Eric C. told Human Rights Watch, "I was involved in gangs until `97 or `98. The way a gang works, it's like a family there. . . . The guy I was under, I came out and told him. I told a lot of people. A lot."
Even though some members of his gang went to his school, he said, "When I came out, no one had much of a problem. The thing is, the boss, the guy above the one I ran under, he had a really big problem with me being gay." But the members of his section "had no problem whatsoever."
He explained his motivation for staying in the gang: "I had protection. They told me, if anybody fucked around with me, they were there for me."
Even so, he recalled that he wasn't always treated the same as other gang members. "I was never called to any guy fights," he said. "I was always told to stand back and watch. Whenever there were girl fights, I was always called. I was, like, just `cause I'm gay doesn't mean I can't fight a guy."
Eventually, the gang boss' opposition to his membership in the gang resulted in his being targeted by other members because he was gay. "Things became really unsafe for me. I had people at school telling me a guy on the outside was looking for me," he said.
"Things got so bad, I told my mother what I was going through. She went berserk, called the police, went down to the school, talked to the assistant principal asking them to transfer me to another school."
When he and his mother went to the assistant principal to complete the transfer paperwork, "she thought I was dropping out of school," Eric told us. "She pulled out the dropout programs for me. When my mom repeated that we were looking for another school, she told us, `He's obviously going to drop out,' even though I was a B-average student." The administrator did not look at his school records until Eric and his mother insisted that he would not accept placement in a dropout program. "Then she pulled out mytranscripts. There everything was. I was a B-average student."
Although Eric was able to transfer, the district placed him at a school across town. "It's really far from here, about a forty-five minute bus ride. It has a good reputation with gay students, a really open atmosphere. No violence or fights at all for the last seven years. There were other high schools, but the school district was concerned that I wouldn't be safe."
In addition to the distance, Eric, who is Asian, noted that another downside to his new school was that "the majority of students are Caucasian. At most schools in San Francisco, the majority are Asian, African American, Latino, then Caucasian." At the same time, Eric told us that he appreciated the openness of the school. "I felt, like, a completely different atmosphere." At his old school, he said, "there was no GSA [gay-straight alliance], no resources I could go to. I just came out. There was nothing there."
He describes his new school as "completely different." He told us, "The kids are really open. All of the gay students there were really open with themselves, and there were a lot of gay kids there. The straight kids don't see the gay kids as a problem. Like, in my leadership class I talked about some problems I was having with my boyfriend. The other kids just acted like it was completely normal."