems for queer youth in Santa Cruz County. Many of us recognized there was a problem and came together to do something. The first initiative came at Santa Cruz High when I was the vice principal and we helped three students start the Rainbow Alliance student club in 1996. Then in 1998, several of us got together to start the Queer Youth Leadership Awards to honor our queer students and allies across the county. I’m proud to say that these initiatives continue today.
Gail Levine, Board of Trustee, San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District