Helping Individuals is Good, Changing Society is Better – On Chicago’s Proposed Gay-Friendly High School

NPR just did a piece on the Social Justice High School Pride Campus – a proposed high school specifically for LGBT & allied students in Chicago. The website explains its objective as, in part:

The Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice believes that, to further the mission and vision of the school, it should replicate the successful components of the Social Justice High School and create a new high school campus to address the needs of the underserved population of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and their allies (LGBTQA youth). Research shows that there are low attendance rates and high drop-out rates among LGBTQA youth, and they struggle with harassment, depression, poor academic achievement, and suicide. Our goal is to provide a school with a safe, affirming, and supportive environment where every student — particularly LGBTQA youth — would develop the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives for themselves and their families and to succeed in their post-secondary pursuits.

My problem with this is that we should be working to make all schools “safe, affirming, and supportive environment(s) where every student…would develop the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives for themselves.” Why is bullying and harassment against LGBT (and questioning youth and allies…) accepted as so inevitable that the best recourse is to remove kids from “mixed” schools? “Separate but equal” springs to mind, although I realize no one would be forced to attend Pride Campus.

The idea of a temporary “safe haven” just doesn’t make sense to me. We obviously still live in a world where these teenagers are treated with intolerance and bigotry – so how are we best serving them by sheltering them from this conflict, when upon graduation they will only be returned to it?

Efforts should be directed at the climate of hatred and intolerance that prevents these schools from being safe and supportive for everyone. If you have a certain population that skips classes and drops out because of the aggression of another population – the answer cannot be to reward that aggression by removing the persecuted kids from the school!

A message needs to be sent that the problem is NOT LGBT teenagers, but the bullies who abuse them. If the very people in the public school system who support LGBT teens won’t hold the student aggressors accountable, who will?

CNN reports a study released Wednesday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):

The national study, which the group says is the most comprehensive report ever on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students nationwide, found that 86.2 percent of those students reported being verbally harassed, 44.1 percent physically harassed and 22.1 percent physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Hey kids! Adults! LGBT’s are a part of your community – YOU, whoever you are. So take the stick out of your ass and get used to it! What are we still in the days of Brown v The Board of Education?

Instead of segregation, I’d rather see heightened awareness and support programs along with higher discipline for harassers. I’d rather see a community, a school system that says “We don’t accept this behavior. We don’t want our children mired in the hatred of an entire group of people. This is NOT okay!”

New York City expanded its partnership with GLSEN last month in a training initiative called “Respect for All.” According to press release on GLSEN’s site:

Having already trained more than 1,000 New York City educators, the Respect for All Initiative will now include additional interventions to reduce bullying and harassment of students in city schools. The program began last school year training school staff to identify and address bias-related bullying and harassment, including bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

New components of this year’s program include the designation of a Respect for All liaison in every school and the school-wide distribution and posting of Respect for All materials, mandatory incident reporting and a requirement that every principal have a plan for the full implementation of the Chancellor’s Regulation and the Respect for All initiative.

A liasion is a fantastic idea – especially since students aren’t the only ones that mishandle themselves when it comes to the treatment of and attitudes toward LGBT’s.

This is a hard issue. If I was a LGBT high schooler afraid to attend classes, I’d be pretty happy about the Pride Campus. But as someone who expects more from society, I just can’t help but see it as a step backward.

Then again, there’s the Harvey Milk School in Manhattan (named for New York native and California’s first openly gay politician), which admits only LGBT teens who are at risk of dropping out. Their graduation rate is 95%, much higher than the state average of 58% (in 2003). More striking is the fact that the majority of HMHS students are black or Latino, and graduation rates for this demographic average 35.5% in New York State. Whatever else I feel about the concept of separate schools as a solution, HMHS takes near high-school drop outs poised to fall through the cracks and helps them transform into 60%+ college students!

I think my reaction comes down to this – I appreciate that these teenagers are being given a resource that will help them live the kind of lives they deserve, but I don’t like the fact that it’s being done in a way that allows a hate-filled segment of society to carry on as usual. Helping individuals is good, changing a society is better.


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One Response to “Helping Individuals is Good, Changing Society is Better – On Chicago’s Proposed Gay-Friendly High School”

  1. Andy Garcia Says:

    Great article – thanks for sharing! 🙂

    I’m all in favour of the new school.

    Andy x

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