Our Family Coalition https://ourfamily.org/
ONE Archives Foundation https://www.onearchives.org/
Teaching LGBTQ History http://www.lgbtqhistory.org/
Billy DeFrank Center https://www.defrankcenter.org/
The LGBT Youth Space https://youthspace.org/
Our Germs, Our Future. Human Microbiome as a Community of Self. | Miriam Lueck Avery | TEDxMarin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJTjuiYrmFs
California History-Social Science Project, Resources & professional learning for K-12 history-social science: https://chssp.ucdavis.edu/regional-sites
Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele (Illustrations) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28957268-queer
A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10065595-a-queer-history-of-the-united-states?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=xC389q7h8s&rank=1
Transgender History by Susan Stryker https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2420983.Transgender_History?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=9OT4gsFOrH&rank=1
Making Gay History hosted by Eric Marcus https://makinggayhistory.com/
Queer America: Learning For Justice hosted by hosts Leila Rupp and John D’Emilio https://www.learningforjustice.org/podcasts/queer-america
RICK OCULTO: I was encountering young people who were being beat up, who were being thrown out of their house, who were unable to even walk to school and feel safe during certain times because they knew that there was nobody protecting them. And so within that context, I switched from an individual responsibility perspective to listen.
We’ve got to look at the systems that are making them fall into these patterns that are unhealthy for them.
This is High Tech High Unboxed. I’m Alec Patton. And today’s episode comes from Jean Catubay. Hey, Jean.
JEAN CATUBAY: Hey.
ALEC PATTON: What are we going to hear today?
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. I’m really excited for folks to hear this one. For this episode, we talked to Rick Oculto. He’s the Education Director at Our Family Coalition based out of the Bay Area. They provide support groups, workshops, parties, and free curriculum for the purpose of advancing equity for the full spectrum of LGBTQ families and children.
ALEC PATTON: All right. Let’s hear it.
JEAN CATUBAY: On today’s episode, we’re here with Rick OCULTO from Our Family Coalition. Hi, Rick.
RICK OCULTO: Hi, there, everybody.
JEAN CATUBAY: So we have the chance to meet each other earlier this year. My class is doing a project and our students identified issues that were impacting San Diego and form groups that will then come up with these action plans to try to implement change in our community.
And so we had a group that was focusing on LGBTQ issues. And you were on that panel for them. And I will say that you spent two days with my kids.
And they just absolutely loved you. There was just such a sense of mutual respect and interest from you were like after the two days, they were just like, when is the next time that we can hang out with Mr. Rick? He was so cool. I like they felt so connected to you. And after that day, I was just like I have to have him on the show.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah, of course. I mean, part of that is I’m genuinely inspired by your students, and just the projects that they’re doing, especially in middle school. Just being able to confidently say we want to support our LGBTQ peers, and we want to have an environment that is welcoming to everybody. It’s part and parcel of why I do this work.
JEAN CATUBAY: That is so good to hear we love a good mutual positive experience. I was wondering now if we can get into, how did you get started with this work?
RICK OCULTO: Sure. I do want to establish a bit about where I am right now. And so I am the education director at Our Family Coalition. And if you’re not familiar with that, Our Family Coalition is a family organization that serves LGBTQ families and children.
And so we were founded in 2002. But we were put together by TWO. Well, it’s a combination of two family queer family organizations that started in the mid 90s. And so if you’re wondering how I got, or how this organization came to be, and subsequently how I got to it, this is the beginning of that story.
Now, as far as me, you asked for me to expand on describing myself as a gay cisgender Filipino Bay Area native from San Jose. Also a gay gamer and an uncle.
And each of those things I think that I put into that introduction is I think really important to expand upon because I think that when we think about the people that are in these spaces to really affect education, or in these spaces that are fun like in gaming spaces, that there isn’t really a connection about those folks, right? Like the real lives behind the people who do this kind of work.
And so I’ll go real quickly through each of those different things. So gay, same sex loving. Whatever you want to call it like.
I’m gay. So there’s that cisgender. If for those of you that are not familiar with the terminology, it is the so for folks that are born into the gender that they identify with as currently, that’s the term cisgender.
And so cis the root of that means on the same side. So I’m on the same side of the gender that was given to me assumed for me when I was born, which is categorically different from transgender.
Trans the root being across from, right? Which people are across from the gender that they were assumed to be when they were born. And so I use this gender to describe myself.
And the reason that word is really important is because if you didn’t have that word to describe folks that are cisgender, then what is the opposite of transgender? What is the other word, right? Then you have this like conversation about normal, or abnormal, or whatever else.
And so we need a word for us, so it falls into this categorization of normalcy. So that’s that. Filipino, I’m a first generation born here in the United States. Filipino my parents, and my family were all immigrants.
My uncle was able to bring over the family because he joined the Navy, the military in the Philippines. And if for those of you that are part of High Tech High, if you know Miss Judy.
JEAN CATUBAY: I love Miss Judy.
RICK OCULTO: Her dad is my uncle. He is one of my heroes. And yeah, so that’s my family. As a Bay Area native, at first, that part of my family. Judy and her dad and four sisters.
And mom, they lived in Guam, and Hawaii, and all these different places. When we came a lot of his sisters, my mom and my aunts all moved to the Bay Area right around San Francisco and San Jose. And so that’s where we put down a lot of roots I think Sunnyvale was probably the first place around there. So I’m very much a Bay Area kid. This is where my identity comes from, right?
JEAN CATUBAY: I’m also from the bay, too. And something that’s coming to mind, and I know we’re going to get to the other stuff also. But I was just wondering for people who might not be super familiar. What made the Bay so special? What makes that area so different?
RICK OCULTO: I think it has a real advantage in being basically a port city in a lot of different ways. And so it’s a port city obviously or a port location, obviously, because of the Bay itself. San Francisco and Oakland serve as international ports for a lot of things. So a lot of people come through there, a lot of trade, a lot of that kind of different stuff.
But it is also a hub for a lot of different kinds of innovation. And I think it was facilitated by that diversity that came through those ports, and the ability for businesses to build and innovate based off of those different ideas coming through.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. It’s like the osmosis almost that people just get that Bay Area flag, right?
RICK OCULTO: Oh, I mean, when you ask me, what my cultural food? Is of course, I’m going to go Filipino first because that’s what my family did. But as soon as I stepped out the door. Mexican food, Indian food, Vietnamese food, like Polish.
JEAN CATUBAY: I will say I cannot find an Indian pizza anywhere outside of San Francisco. And I have tried. And people look at me crazy like, what are you talking about?
RICK OCULTO: Right. Yeah. Well, that’s true. But I’ll give you this. Your California burritos. The so Cal French fry burritos. You can’t beat them. San Diego is the place.
JEAN CATUBAY: Right. But people in San Francisco will argue with you about a wet burrito. I swear. Always like if it’s that good.
RICK OCULTO: Diff’rent strokes, right?
JEAN CATUBAY: Right. Right. Oh, goodness. Well, I’m sensing a segue now into like that last part that we were talking about with the gay gamer aspect. And I remember when you met my students. That was the one that you sounded the most like excited to share.
And so I’m wondering, especially as someone who is involved in education. What are the different aspects of gaming, and how do they relate to the world of education? Because in my experience, I feel like I know a lot of teachers and people in education who are into gangs. I just don’t really hear people sharing that passion out loud very much.
RICK OCULTO: Well, I mean, first of all, I come from a really nerdy family again. And I’m not putting my family in San Diego on Reid. But like they were the alpha geeks.
They’re the ones that brought us to Star Trek and to Star Wars. I don’t know if it wasn’t for Judy’s sister Eileen. Like I wouldn’t know if the rest of us would have been so geeky, right? I quite honestly.
JEAN CATUBAY: Think Eileen.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. Right. And she’d hate that. I’m calling her “Ate.” She hates that. So yeah, thanks, Ate Eileen.
But so I was surrounded by all of these different things. And the geeking, that part of our culture. A lot of times is defined racially about who has access to it who’s represented, and who it’s written for, right? We’re seeing that in a lot of modern conversations about representation in movies, and in video games, and in comic books, and who should be white, and all of this stuff.
And it’s like well, I grew up with this. And part of my legacy is Star Trek, where they really did push the envelope. It’s nowhere near where. It should be now.
But the roots of that was really to say, hey, look, we’ve got this a Russian guy in the middle of the Cold War here on our set. We’ve got this Scottish guy, where we know that there is some tension around those issues. We’ve got this black woman who has a leadership role on the bridge, right?
JEAN CATUBAY: Correct me if I’m wrong. Star Trek is the first interracial kiss on television, is it not?
RICK OCULTO: It is. It is. Between Captain Kirk and Uhura. Yeah. And there’s a great story behind that too.
The production company did not want to show that. And what to his credit William Shatner was like I’m going to ruin every shot.
Yeah. I’m going to ruin every shot that they could possibly use to use. Another thing until you have to use the shot, where we are kissing.
JEAN CATUBAY: Wow. That’s incredible. Will Shatner. And what a guy.
RICK OCULTO: Right. And so within that context of geekery, this is the kind of thing that I grew up with. And I really I love games. I love games that are card games, board games, video games. And that has been a consistent kind of thing within my family.
Now video games has that played a large, large part of my growing up. And I’m going to age myself here, right? Like I started with the PC junior and Atari’s. This is before they were considered cool.
And it was a really fun way to be able to engage in activities that are foreign to me. And so you talk about video games like I believe it was called I only got like spelunker or something, where you were like literally jumping across and basically playing Indiana Jones. And so the part of that is not only are you I could watch a movie about Indiana Jones.
I could read a book about that kind of adventure. But if there are very few ways that I can participate, right? Without breaking international law.
JEAN CATUBAY: Quiet never. We cannot condone that on the podcast.
RICK OCULTO: Right. And so this is a really fun way to get into that story. And so you say that a lot of educators are wary or don’t talk about the fact that they might be into video games. And I think that’s a shame.
And the reason for that is I want you to think of any media that you use to learn.
JEAN CATUBAY: OK.
RICK OCULTO: Now, I want you to think about the pedagogy that you might use with all those different kinds of media to get a lesson across, right? Now, in any of those media, do any of the media by nature of the media itself require that you improve in order to progress?
JEAN CATUBAY: Now, I feel like it’s very like a consumption relationship.
RICK OCULTO: Right. Whereas video games, you’ve got to get good to use the gamer phrase. You have to improve your knowledge, your reaction time, your interpretation of signals, all of these different things in order to progress.
And so the pedagogy there is one where you as a player are invested to continue the story in a way that means that you must improve. There’s very few media that’s like this.
And it’s not some outside force that’s telling you. You got to do this it’s. You yourself saying I want to know, and I want to get better.
And so it takes the lessons that we generally attribute to sports or team play. It takes art. It takes literature, right? Because there’s so many rich story and plot lines now. It takes technology and math. It takes all of the different subjects and turns it into this self motivated educational tool.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. It’s so cool to hear you talk about in that sense. Because I think in so many ways gaming and education are often I don’t know regarded in opposition to each other. When in actuality, I think they complement one another really, really well.
So yeah, I just wanting and wanting. I’m curious to learn more about how when did you start working with young people just the clarification you are not a classroom. And so if not the classroom, when was your first interactions, and when did you decide this is the path that I want to take?
RICK OCULTO: Well, the most honest answer I have is by accident.
JEAN CATUBAY: We love honesty here.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. I got here by accident. And so when I was younger, I remember in high school, taking those aptitude tests that tell you what kind of job your personality is best suited for. In any case, I will never forget the three jobs that were recommended for me when I took it.
And the three jobs were public speaker, politician, counselor, therapist, teacher, and priest.
JEAN CATUBAY: Oh, wow. You know what? I think I remember you mentioning this when we first met. Yes.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. And so those were the three things. And the thing for me is coming from an immigrant family, especially. And I don’t know if this is true for other cultures. But it is true of my family like the gold standard for where your kids are supposed to aspire to be it was Doctor and lawyer at the time. Those were the risk.
JEAN CATUBAY: I think that still stands.
RICK OCULTO: Right. Because those are the well respected high paying professions. And for me, having had that test, it was freeing in a lot of ways because I’m like oh I have been working towards this goal. But I didn’t really like it.
And this just like tells me, right? Like it’s not necessarily in my wheelhouse. It’s not something that interests me.
And it freed me to go and try other pursuits to say the least. My thought process at that point was. All right, well, once I graduated from high school, then what I want to do is I want to really learn how to be a therapist.
And the reason for that is because in my friend group, a lot of them without me prompting they came to me whenever there was something that was over overbearing, or that was difficult, or they came to me without fail. And so I thought to myself this seems like a natural inclination, might as well use it like it’s a talent. You know you want to help people so go do that.
And so I did. I went to Seattle University up in Washington. And my undergraduate degrees I got a dual major in Spanish and psychology.
And my thought process behind that was, OK, I know I want to help people. I know that like doing this therapy thing seems like the right thing for me to do. So I’m going to go into psychology to learn more about the ins and outs of that.
And I also thought to myself, OK, I want to move back to California at some point. And if I want to really help people, then I need to expand my ability to communicate. And so if I want to learn another language, it’s going to be Spanish, or Vietnamese, or Tagalog, or Hindi, right? Any of those California heavy languages.
And because I grew up in the Bay Area, like I grew up really close to Mexican families, and had really close Mexican friends. And so I had always thought Spanish was just this gorgeous language and did that.
And so I use my degrees. And I’m like OK, now, I can now I can go and pursue a career and see what’s out there with the stuff that I’ve learned. I got a job at a LGBTQ community center in San Jose. That’s the different center.
And they hired me as the youth coordinator. And so I was just supposed to run groups with a bunch of LGBTQ kids. And that was going to be the beginning of my career.
And so part of that was to run basically therapy groups with LGBTQ kids. And this was you have to remember this was the early 2000s. And as I was doing these groups with them, it was becoming incredibly clear that I could not diagnose them with any mental problem.
What I was finding is that they were reacting healthily, properly to unfair stressors. If you are burned, for example, and you yell, right? That’s expected that you’re going to yell.
And these kids were yelling because they were burning. The stressors that I was seeing was on the light end of things, I was seeing that kids were afraid to talk about their sexual orientation or gender at school. I was seeing that they were upset that they weren’t able to bring their dates to dances or proms.
And that’s heavy. But that’s also on the lighter side of things. On the heavier side of things, I was encountering young people who were being beat up, who were being thrown out of their house, who were unable to even walk to school and feel safe during certain times because they knew that there was nobody protecting them.
And so within that context of their responding to being burned rather than there’s something wrong with them. And that’s why they’re not functioning well, I switched from an individual responsibility perspective to listen.
We’ve got to look at the systems that are making them fall into these patterns that are unhealthy for them. What’s the environment? And so I quickly shifted.
And it was like night and day. I had I remember maybe like seven to 10 people that were coming to those meetings at the beginning. And it was wheels spinning in the mud. Like they were just like we’re sad. And we don’t know what to do about it, right?
And if it was like a mental health thing, then I could give them strategies for feeling better about themselves, for eating healthier, for all the different things that you might think about. But there’s nothing to do when somebody is beating you up.
And so I shifted. And I said OK. If this is the thing, then let’s talk about what you need at your schools to make it a better environment for you.
And so they started bringing in ideas about what could be better at their school. What needed to be taught, what are some safety protocols that could happen. What are some safe teachers that they can talk to. And they started sharing with one another.
And let me tell you. Like it went from like seven to 10 kids to like 40. That were showing up on a regular basis. Because now, it wasn’t I’m going to go to this place and talk about how sad. It’s I’m going to go to this place and figure out how I can make my school a better place for us, right?
I’m not a victim anymore. Now, I’m an agent of change.
JEAN CATUBAY: Wow. What a powerful experience. Do you still keep in contact with any of your former kids?
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. It’s funny. You say that. I found another one of my youth who gave a Ted Talk. And I’m like Oh, my God. You do better than me.
JEAN CATUBAY: Not that it’s a competition or anything.
RICK OCULTO: It’s not. That I’m like OK.
JEAN CATUBAY: Well, you know what? What a dream though. That’s like an education. That’s what you want, right?
RICK OCULTO: Yeah.
JEAN CATUBAY: That your kids are going to surpass you eventually and flourish. Incredible.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. And it’s pretty fun like the youth group like that grew into its own after I left. And grew it as much as I could. It grew even more, and became its own nonprofit. And now. One of the youth that was in my programs is the executive director of that organization.
JEAN CATUBAY: Oh, my gosh. What a full circle moment right there.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. So Adrian. Yeah. So yeah, if Adrian, if you’re listening to this at all, it sounds cheesy. But I’m so proud of you.
JEAN CATUBAY: That’s so incredible? So what’s the name of the nonprofit that he’s working with now?
RICK OCULTO: I believe they go by they. And they are the youth, Oh my gosh, youth space in San Jose.
JEAN CATUBAY: Wow. What a dream. And also thank you so much for clarifying for pronouns.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah, no worries.
JEAN CATUBAY: So that was the beginning of your career. And I think many of our listeners. I’m wondering how did your role evolve over the years, and how has it changed? Because it sounds like you’re doing a lot of the same work just maybe more complex or just different in a lot of ways.
So maybe it gets easier as time goes by. I don’t know. Wanting to learn from your expertise here, Rick.
RICK OCULTO: Well, yes and no. So it’s interesting, right? So I’m going to use social work terms now. And so I went from a very micro practice, right?
Therapy and one on ones in a group therapy with people to a practice, right? Which means that I help those folks figure out ways to engage with the system to make it better for themselves. To now, macro practice actually shifting and helping shift those systems directly by working with the California Department of Education, and with other education nonprofits, and with schools, and districts, right?
And so the work has shifted in the degree. And actually about the knowledge set too. And so the way that I got into this is because I was helping these kids really figure out what the laws were, what protected them, what they could do in their schools, I became incredibly knowledgeable about what the laws were, about what the schools were responsible for, about what the kids were allowed to do, and what they should be allowed to do.
And so I was invited into more forums of talking about what it means to really address LGBTQ representation, and rights, and all of these different spaces. And through that work, it just evolved, right? From again, from that micro level to this macro level, where now I get to talk to you.
In fact, last week, I was just on a conference call with the Department of Education, right? About how to effect these things, and what it comes down to. Is now I’m not just talking about the laws. I am literally like I’m literally affecting the laws, helping create the laws, and helping implement the laws across the state.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yes. I’m a really big way you’re helping to design the ecosystems for education.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. It’s really weird to think about. Because my MO at the beginning is I just want folks like me to be OK. And this is why I say it’s by accident.
I didn’t know. I wasn’t in middle school or high school thinking oh I want to be this like this person who is affecting policy. Like I studied psychology.
JEAN CATUBAY: Right. And then what this makes me think of is like a follow up question I have. What advice do you have to classroom teachers about putting together like a working knowledge of like these policies around teaching LGBTQ histories, and just about LGBTQ topics, in general? How useful is it to have a working knowledge of those laws when you’re going into the classroom?
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. These kinds of questions are hard because the nuance of the different situations that educators might find themselves in are going to translate the words that I’m going to say next differently. Because honestly, what you need to know about the laws and educator is that you are supported to ensure that your student is protected to learn and grow in an environment where they do not feel threatened, right?
So there’s all these details around that. There’s all these different laws about the specifics around that. But as long as you are going towards that particular goal, right? That mindset around how you teach, then for the most part, you’re going to find that the laws on your side, right?
Especially here in California. When you’re talking about gender and sexual orientation, and around race, and around ethnicity, we really want to make sure that there is an environment where our kids, regardless of where they come from, or what their belief systems are, or who they find attractive, or who they love is only a part of the story that they are supported no matter who they are, right?
And so I think that is the larger context for this. That being said, I know that there’s a lot of hesitancy for educators around either going into some of these more hot button topics. Because of the way that your community might respond to that.
And this is why I think that the specifics around the laws might help you. And so it’s good to know, for example, that you are absolutely allowed to talk about LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Nobody can complain about that, right?
You’re absolutely allowed to say the words lesbian, or gay, or bisexual, or transgender. Even at an elementary school level. Because in essence, what you’re doing is just describing a person that actually exists, right?
And so I think those kinds of nuances are important for when you find yourself as an educator wondering about what you’re allowed to do. Because it’s good to know where you’re protected when those rights of yours to be able to talk about these things are challenged.
I would also say that for those of you that are listening that are at the administrative part of education. That’s your responsibility. Teachers have a billion things that they have to keep track of.
Part of your responsibility as an administrator is to make sure that they can do that job. So no these laws. If you’re a principal, if you’re a superintendent, if you’re a vise principal if you’re a dean, if any of those other functions, it is your responsibility to know these things.
And I know like I was just on the phone with the KBA the other day. I know that those like different things shift at a moment’s notice. And you have to it’s your job to support your teachers.
That’s what you signed up for. That’s what you signed up for.
JEAN CATUBAY: It’s true. It’s true. Yeah. And it’s really affirming to hear you talk about this. Because as a humanities teacher, there are often times where we’re talking about critical history, in particular, right?
Where certain students will just bring up very more quietly like hey, Miss Teen. my family doesn’t really believe in that, or I might be uncomfortable with this. Can I step away?
And so just hearing you say that the law is on our side in that regard, just makes me feel really comfortable to continue those type of lessons. Because that’s what our students need, right?
RICK OCULTO: Right. It’s funny that you bring that particular scenario. Because what we tell teachers to use at that point is just to bring up the fact that in sixth grade, we talk about World religions. And we talk about the world religions that come from Egypt, as an ancient religion.
As ancient religions, we talk about more modern religions around like the Judeo-Christian pantheon of things that we talk about. And at no point, when we’re talking about World religions are we like, you should join this religion, right? We’re letting you know that they exist. That there are other people that you’re going to encounter, and that, right?
Like especially when we’re talking about things like ancient religions, it’s at no point, are you afraid that your kid is going to come home and be like, well, I worship right now because we heard about it rightly.
So it’s that same kind of thing. Just saying that a type of person exists does not it doesn’t break anything. And if it does break something, then that’s not on the teacher. There’s something else going on.
JEAN CATUBAY: I feel that. And you know what? This is making you think a lot about conversations that we’ve had with guests in the past. Around this idea that as educators, it is our foremost responsibility to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable in the room.
And oftentimes, whether we like to admit it, the chaos of the school day kind of just gets us lost in a sauce with it. And so I’m wondering from your experience although you are not a classroom teacher you are certainly an expert in this area, particularly I think with your background in psychology, right? Is how do we set up the space what type of norms do we set up with our students to ensure that everyone feels seen and validated?
And I’m wondering from your experience, what are the non-negotiable? And maybe what are some of the things that maybe we should try to avoid?
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. So when it comes to things like norms, I think that has to be put into the cultural context of the classroom that you’re talking about. I’m not talking about the cultural context of the community as a whole, or like the city, or even the school I’m talking about there’s a cultural context for each classroom, right? And how that operates.
And so I think that you have to first and foremost figure out what that context is for your classroom based off of who is there. And who you as the teacher, what you want to grow that into or what you want to nurture within that classroom? And so that’s always my first thing.
Because some classrooms are going to be disciplined classrooms. Some classrooms are going to be like free for all classrooms, right? It’s all different. And they all have their uses. They all have they’re just. So established that part first.
Now, now we started with the word around norms. And I think that the only real norm that has to be uniform across is that you’re going to be humble, that you’re going to respect one another for the differences that are going to come in, whether that is about socioeconomics, or gender, or race, or religion, or any of those kinds of things.
You don’t know that other person’s life the way that other person does. And so have some humility, have some respect, have some reverence towards the other lives that are in that room with you.
And that to me is the first thing for establishing those norms. Because again, when we talk about the education code, and we talk about what but what people are responsible for, that is all very important when push comes to shove. But push and shove you’re not going to happen if we start on the basis of, OK, I see that you are different from how I am. And that’s OK. And let’s talk.
If we need to let’s talk about how we maneuver those differences. And that to me, that has to be the basis of the conversation. There’s so much tension around these differences nowadays.
And I think it’s because there is a misunderstanding about erasure, about how we respect folks, and the feeling that you cannot bring your true self to a space because of all of these diversity measures. What we’re saying is that the exclusionary language that might come from things is the stuff that we have to watch. That the irony of being inclusive is that once the exclusive part is put to the forefront, then the rest of the conversation falls to the wayside because it cuts people out.
And what we want to do is we want to be able to open the doors and say you belong in this classroom. You are worthy of being taught and of learning. And it is our responsibility not just as the teacher because I think there’s a lot of pressure put on the teacher, but it’s our responsibility as a classroom to figure out what our community looks like so that we can all succeed.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. And I’m making a lot of connections to something that you said earlier with your work with that youth center. And I remember you saying that there was some level of like co design with your students right about how they wanted the space to look and feel like.
And so my question for you is especially for teachers who might be a little bit newer to this, or might be feeling some discomfort or hesitancy, how much would you advise that we elicit that participation from our students? Like how much should we say? What do you guys think versus like just saying this is what it is? And we trust that you trust us enough that we are kind of working in the best interest of everybody else in the room.
RICK OCULTO: Are you talking about in context of the students themselves or the larger context of like the families and the teachers?
JEAN CATUBAY: Oh. I was referring to the first one. I guess the second is also good too. You’re like the perfect guest. And seriously.
RICK OCULTO: I mean, I’ve been grappling with these questions for decades now.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah.
RICK OCULTO: But when it comes to the classroom, what I would say about that is yourself as an educator have to recognize that when we talk about including LGBTQ history and social science, what we’re doing is we’re saying that there is a particular part of history and social science that we have ignored. That there is a impoverishment of our education because we have not included these lenses or perspectives before.
And so my non clear example around this is let’s talk about the Civil War. We know that there were the different battles that took place, we know that there was legislation from the North and the South that had different things to say about this.
We know that the primary actors in those different battles. We know all of those kinds of things. And up until recently, the voices of the people who are most affected by this, right? The people who are enslaved.
Like unless you were quote unquote, an exceptional hero, if you were a Harriet Tubman.
JEAN CATUBAY: No mention at all.
RICK OCULTO: Right. There’s nothing. There’s nothing about that. So when we’re talking about including LGBTQ history, it’s the same thing.
We know that in this century, this particular period of history that there is a lot of different things that LGBTQ people brought to the forefront. What happens then if we don’t talk about the positionally, about who they were, and what they were experiencing in order for that to happen?
Now, again, to go back to the example of enslaved people. So let’s say we’re talking about Harriet Tubman. If you didn’t talk about her gender, or her skin color. Are you still talking about Harriet Tubman? Right?
JEAN CATUBAY: Not so much.
RICK OCULTO: But who and what does that become if we’re not talking about the identity and the circumstances by which they came to the decisions and the actions that they took within history?
JEAN CATUBAY: Right.
RICK OCULTO: I think it’s necessary to figure out that end, and that line there is, would you asked as far as the students should you just let them trust you or have them guide you, et cetera, et cetera. Would you be asking that same question around African-American history? Would you be asking that same question about Asian history, right?
Would we say OK, well, we’ll talk to them about MLK. But if they really don’t like the part about lynchings, we’re not going to tell them that part.
JEAN CATUBAY: Such a clear and succinct analogy.
RICK OCULTO: Right.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. I heard you use a couple of terms that I’m hoping you can clarify for our listeners. So I heard you use the term lens perspective and positionality. And I’m hoping after you clarify those, let’s get into some queer history. This is the part that I’m really excited to hear from you about.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sure. OK. So the first one was lens. And so when we talk about lens, we basically think about a particular period in history or a particular event in history, and what it’s like what lens are you putting on it to show a particular thing.
Because you know that when you– in science, right, when you apply a particular lens that you can see different particles, you can see different angles, you can see different refractions. All those kinds of things in science, right?
Same thing applies to social science. If you look at the Civil War, and you apply a lens of gender, what are the things that we’re going to discover? What are the things that we’re going to be able to talk about through the lens of gender?
And so we know that as we talk about history and social science. A lot of times that history is taught through a male perspective. A man’s perspective. That lens.
And so if you put a lens, a women’s lens on that particular history, then you start seeing interesting things about the Civil War. You start seeing that there were some women that cross dressed in male soldier uniforms to participate in the war.
You start seeing that there are women that provided provisions in ways that men couldn’t because they were not allowed to travel in certain places. There’s all of these different perspectives that lens, that you can apply with that lens that enrich our understanding of what happened.
And so that next point is perspective, which is analogous to lens. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that larger like all of women. You can have the perspective of, for example, Harriet Tubman.
What was she experiencing at that moment in time through her different identities for her to get to her abolitionist work? Same thing could be said about Harvey Milk when he was fighting for LGBTQ teachers to be able to teach here in California. What led him to that point, that perspective of that person who has experienced those kinds of traumas, and joys, and all of those other parts of life? What perspective brought them to where they were at?
The other thing was conditionality. And conditionality is tricky because it is malleable depending on the context in which you use it. It is literally figuring out what perspectives are being highlighted at the time.
And from those perspectives, from the person who held those perspectives, what were they allowed to do in the time and space that they were in? And so to use Harvey Milk again as a man, did he experience a certain privilege to be able to say certain things about education that a queer woman might not have?
His positionality in that forum would be different. And that’s not to say that a woman couldn’t have done that. But how did that change that?
And so we really want to be able to, again, explore all of the different facets that might affect how that history is being taught, and how we understand how that history came to be. If we want to get real modern about this, we can talk about the shootings that recently happened in Atlanta.
The excuses that the murderer in Atlanta used was that he was a sex addict, and he was not racist. Yet his targets were all Asian spaces. And in this country, there is a history of exotic vacation around Asian women’s bodies, and a narrative about the worth of those bodies.
And so how disposable does it become for somebody who says, well, I was addicted to sex and this was the problem? And so I eliminated. It the humanities lost if you take that position of somebody who had access to that type of violence, who had access to that type of language, versus somebody who is considered or deemed and treated less than the narrative of that being forgivable, excusable is something that is proliferated.
JEAN CATUBAY: And your point about the dehumanizing aspect of all of this just makes me think about how fast things happen in our culture, and how very little time we have to actually sit and think about and process what is going on around us.
And to be honest, the last couple of weeks I have struggled trying to figure out, how do I make space to really have a meaningful conversation about what’s been going on with my kids. Because I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to talk about it as a Filipino person who is Asian, right?
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. I mean, it’s really easy to be able to show a clip of what happened in Atlanta, and then have a slide about the Chinese Exclusion Act Japanese internment, about all of those different things that have marginalized Asian communities, right? And you can make that throughput real easily.
JEAN CATUBAY: Right. And I feel like this is something that just keeps getting brought up in our conversation is the importance of context. And not only context, but just the building of understanding over time.
And I think that’s the part that oftentimes is really hard, right? Is that aspect of time because it feels like it’s always running away from us.
RICK OCULTO: Oh. Yeah. I mean, and the thing is I’m not alone in that. The reason that we’re working with the Department of Education right now is that they recognized that the students that were being sent to college. And this is from history and social science teachers in college.
Were complaining and saying you were sending us students that are not prepared for the analysis that they need to do at a college level. They can recite the dates, they can recite the facts, they can recite the names. But they can’t tell me why the Civil War was important.
They can’t tell me why Martin Luther King was significant. They can’t tell me any of the reasons that any of these things happened. So when we asked them to look at things like the legal structure of Russia, and how that shifted over time, there’s no context as to why those things relate to us, and how is a better or worse system, depending on how it is applied.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah. I’ve always been super fascinated with this idea of history. Being like those two groups of people versus each other. And nobody else was there so I’m wondering, what resources do you recommend for folks who are wanting to explore career history and teach them to your students?
RICK OCULTO: OK. Well, I mean, so that’s going to be different depending on grade level. But I will say that right now, our family coalition which is my organization. And one Archives foundation out of USC down in LA we’ve partnered to create this website called LGBTQ history.
And on that website, you can find evaluation tool. So if your school is thinking about adopting materials, or has already adopted materials, you can look over those materials with these guides to see how they meet criteria as we evaluated the books. So we’re not telling you what we think of the book, but we’ll tell you what we looked at to come to the conclusions that we came to.
The other things that we have on there are lesson plans. And if you’re one of those really go getter teachers that really wants to research and make a thing for yourself we’ve got a lot of recommendations around primary sources and secondary sources that you can use.
JEAN CATUBAY: Beautiful. And these are all free, by the way. So thank you Our Family Coalition. Do you have any that are like your favorite or that you’ve gotten really great feedback about?
RICK OCULTO: The biggest– I think the three biggest recommendations that I have. So for those folks that really want to figure out, well, not figure out, but want to get a better grasp on queer theory, and quite why are we want to talk about LGBTQ issues in certain ways. There is this great what do you call it graphic novel.
Yeah. There is this great graphic novel called Queer, a graphic history by John Barker and Jewel Shiel. And it goes through it’s, again, it’s like maybe 100 pages long at most. But it is it’s done in zine form.
So it’s easy to absorb of all the different things that happened throughout history that contribute to how we think about gender and sexuality today. It’s again, you’re not it’s not like taking a college course on gender history or any kind of stuff like that. But it gives you a good idea about why certain things are talked about the way that they are.
The other resources that I would recommend is if you want a larger context for queer history in the United States, I think one of the better books that are out there right now is a queer history of the United States by Michael Bronsky. And that is just a general overview about these things.
If you want an overview of trans history, of gender expansive history than Dr. Susan Stryker wrote this book called Transgender History. And it really goes through everything from the crossdressing laws there were put through the people who are the people who participated in the Civil War by crossposting to modern things today about how we argue about who is allowed onto a sports team.
But I mean, for those like I’ve found that as I’ve grown older, that my patience for reading has dwindled, which is weird I think. But I think it’s also how I’ve learned how to absorb media.
If you are somebody who wants to listen more than read, then there are also a whole bunch of different podcasts that are recommended on the LGBTQ history website as well. I think the two highlights there that I would recommend are the podcast by Eric Marcus, making a history.
He was one of the first people to really document queer history. And what he did was he made a podcast out of all of the interviews he did with queer historical figures. So you have primary sources here. Yeah.
JEAN CATUBAY: Wow. That’s amazing.
RICK OCULTO: Yeah.
JEAN CATUBAY: And I heard you mention the way to podcast recommendations. So what’s the second one?
RICK OCULTO: Yeah. And so Eric Marcus was one of those folks. The other person that I remember reading, Because I had to seek this out in college because it wasn’t anywhere else, was Layla Rupp, and she has a podcast, which is more academic called Queer America Teaching Tolerance.
And her and John de Melio who is another historian just talk about what it means to insert these particular queer lenses in different parts of history. So if you want a really academic almost like a class. And this is a great way to absorb that. And then there’s no homework. So whatever.
JEAN CATUBAY: There you go. Homeboy’s overrated sometimes. What I’m wondering now is out of your own study, what have you learned about LGBTQ history that shook you or maybe like left you in, something that you didn’t expect, and maybe you just left an impact on you as a person?
RICK OCULTO: I think the biggest part for me is really the reclaiming of my story as a person of color. And what I mean by that is a lot of the gender expansiveness in same sex relationships that occurred through history have been culturally erased.
And so for example, when we talk about Native American traditions, we know that there are about 300 or so recognized traditions in the United States. And about 150 or so of those have two spirit traditions, which means that they recognized gender expanse of people within their cultures. That it’s always been here on this continent for thousands of years.
So that’s one of the things. As a personal journey around that, I started wondering about OK, well, if that happened here did it happen in other places. And so I looked at the Philippines where my family is from. And found out that “bakla” while it is a slur now for queer people was a title back in the day. “Bakla and the babalan,” were gender expensive basically shamans within the islands that were both leaders and advisors of different tribes in the Philippines.
And I got to feel a lot of pride around that because the way that they were seen was really as these conduits between gender, and that they did have leadership roles. To the point where through the Spanish occupation, they were some of the last fighters to fight against the Spanish and the occupation.
JEAN CATUBAY: My mind is bright. What an incredible piece of history. I have never known that before. And that just makes me wonder like, how much is that in the regular everyday person’s consciousness in the Philippines?
RICK OCULTO: So the funny thing is I learned about this. And I asked my aunt. I’m like do you know any of this. They don’t, right?
Because it was part of the occupation to embrace that culture. So that it’s easier to conquer.
JEAN CATUBAY: You know what, Rick? We’re just going to get off into another tangent. We have a podcast about colonialism. The one about this girl. We’re just going to keep going on and on.
RICK OCULTO: I know.
JEAN CATUBAY: It’s never going to end. But like all good things, this episode then hopefully come to an end. So I’m wondering where can folks get in contact with you.
And I know Our Family Coalition has so many different resources. You have PDS, you have family workshops, and things like that. So I’m wondering, what are your personal favorites, what are some fan favorite and where do you recommend people to go to?
RICK OCULTO: The workshops that we offer you mean? It’s funny. The fan favorites are around gender. Because there is a lot of things that people usually it comes from a place of we don’t know what to do.
We just had a student come out as gender expensive. Not necessarily transgender, but just expansive. And how they understand gender, how they express gender. And we want to be supportive.
And that comes from both families and from educators. And so I think this is why this particular topic has become really popular with folks. Because we really those of us who are born before the 2000s, right? Before the 2000s, we have a really binary understanding. And it’s really hard to shift.
Even though you can see some of the ways that it’s been harmful, it’s hard. A conversation that I’ve been in recently is, do gender neutral?
Can I use dude to refer to two things? Because I use it as a gender neutral. I know this is an Education Podcast.
But to be crass, right, like if you really think dude as a gender neutral term, ask is this gender straight man how many dudes he slept with. And I promise you, I promise you it is not a gender neutral term at that point.
JEAN CATUBAY: I give you that. Yeah.
RICK OCULTO: Right. Right. And so yeah, that is I think that is also popular because of word of mouth. People learn a lot of things around on their own ways of navigating gender. No matter how you identify and how it has been detrimental to really understanding how we care for one another, or how we could care for one another if we didn’t have rigid boundaries around how those were laid down on us.
JEAN CATUBAY: Right. So where can listeners reach that?
RICK OCULTO: So the way to reach me is I mean, is really easy. It’s just email@example.com. You can see the work that we do at our main website. ourfamily.org.
I already mentioned LGBTQhistory.org. There is a Contact US sheet, where you can request more information, tell us things that you need to, or even request a workshop on that website. And I think the project that I am most excited about, and it’s going to sound like I’m pandering. I’m totally not.
JEAN CATUBAY: It’s OK if you are. You’re the guest.
RICK OCULTO: Is really working with the students? In a lot of ways, I miss having that hands-on experience being the youth coordinator at the LGBT Center. But when I was able to work with your students, and really see how they were approaching the ideas around how to be inclusive for their LGBTQ peers, I don’t know if it was clear on the Zoom call.
But I was tearing up like some of them. Like as I told my friends about this, right? When I was growing up, my context for LGBTQ issues was that people died of AIDS and that the boys would play smear the queer on the playground.
And that was my middle school. And so we’re looking at your students who are also in middle school who are not playing those games, who are not seeing those things, who are not saying that that’s the only way to be gay.
And instead are saying, we see you. We want you to be part of us. We know that sometimes you feel like you’re not, and we want you to know that this is your place too.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah.
RICK OCULTO: That’s a message people my age never hurt.
JEAN CATUBAY: Yeah.
RICK OCULTO: And so I get very excited about the things that I do with your students by interns right now who are all college students. I’ve worked with a few high school students.
And the way that they are really engaging in creating resources around history, it’s providing water to somebody who has never drunk water before. They’re so eager to learn and to share.
I don’t even have to. I don’t have to do anything. There’s no task mastery. Anything that I have to do because they’ve never heard this. They’ve never seen anything that affirms who they are in this way. And they’re so motivated to make sure that the folks that are coming up your kids and the kids that are younger than them.
My nieces and nephews, right? I don’t know a world where we’re queer is anything but just part of everyday life.
JEAN CATUBAY: That’s the whole word.
RICK OCULTO: So it wasn’t a pander. But I know it sounds like one.
JEAN CATUBAY: We’ll edit it, so it doesn’t sound so pander-y.
RICK OCULTO: Great.
JEAN CATUBAY: Well, Rick, I absolutely love the time that we spent together. Thank you so much. We’ll have our other podcast coming up. OK?
High Tech High Unboxed is hosted and produced by me Alec Patton. But this episode was hosted and produced by Jean Catubay. A theme music is by Brother Hershel. We’ve got links to all the resources Rick talked about in our show notes, so check those out. Thanks for listening.