Fairfax High School | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Laura Dominguez/L.A. Conservancy

Fairfax High School

Founded in 1924, Fairfax High School was originally conceived as an agricultural & mechanical school and boasted programs in landscape gardening, forestry, architecture, and agronomy. Renowned Los Angeles architectural firm Parkinson & Parkinson designed the 28-acre campus in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. 

Following the end of World War II, the school district determined that the school’s original structures did not meet earthquake safety standards, and construction began on new facilities in the late 1960s. A.C. Martin and Associates led the campus redesign, incorporating the original rotunda and the auditorium buildings into the modernized site.

In the immediate post-war years, Fairfax High School served a large Jewish student body, the result of shifting demographics between Los Angeles’ eastside and westside neighborhoods. While Boyle Heights and surrounding communities were home to large numbers of Jewish families before World War II, Fairfax Avenue and its adjacent areas became the “new” Brooklyn Avenue for Jewish families seeking improved housing and business opportunities.

Learn more about Boyle Height's Jewish heritage in our Curating the City: Eastside L.A. microsite >>

To meet the needs of its students, Fairfax provided classes in Modern Hebrew, and one teacher estimated that the student body was 75% Jewish in the late 1960s. Today, the school continues to reflect Los Angeles’ diversity with large numbers of Latinx, Black, and Asian students.

Fairfax High School is also a significant site of Southern California LGBTQ history. In 1984, teacher and counselor Dr. Virginia Uribe founded Project 10 as a response to the social isolation, drug abuse, and high dropout and suicide rates among LGBTQ students. Although Uribe’s program enjoyed support from the Fairfax High School principal and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board, it came under fire from conservative and religious groups in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the era of the so-called Culture Wars. 

Dr. Virginia Uribe was born and raised in Pasadena, CA. When she first began teaching at Fairfax High School in 1959, she concealed her sexual orientation, as being openly gay or lesbian was legitimate grounds for dismissal at the time.

In 1978, Proposition 6, known as the Briggs Initiative, threatened to legalize this informal system of discrimination by allowing for the dismissal of school employees who had committed “public homosexual activity.” While a coalition of activists, including Sally Gearhart and Supervisor Harvey Milk, mobilized to defeat the bill, California’s LGBTQ youth continued to face discrimination in the classroom.  

Working as a counselor at Fairfax in 1984, Uribe realized how marginalized LGBTQ youth were within the public education system when three students came to complain about the forced transfer of their friend, an openly gay seventeen-year-old student who had been regularly harassed by his peers. Uribe responded by forming an informal support group for gay and lesbian students. After receiving enthusiastic support from her principal she began a formal counseling program for LGBTQ teenagers called Project 10. 

At a time when many argued that being gay or lesbian was a lifestyle or a curable psychological disease, Project 10 provided a lifeline to LAUSD’s LGBTQ youth.

With the aim of preventing LGBTQ youth from dropping out of school, Uribe’s program provided counseling for students facing social isolation, bullying, the HIV/AIDs crisis, homelessness, drug abuse, and suicide. 

As Project 10 expanded to other campuses, however, it came under attack from conservatives and the religious right, who accused Uribe of running a homosexual recruitment program with public money. In 1988, state lawmakers voted to withhold state funds for LAUSD until it ended the program, which Superintendent Leonard Britton and the board refused to do.

Project 10 survived renewed attacks through the 1990s from parent groups, students, religious organizations, and conservative lawmakers.

Dr. Uribe retired in 1998. 

Project 10, a program pioneered at Fairfax High School, redefined the population that public education was supposed to serve. Project 10 challenged the school system, which had previously failed to adequately address the issues of LGBTQ students, to put these students’ needs on the agenda of teachers and administrators.

Amid public backlash, Project 10 became a model program for preventing discrimination and harassment on public school campuses nationwide. Most LAUSD high schools now have support groups, as do many middle and continuation schools. 

Speaking of the impact of Project 10, one student said, “It provided me a space to talk and to be comfortable with who I am and not hide the fact that I’m gay.” Another simply said: "She saved me from suicide."

For Dr. Uribe herself, working with the LGBT youth proved transformative: "It was an evolution for me. It was like I started life all over again - at age 50."
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