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Local teacher releases children’s Harvey Milk workbook

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Whitney Avenue Elementary School fourth grade teacher Angela F. Luna recently self-published a children’s workbook aimed at fostering compassion and understanding toward the LGBTQI community.

Luna, a member of the Equality Action Now leadership, said the activist group encouraged her to work on LGBTQI curriculum for school-age children after the first Harvey Milk Day on May 22, 2009.

What resulted is her new 32-page book called “In Celebration of Harvey Milk: Educational Materials for Grades 4 through 12” that honors the memory of the gay rights activist who was assassinated in 1978.

To Luna, it was Milk’s courage to be himself at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so that she admires so much. “That inspires me everyday,” she said.

“In this day and age, 30 years later, people are still afraid to come out … (Milk’s) courage is so amazing to me,” she said.

Luna was not able to get married because of Prop 8, but now she doesn’t care what the opposition may or may not do in response to her book. As a teacher, she said, she has a responsibility to teach her students about Harvey Milk because youth are at risk.

“I just care that students are safe at school,” she said.

Since it has been published, the LGBT Task Force for the Sacramento City Unified School District sent out a memo to all district staff stating that the book is available upon request to SCUSD teachers who wish to review it. (Whitney Elementary is a San Juan School District school.)

When Luna piloted the book last year in her classroom, students had to get permission slips signed by their parents to participate. Of the 22 in her class, eight opted out of the lesson.

“I feel it’s another form of discrimination … In a sense, the children who could have benefited most weren’t able to participate,” Luna said.

One activity incorporated in the lesson plan for the book has students determine when the phrase “That’s so gay” is used with a negative connotation. Another has students determine whether a statement about Milk such as – He realized he was gay at the age of 27 – is true or false.

Luna said many of the students were surprised that Milk knew his sexual identity at 14 years old and that he was not just an activist in the gay rights movement but also fought for elderly and disabled people’s rights.

“They didn’t (call him) a hero,” Luna said, “but I could tell they were impressed he helped so many people.”

Luna said she hopes that this year, with a new administrator on campus, students won’t have to get permission slips signed to participate in the workbook activities.

Luna has taught for 16 years and was a finalist for the San Juan Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2011. She currently is a candidate for National Board Certification.

The book is available to the public on Amazon.com

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