Who was that group of 25 young adults - all attired in Got Milk? T-shirts - walking along Center City streets yesterday?
All were teachers from the Independence Charter School at 16th and Lombard Streets who "called out gay."
The educators used the day to join the national protest against California's Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban but also as a learning moment to discuss how to incorporate human-rights issues in the classroom.
After seeing the film Milk, which chronicled the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, teachers Scott Craig, 28, and Michael Farrell, 24, were inspired to organize a Philadelphia event tied to yesterday's national "Day Without a Gay." The day - in which anyone in the work force who supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights was encouraged to call out gay - coincided with International Human Rights Day.
"The focus of today is for teachers to come together outside of school to be educated as a group and reflect on what we can do together," said Farrell, a special-education teacher. "We also plan to discuss ways to make our school a safer place for our students, families and teachers.
The group began their day 9:30 a.m. at the Pride and Progress Mural at Juniper and Spruce Streets, which depicts gay-rights events in the 1960s in Philadelphia. The next stop was Brew HaHa, a nearby coffee shop, where the teachers discussed the role of educators, parents and others as they relate to the civil-rights issues surrounding the GLBT community.
The coffee talk also touched on how to create a safe environment for students.
Fifth-grade teacher Martha Curren-Preis, 28, said she would use her "calling out gay" experience as inspiration for a classroom lesson.
Her students are discussing civil rights, and she plans to give a lesson on protest today.
"I might start off by introducing protest and asking students to describe protest," Curren-Preis said. "It is better to have students give you their own words and ideas and let them do the talking."
She said if a student directly asked her why she was absent, she would reply, "Teachers and I were protesting [for] gay rights."
The important lesson for students to understand is how to respect all human rights and to recognize when human rights are being violated, Curren-Preis said.
"As teachers, we need to be cautious when we approach human-rights issues," she said.
"I think it [gay rights] is an issue that gets a lot of lip service, but in terms of a human-rights issue, it doesn't get as much attention as it should," she said.
The activities for the rest of the day included a volunteer session at the local headquarters of the ACLU in Independence Mall and watching the movie Milk.
Jurate Krokys, chief executive officer of the Independence Charter School, said yesterday that the school is focused on international studies, diversity and culture. As part of yesterday's Human Rights Day curriculum, students in kindergarten through eighth grade watched films about understanding different cultures.
ICS does not have a gay-rights curriculum but wants to raise awareness and focus on international human-rights issues.
"We have wonderful teachers here and teachers who are thoughtful," Krokys said. "Our school is about raising kids to be leaders and participants in their own democracy and leadership."
She said everything ran as normal yesterday and the 600-student ICS was fully staffed despite the absence of the 25 teachers.