Wounded Pride

Despite its reputation, gay-friendly San Francisco is still a tough place for teens to come out.

"I don't want to minimize the bullying and pretend it didn't happen, because it did," Truitt says. But "there's some things you can get away with in a Mariah Carey video that you can't [get away with] in school. ... I would talk to him about other students we had that were transgender, and they didn't get that kind of attention. [Franks] was very over-the-top. If every day is going to be a parade, you're going to get a comment."

Franks denies ever wearing fishnets, but defends her outfits by saying she was cobbling together girl clothes with no support as she was bopping between foster homes and her own troubled family (she says her mom once threw out one of her wigs). "I [was] still figuring stuff out my dang self, so [the administrators] can't be mad at me," Franks says. "I would never wear stuff that's hella revealing. I'm not gonna dress like a slut."

On many occasions, Truitt and the staff supported Franks: They paid for hair extensions and a shopping spree for clothing. School officials talked to the bully's sports coaches and teachers in addition to suspending him, "but sometimes you can suspend someone five times, but it's like, is this really addressing the issue?" Truitt says.

Fallas and her friends at the Crib, a gay club for 18-and-up youth at City Nights.
Josh Edelson
Fallas and her friends at the Crib, a gay club for 18-and-up youth at City Nights.
Priscilla Fallas, an out lesbian from the Mission, still hangs posters of boys in her bedroom to fake out her grandma.
Josh Edelson
Priscilla Fallas, an out lesbian from the Mission, still hangs posters of boys in her bedroom to fake out her grandma.

It was always a struggle. Truitt gave Franks permission to use the staff unisex bathroom, but she'd sneak into the girl one. Franks often refused to dress for gym. A few days before a class project presentation to parents, Franks' adviser told her to come dressed as a boy. Rebuffed by the preemptive strike, she showed up in polkadot heels and a skirt, which she now admits was a little "vindictive." "I'm like, 'How y'all gonna tell me what I can and cannot wear?'" she says. "As long as I'm being appropriate, you can't tell me what gender to be."

The summer after freshman year Franks started hormones and honed her wardrobe with help from a friend's hand-me-downs. She returned for sophomore year dressing as a female full time. The bullying dissipated, yet after the same bully threw a plastic bottle at her head in the courtyard, she'd had enough. "It was either going to be me or him," she says. Franks transferred. She says she still resents school.

"I have my fears about school because of how it was before," she says. "That was when I was 16, and I'm only 18. It's only two years ago. It doesn't just go away."

Hsu still views the situation with regret: "It's a pretty big deal when you can't identify the way you want to identify and stay at your school."

Staff and student sources throughout the school district say boys often face the brunt of antigay teasing. Even in San Francisco, coming out as a gay boy is "much tougher," says Todd Morgan, a teacher at Phillip & Sala Burton Academic High School in the Bayview. "I think that's another symptom of the objectification of women built into our society. It's a lot hotter to young men to think about two women together than two boys together."

Talen Lee came out to fellow students in eighth grade. During high school at Galileo in the Marina, he says he weathered daily "gay-ass," "faggot," and "cocksucker" hazing for his androgynous clothes and unapologetically feminine demeanor. "There were a couple girls who came out, but no guys," Lee says. "We have to conform to society and be more masculine." Struggling with depression from being treated as a "pariah" at home as well, Lee eventually transferred to another school. Now 20, he has moved to the Castro and transitioned to live as a woman by a different name.

Jarrell Soriano didn't identify as gay as a freshman at Burton, but after he joined the cheerleading team and the all-girl JROTC drill team, people began to make assumptions. He started skipping school. In fact, 18 percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual high schoolers reported playing hooky because of "lack of safety" in the recent district survey, as did 56 percent of transgender students. That's compared to just 6 percent of heterosexual students.

While his former honors English teacher calls Soriano "brilliant," his grades sank to a D average. "It was hard for me to concentrate," he says. "I struggled. It was because of too many slurs, too many assumptions. It gets really annoying and immature when people do that a lot. It hurts."

Since transferring to Balboa High School, the taunting has stopped, and Soriano's grades have gone up. Still, he says his former bad grades have him worried about getting admitted to a state university.

Anecdotally, students and administrators say schools are improving. Burton now has a 40-student-strong Gay Straight Alliance. On the National Day of Silence, more than half the students cover their mouths with tape to symbolize how bullying of gay students forces them to stay in the closet. For National Coming Out Day, the school raised a rainbow flag instead of a California one, and the alliance members got other students to fill out 400 placards reading "I'm coming out as ..." which they filled in with slogans including "a gay supporter," "film noir lover," or "bossy." Students in the Gay-Straight Alliance at Mission High did the same while wearing their "Gay? Fine by Me" T-shirts. The seniors there still remember Franks, but Sushi Song, one of Franks' straight allies, notices that the environment at the school has improved in her four years there. Teachers have gotten better at cracking down on slurs.

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