East Goes Gay for Queer Lit
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
For the 2022-23 school year, nearly 200 different class options were available to East students, among these was a new class: Queer Literature Honors. The class, which was first added to Denver’s South High School in 2016, is now offered at East and is the first year-long Honors Queer lit class in DPS. Two years ago, a student came to the English department to propose that the class be added to East since the material wasn’t being taught. It has now been added to the DPS class catalog, which will make the process easier for any other schools in the district to add it.
Mr. Velasquez, the teacher for this class, was thrilled that the class was being added to East. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to teach and how much joy I’m getting, but a lot of it is because the kids are feeling so comfortable in this class. The conversations we’re already having, the community we’re already building, is something I’ve never seen throughout East, especially for the queer community.”
Before this class, Queer literature wasn’t taught in any class at East. “Everyone wants to be recognized by society, …[and] I don’t think we’ve chosen books that have valued the queer community in the past, [which is] needed to see positive stories that represent our lives.” Although it’s a good step forward, Mr. Velazquez says we’re not done yet, and that the class should be included at every school: “Every school needs it because every school has a queer community, and I know they’re not feeling welcomed or represented in that building.”
Last year, a parent called the school to complain that The Queer Bible, by Jack Guinness, was being taught in this class, while the Bible was not. In response, Mr. Anderson argued that a bible just means a book in a specialty. Since that incident, there has so far been no pushback outside the community about the addition of the class.
Inside East, the class has overall been met with excitement. The English department was originally hoping for one class, but after more than 80 people requested it, two additional classes were added to accommodate the extra students. For students who are worried about being outed or getting push-back from their families, the class can be sent on emails and report cards home as "Honors English".
Harper Friend, a student in the class, said she found the course material to be honest and open to talking about heavy subjects. “I would [recommend it] especially if you’re interested in the community and the material, it comes very naturally and it's easy to comprehend.” She added, “You can really get into class discussions more than with other English classes.”
The class has created a safe space for students to talk about not only the class material but also about their own lives and the things they see in the world. Mr. Velaquez emphasized the importance of having the class. “There’s a need out there, especially for your generation. I never thought I would ever teach this class, so it’s amazing to me how far we’ve come, and I think we need to continue.”
The English department was happy with the popularity of the new class, including Mr. Velasquez, who was also hopeful that there would be more students joining next year, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. “I wish more straight students would take this class to see that there’s common themes for humanity, not just for the queer community.” He added, “Any time you cut yourself off to any group, you’re just cutting yourself off to new experiences.”
Mr. Velasquez is hopeful for the future of the class and the welcoming and accepting community it is creating at East. “We’re still developing this course, ...[and] I want student voices to help develop this course.”
Although it’s a new class this year, it is a big step forward for East in being welcoming to all students, and it has a bright future here at East. Mr. Velasquez finished by saying that students are, “feeling that they are actually valued by EHS, they’re actually seeing positive stories about themselves, but they’re also getting the chance to talk openly and freely about things that have affected them in their lives.”