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Our Omaha Chapter
Who We Are
GLSEN Omaha is a Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The mission of GLSEN Omaha is to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
We primarily serve the Omaha metropolitan area, including Council Bluffs, IA but provide services across Nebraska.
We strive to protect students from bullying and harassment, to advance comprehensive safe schools laws and policies, to empower principals to make their schools safer, and to build the skills of educators to teach respect for all people. We work closely with the national staff of GLSEN to implement programs and affect positive change in school communities.
From the Board of Directors to program coordinators to committees, GLSEN Omaha is a completely volunteer-run organization.
JohnCarl Denkovich - Board Co-Chair / Advocacy and Policy Coordinator
JohnCarl currently serves as the chapter’s Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy, focused on impacting state and local education policy, to ensure schools that are safe and nurturing for ALL students. He has served as a member of the GLSEN Omaha Board of Directors since 2006, in the capacity of Co-Chair (2007-2013).
“I became involved with GLSEN’s life-saving advocacy work as a result of being tortuously bullied, especially in middle/high school. Verbal and physical harassment were a part of my daily routine. Avoiding unsafe areas like bathrooms, the cafeteria and even certain hallways were how I tried to safely navigate my school and avoid my bullies. If I can protect even one youth from experiencing what I had to go through, I consider it a success, and this work to be well worth it. GLSEN has the tools and programming necessary to change schools and save lives, and I wanted to be a part of the solution, and we are seeing positive change”
JohnCarl holds a Double Bachelor of Arts from Hastings College, in Political Science & Psychology (Health Intervention), and a concentration in Pre-Law, graduating with honors in 2006. He has also obtained his Masters of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, focusing on education policy, and served as the Founding Director of the UNO Student Agency of Gender & Sexual Orientation. Professionally, JohnCarl has a background as a Senior Field Services Manager in retail operations and visual merchandising, and has recently moved into the nonprofit sector.
Beyond his work in Nebraska, JohnCarl is a member of GLSEN’s National Advisory Council (NAC), which informs GLSEN’s national strategic direction on programming and services, and Co-Chairs the National Accreditation Review Committee, which considers the quality and quantity of work produced by each of GLSEN’s 40+ chapters. He also serves as a member of the National Safe Schools Roundtable (NSSR), which brings together organizations practicing safe schools work, in order to collaborate on best practices for collective impact across the country. Additionally, he has served as a member of RESPECT’s Community Advisory Board, and volunteered with Prairie Hill Montessori Learning Center and Style Omaha, Help All.
JohnCarl, originally of Lincoln, currently resides in the Millard Public School District with his partner, Ryan, and their 3 “fur children,” miniature dachshunds, Teddy, Rex & Pippa, all adopted through local rescue organizations. In his free time, JohnCarl enjoys volunteering and social justice advocacy, and has a passion for Dachshund rescue, art, antiques, classical/chamber music and travel with family and friends. When getting out of Omaha for an adventure isn’t an option, you can usually find him at The Joslyn Art Museum or Prouty Place Gallery for artistic inspiration or the Brass Armadillo and Junk N’ Treasure searching for antique or vintage pieces to add to his collections!
Jacqueline Hotz - Board Co-Chair / Educator Engagement Coordinator
Jacqueline currently serves as the chapter’s Co-Chair and Educator Engagement Coordinator, focused on creating safe spaces in schools and to empower other educator to do the same. Jacqueline has served as a member of the GLSEN Omaha Board of Directors since 2012 and was nominated and voted as Co-Chair in 2015.
“As an educator and as a school counselor, I became involved with GLSEN to allow EVERY student to feel safe when going to school. GLSEN allows students and educators to feel empowered about the work they are doing in schools to make it a safe place. Teaching students and educators/administrators appropriate language and teaching them kindness will be beneficial when a bullying situation arises. GLSEN provides the tools and the trainings for educators and students to be more aware of bullying and harassment and become part of the solution!”
Jacqueline holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Master of Science in K-12 School Counseling. Jacqueline received her Bachelor’s degree from Black Hills State University in 2009 and her Master’s degree from University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2014. Jacqueline also did her student teaching overseas in Reigate, England at Reigate Priory Junior School. Jacqueline’s educational career has been with Omaha Public Schools for 7 years. She has worked as both an intermediate, multigrade teacher and now serves as the elementary school counselor at Walnut Hill Elementary.
Beyond her work for GLSEN Omaha, Jacqueline keeps busy by serving on several committees at school including Wellness, Happy Hearts (courtesy & social), Student Council and Student Ambassadors club. Jacqueline enjoys inspiring young students to become leaders and role models early on and has a focus of teaching empathy and compassion to all students.
Jacqueline was born in Germany and moved to many different schools during childhood due to her father being in the Army, however, she currently resides in the Papillion-Lavista school district. She lives there with her husband, Andy, and their pug puppy, Libbey (she is adorable). In her free time, Jacqueline enjoys going to Mick Doyle’s Kickboxing and Fitness Center, reading, and spending time with her family and friends. Jacqueline really loves to travel, but always knows that Omaha feels like the place where she belongs, home. Jacqueline is also committed to learning and loves encouraging her students to be prepared for success in college, career, and in life!
Austin Soejoto - Board Treasurer
Austin currently serves as the chapter’s Treasurer, prioritizing the fiscal management and operations of the organization, in order to ensure programming and services budgets are effectively met, while maintaining financial solvency. The Board likes to spend, and he make sure it’s the right amount(s)! He has served on the Board of Directors for GLSEN Omaha Board since 2013.
“I joined GLSEN Omaha’s work to make schools safer for ALL students, including LGBT+ students. I believe every student deserves the right to go to school in a place where they feel safe and respected, and we work to make this vision a reality.”
Austin holds a Bachelor’s of Science in International Relations & Affairs from The Ohio State University. It is here that Austin earned numerous awards for both academic performance and leadership, and was heavily involved in Greek Life, serving as Chapter President of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He was also the Founder and President of Lambda, Ohio State University’s first LGBTQ support and advocacy organization for Greek students.
Austin is professionally bilingual in Spanish, and interned with the Douglas County Public Defender’s Office, supporting bilingual police and attorney interactions. Professionally, Austin is currently a Sales Representative for American Laboratories, Inc. where he serves as direct contact for hundreds of customer accounts, in the Southwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States, by answering inquiries, processing product orders, and working to establish new product lines.
Austin, originally of Elkhorn, NE currently resides in the Omaha Public School District, and enjoys training for Triathlons, singing Acapella, dancing with questionable rhythm and the show, Veep!
Brett Masterson - Board Secretary/Fundraising Coordinator
I have been with GLSEN for 3 years now, one and a half years as volunteer coordinator and one and a half years as fundraising chair and secretary. I joined GLSEN because I knew people in school that were bullied for being themselves and I want to see it stop, as school should be a safe place for all students to come to to learn and grow. I reside in the Millard School District currently, and when I am not working at my full time job for Samsung, I am usually reading, or hitting the town with my friends, or eating my way across the local food truck scene.
Sam Carwyn - GO ED! Coordinator
Samantha serves as Coordinator of the chapter’s professional development programming, “GO ED!” As Coordinator, she ensures that GLSEN’s cadre of certified Facilitators and Panelists are trained and prepared to assist in the delivery of presentations and trainings as well as ensuring these opportunities are scheduled and facilitated. Samantha has served in a variety of capacities for GLSEN Omaha’s Board of Directors, including as Vice Chair and Programming Co-Chair, and has been involved with the chapter since 2012.
“As a mother and an educator, I believe it’s critical to have teachers and administrators that are properly equipped to intervene in situations of bullying/harassment of any student. The intersectionality of GLSEN trainings encompass how cross-sections of the community are affected by anti-LGBT bullying/harassment, and how these complexities compound when someone has multiple identities, such as a queer person of color who identifies as a woman.”
Samantha holds a Bachelor’s of Child, Youth & Family Studies and Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has also possesses a Master’s of Arts Degree in Teaching, with certification in Special Education and a Social Sciences Endorsement for grades 4-9. Professionally, Samantha has worked with Region 6 Behavioral Health and Omaha Home for Boys.
Beyond her work with GLSEN Omaha, Samantha saw a need for LGBT+ youth to have LGBT+ positive role models in their lives, and founded Ally Mentoring, for which she serves as its Board Chairperson. Ally Mentoring is a GLSEN Omaha Community Partner, and operates under the banner of “Sometimes you need more than someone to be there. Sometimes you need someone who has been there.”
Samantha currently resides in the Omaha Public School District, with her son. In her free time, Samantha is deeply committed to her faith, and service to her local Catholic Parish.
It's an honor to join the Omaha GLSEN board. I believe that GLSEN is doing amazing things in schools for queer and trans students. I wanted to join because I firmly believe in the quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" from Gandhi. That change would be making students feel safe, accepted, and valued when they come to school.
I currently reside in the OPS school district, though I graduated from Westside in 2013. I completed the Technical Theatre Apprenticeship Program at the Omaha Community Playhouse where I majored in carpentry.
When I'm not working at Starbucks, I am the President of the Queer Nebraska Youth Network, and a mentor for the IncluShip program, as well as being a facilitator and IncluCity counselor with Inclusive Communities. I might be planning events like Transgender Day of Visibility and National Coming Out Day. Or reading, watching Bob's Burgers, or I've just started getting into camping/hiking.
All time favorite coffee shop is Archtype Coffee in the Blackstone District. They have a nitro Cold Brew which is unbelievably amazing.
GLSEN is helping our cities and country by helping change laws and policies regarding equality. I would like to be a support system and sponsor in Bellevue and the surrounding area. I also feel strongly about encouraging/building upon the GLSEN mission and helping others. I reside in Bellevue (Bellevue Public Schools) with my husband Ian, daughter Penny Layne, 2 pugs Krom & Nubia, cat Smaug, parrot Kira, and tortoise Napoleon. I have a Bachelor’s of Art in Studio Art with a concentration in drawing and printmaking, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Education for a certification in K-12 Art. I paint watercolor and oil illustrations in a nouveau/surrealistic style. Currently I am working on my new series of paintings. I love to garden. I am currently converting my yard into an edible garden and butterfly/bird friendly space. One day I’ll be building my chicken coop. I also like to paint, read and I just learned how to crochet! When my schedule allows, I also like attending local art openings/shows. I love coffee and therefore Starbucks. One of my favorite places to eat is Nicola’s in downtown Omaha (So good! I have dreams about the Lemon Cake dessert). I’ve also been frequenting the zoo with my daughter. The new exhibits are amazing!
I am a new board member whose service began this fall, 2015.
GLSEN is important to me because growing up, I struggled to be accepted in high school. I understand how important it is for younger people to have support to reach their potential, especially if there are institutional and personal impediments. As the Associate Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) and Associate Professor of Black Studies, I felt that GLSEN would allow me to further educate many about issues of sexuality and gender. As a volunteer at other organizations, I’ve learned how necessary it is for those of us who are passionate about advocacy to step up and offer our service.
I reside in the Omaha Public Schools District. I am a recipient of a Nebraska Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship and as a Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Services Volunteer, I have received the Leota Norton Emergency Services Award and the Newcomer Volunteer of the Year Award.
Additionally, I am a Tenured Associate Professor of Black Studies, Associate Director of UNO Women’s and Gender Studies, and Certified Faculty Success Program Coach for the National Center of Faculty Development and Diversity, assisting underrepresented faculty in the academy. Outside of GLSEN, I am also involved in the Black Artists Roundtable, Family and Friends of Inmates, and North Omaha Arts Alliance.
My hobbies and interests include visual art, reading, and animal welfare. My favorite local Omaha spots are Caffeine Dreams, Saigon Surface, 801 Chophouse, and Art exhibits!
Billie Mari Grant has lived in Omaha for almost 3 years. In those years she has become a recognizable activist in many communities. She is a core organizer for CHEER (Comprehensive Health Education and Equal Responsibility) and SlutWalk Omaha. She is the creator of Period.Productions, an alternative printed resource currently focused on creating a comprehensive sexual health zine (The Talk) to be nationally distributed. She is as board member of Friends of Planned Parenthood, and QPOC (QPoC) Nebraska. She works as the Program Director for Omaha Girls Rock Camp, a summer camp and after school program 5 years strong! Billie has volunteered regularly as a facilitator or panelist for GLSEN, Inclusive Communities, and The Anti-Defamation League. This September she was named, Omaha Table Talk's Facilitator of the Year. She somehow still finds times to binge watch Gotham and Pretty Little Liars and even walks her dachshund Chihuahua, Winston...sometimes.
GLSEN Omaha Supports Omaha Public Schools District Proposed Curriculum Updates
Omaha Public Schools (OPS) Human Growth & Development
Forthcoming Curriculum Update
Submitted on Behalf of: GLSEN Omaha Board of Directors
Omaha Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
Authored: JohnCarl Denkovich, MPA
Chapter Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy
PO Box 641676
Omaha, NE, 68164-7676
Human growth and development education is considered by many to include comprehensive sexual health curricula as a core component of public education’s moral imperative to instruct and prepare youth to care for themselves, and others, as they experience changes in their bodies and brains. Additionally, this type of comprehensive education has the added benefit of lowering the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as unplanned pregnancies. However, school-based curricula has historically and intentionally overlooked the importance of comprehensive approach to sexual health education that is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, further isolating youth of non-heterosexual orientations and transgender or gender non-conforming identities.
Inclusive sexual health curriculum is even more crucial for youth of non-heterosexual orientations and transgender or gender non-conforming identities because “the stresses experienced by LGBT youth also put them at greater risk for depression, substance abuse, and sexual behaviors that place them at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).”
The ways in which LGBT youth experience disproportionate risk can be mitigated through substantive policy interventions, including standardized policy changes to existing health education curricula.
It is GLSEN Omaha’s public policy position that substantive changes to Omaha Public School’s Human Growth & Development curriculum should be thoughtfully reviewed and revised to include developmentally-appropriate, medically accurate and research-driven interventions, which intentionally incorporate the substantive informative care and practices necessary for non-heterosexual orientations, transgender and gender non-conforming youth to decrease risk factors for pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, informed by subject matter experts, and without bias.
The effects of LGBT-exclusive curriculum forces youth to depend on unreliable sources for health information. Historically, four standards have characterized most curricular approaches to sexual health education, complete invisibility or “ignoring;” teaching heterosexuality and cisgender are the only acceptable identities, or “demonizing;” equating non-heterosexual orientations as well as transgender and gender non-conforming to stereotypes, etc. or “stigmatizing;” and appearing to be comprehensive while only incorporating cisgender identities, or “trans-excluding.”
The CDC urges that “health curricula or educational materials include HIV, other STD, [and] pregnancy prevention information that is relevant to LGBTQ youth (such as, ensuring that curricula or materials use inclusive language or terminology),” to provide adequate information for these students.
LGBT Youth Health Disparities
By not intentionally including non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities in health education curriculum it unintentionally excludes them, utilizing the aforementioned “ignoring approach.” Citing this example, it is important to also note Douglas County public health concerns, including the high incidence of STDs and elevated unplanned pregnancy rate. LGBT-exclusive curriculum disadvantage this population with greater prevalence, and have a correlational relationship to these increased health concerns.
When addressing adolescent pregnancy, an American Journal of Public Health study of youth reported that of “sexually active” youth, LGB youth were nearly “twice as likely as other students to report becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant,”
making it even more crucial that this population receives curriculum that is explicitly inclusive, in order to substantively reduce rates of adolescent pregnancy.
The 2011 Federally administered Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) across 9 states, with special emphasis on “sexual identity,” noted prevalence among gay, lesbian or gay students was more likely (median 63.8%) to be “more likely than not” higher their heterosexual peers, “for behaviors in seven of the 10 risk behavior categories (behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management).”
The 2011 Federally administered Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) across 12 metropolitan areas, with special emphasis on “sex of sexual contacts,” noted prevalence among bisexual students (median 76.0%) when compared with that that of their heterosexual peers (median 29.7%), “for behaviors in eight of the 10 risk behavior categories (behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management).”
Those students attending schools in which sexual health education curriculum excluded LGBT identities as part of coursework, also tended to reflect a less inclusive and safe environment for these students overall. Subsequently, students, specifically LGBT students that experienced LGBT-inclusive curriculum were more likely to have positive behavior and school-based performance outcomes.
GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey reveals that LGBT students who attended schools with abstinence-only programs were less likely to report that their health classes included positive representations of LGBT people than students who had access to other sexual health curricula.
Ensuring gay, lesbian and bisexual students receive equitable treatment extends beyond policies pertaining bullying and/or harassment. Equity applies to curriculum decisions (i.e., non-biased) as well as extra-curricular activities, including Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs).
There is broad parent/guardian support for a more comprehensive and inclusive curriculum Human Growth & Development curriculum.Within the Omaha Public Schools District, a phone survey was conducted regarding parents’ perceptions of OPS’ Human Growth & Development Curriculum, including the perceptions of topics not currently taught as part of the curriculum. When surveyed:
72.6% of parents believed that the curriculum should include “sexual orientation and LGBT” issues. In the same survey, 70.4% of parents believed that the curriculum should include issues of “gender identity.” This localized survey is in keeping with national data, a survey declared of its sample, “80% of parents of junior high school students and 73% of parents of high school students believe homosexuality and sexual orientation are appropriate topics for sexuality education programs in schools.”
Similar measures of parental support for inclusive sexual health education, conducted on a broader scale, spanning multiple states found:
A similar survey found:
These are indicative of parent’s desire to have their children receive LGBT-inclusive sexual health education, and also will yield a positive benefit towards reducing disproportionate at-risk behaviors and consequences for LGBT youth.
These findings aren’t surprising, given the momentum of increased analysis of solutions-based health outcomes for youth curriculum, and “add to the body of knowledge indicating that diversity in curricular inclusion can positively affect students’ academic and career trajectories,” as inclusion, education and a sense of belonging to a school community are inextricably linked.
From a public health standpoint, it is imperative to make sexual health education intentionally inclusive of non-heterosexual orientations and trans/gender non-conforming identities in order to positively influence overall youth health disparities.
Further, Kosciw et. al suggest that “educators of all disciplines should pay greater attention to incorporating LGBT-related topics into the curriculum,” and concludes from the same study, “among the LGBT students [surveyed], attending a school that included positive representations of LGBT topics in the curriculum was related to a less hostile school climate,” resulting in increased positive educational and health outcomes.
The CDC makes similar recommendations, urging that “health curricula or educational materials include HIV, other STD, [and] pregnancy prevention information that is relevant to LGBTQ youth (such as, ensuring that curricula or materials use inclusive language or terminology),” to provide adequate information for these students.
By engaging in systemic change to current curriculum and standardizing minimum core competencies for sexual health education that addresses “the challenges sexual minority students face, such as stigma, discrimination, family disapproval, social rejection and violence, schools can help to improve health outcomes and reduce the prevalence of health-risk behaviors,”
for these youth. The CDC has consistently connected student health behaviors and good grades,” stating “…students who do not engage in health-risk behaviors receive higher grades than their classmates who do engage in health-risk behaviors.”
Inclusive comprehensive sexual health education should “teach both information and essential skills that are necessary to adopt, practice, and maintain healthy relationships and behaviors,” and afford students the “opportunity to engage in cooperative and active learning strategies” related to sexuality, including critical thinking and reasoning.
These opportunities should also be inclusive of gender-neutral language, scenarios and information that are relevant and relatable to LGBT youth.
In an effort to build a more comprehensive and effective Human Growth & Development curriculum, “the disproportionate rates at which sexual minority students experience many health risks, compared with non-sexual minority students”
must be recognized and addressed within the body of approved curriculum. Standardized core curriculum must not only be age-appropriate and medically accurate, but intentionally inclusive of LGBT students, as “the disproportionate risk is most apparent among students who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and who have had sexual contact with both sexes.”
In an effort to provide a comprehensive education which effectively decreases the frequency of STIs and unplanned pregnancies, GLSEN Omaha strongly urges change to the Omaha Public Schools’ Human Growth & Development curriculum which intentionally includes age-appropriate, medically accurate and research-driven interventions. Comprehensive curriculum revisions should also meaningfully incorporate the substantive experiences as well as informative care and practices necessary for sexual minority youth, those with non-heterosexual orientations, transgender and gender non-conforming youth to decrease youth health disparities including risk factors for pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, informed by subject matter experts, and without bias.
GLSEN Omaha is the local Nebraska-based chapter of the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for ALL students. GLSEN Omaha envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org/omaha.
For More Information
JohnCarl Denkovich, MPA
GLSEN Omaha Chapter Director of Policy
& Legislative Advocacy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, and health-risk behaviors among students in grades 9-12—Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, selected sites, United States, 2001-2009. MMWR. 2011.
Greytak, E.A. & Kosciw, J.G. Chqp 533 10, pp 157-175. Responsive classroom curriculum for LGBTQ students. In E. Fisher & K. Komosa Hawkins (Eds.), Creating safe and supportive learning environments: A guide for working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and families. New York, NY: Routledge.
Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001–2009. Early Release / Vol. 60 June 6, 2011
Kosciw, J.G., Greytak, E.A., Bartkiewicz, M.J., Boesen, M.J., & Palmer, N.A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
Sorace, Danene. “Addressing Sexual Health in Schools: Policy Considerations.” Advocates for Youth, 2013.
Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey (Washington, DC: National Public Radio, Kaiser Family Foundation, Kennedy School of Government, 2004).
Sex Education in America: The View from Inside the Nation’s Classrooms (Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2000).
Kirby, D. , & Laris, B.A. (2009). Effective curriculum-based sex and STD/HIV education programs for adolescents. Child Development Perspectives, 3, 21-29.
Klein, J.D., & and the Committee on Adolescence. (2005). Adolescent pregnancy: Current trends and issues. Pediatrics, 116, 281-286.
Santelli, J.S., Ott, M.A., Lyon, M., Rogers, J., Summers, D. & Schleifer, R. (2006). Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 72-81.
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
Future of Sex Education Initiative. (2012). National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12 [a special publication of the Journal of School Health]. Retrieved from http://www.futureofsexeducation. org/documents/josh-fose-standards-web.pdf