Monday, August 21, 2023

Classes Begin At Florida’s First School Named After Openly Gay Man


With great anticipation, Palm Beach County’s first new high school in 20 years opened to students last week in western Lake Worth. 

The school is named after Dr. Joaquín García, an openly gay businessman and educational advocate who died in 2021.

For decades, Drs. Joaquin and Xavier García --husbands and partners of 40 years – ran the El Cid Animal Clinic in West Palm Beach.

Dr. Joaquín García High School is one of a handful of public schools nationwide named openly LGBTQ+ people such as San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, civil rights Bayard Rustin, the poet Walt Whitman, and astronaut Sally Ride..

Following her death in 2012, a statement Ride had prepared was released acknowledging her longstanding relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy, the woman who was also her business partner. When the Sally Ride Elementary School in Orlando opened in 2018, it became the first public school in Florida named in honor of an LGBTQ+ Floridian.

Most of the other schools are in located in New York City, including seven in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx and one in Staten Island, There are also two in Maryland, one in California, and one in Pennsylvania.

“Joaquín García was a passionate and inspirational advocate for all students in Palm Beach County schools,” said retired judge Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. “Through his words and deeds, he was an exemplary community leader."

PBCHRC is Florida’s oldest, independent, non-partisan, political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The organization promotes equality through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.

García was a founding member of the board of Directors of Compass LGBTQ Community Center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches. The organization’s mission is to engage, empower and enrich the lives of LGBTQ+ people as well as those impacted by HIV and AIDS. He also did extensive volunteer work for the International AIDS Education Foundation and the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County .

“Joaquín García exemplified leadership and was a truly inspirational advocate and a role model for LGBTQ+ youth, “ said Compass Executive Director Julie Seaver.

“Palm Beach County is rich in its diversity and we have a significant LGBTQ+ population,” said Alexandria Ayala, Palm Beach County’s first elected Hispanic/Latina School Board Member. 

“Our School Board knew Joaquín was gay and married to Xavier, his partner for decades,” said Ayala, a friend of Garcia who considered him a mentor. “We were proud to know he was involved in the creation of Compass, our county’s LGBTQ+ Community Center, and at no point did Joaquín’s sexual orientation prevent us from honoring him and his legacy.” 

“If Joaquín García’s legacy is allowed to be taught in Florida schools, his influence on LGBTQ+ students will be carried on for generations to come,” Hoch said. “Unfortunately, it is unclear whether Florida’s regressive education law will permit that to happen.”

Under Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, more commonly known as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, public schools are prohibited from any classroom discussions relating to sexual orientation or gender identity. While the law technically applies to kindergarten through eighth grade, most Florida high schools are currently prohibiting these discussions to avoid lawsuits brought by anti-LGBTQ+ activists.

“The DeSantis administration is intent on erasing LGBTQ+ history and culture,” said Hoch. “Now more than ever, we must recognize the achievements of LGBTQ+ leaders such as Dr. Joaquín García.” 

Originally from Cuba, Garcia grew up in Spain and Puerto Rico, and earned his medical degree in the Dominican Republic. After he moved to Palm Beach County, he co-founded of Palm Beach County’s Hispanic Education Coalition. He served as its chairman for close to a dozen years. He encouraged the development of scholarship programs, advocated for dual-language learning, and supported efforts to make our schools more accepting of LGBTQ+ students. 

So, in addition to being Florida’s first public school named after an openly LGBTQ+ person, the school is also the first in Palm Beach County named after a Hispanic person.

While Dr. Joaquín García High School, built at a cost of more than $100 million, has 1,600 students enrolled, the facility can accommodate 2,600. 

The school provides specialty medical, business and IT programs and includes a performing arts center and an impressive sports complex.