Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chicago's Proposed Gay-Friendly High School

NPR reports that the city of Chicago is considering forming a magnet school for LGBT students and allies:

In Chicago, plans are under way for a new school where gay students and others wouldn't face the bullying and harassment they endure in other schools...

William Greaves, the city's liaison to the gay and lesbian community is on the design team. He said the proposed Social Justice High School-Pride Campus would be a college prep school for about 600 students.

"We as a team saw many … lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning [students] and their allies who were well integrated into the system and doing well academically," Greaves said, "but we saw just as many, if not more, who were isolated struggling, who were dropping out."

He said the school would support those students as well as others that don't feel safe regardless of their sexual orientation.
As you might expect, there are some in the community who oppose the school, but their reasons are quite diverse:

"It's not to take away my compassion for anybody here. I try to raise my children righteously via the word of God via the Bible because this is my belief," Greer said. "I cannot support with my own tax dollars paying for something that I don't agree with."

Others had different reasons for opposing the school. Hantas Farmer, a transgender, cited the ground-breaking Brown v. Board of Education school decision.

"Have any of you considered that this is nothing but de facto segregation? I support you in principle. School should be safe for everyone. But I'm not sure segregation is the way forward," Farmer said.

If approved by the school board, this new LGBT magnet school will open its doors in 2010.

What do you all think - good idea or a step in the wrong direction?

(photo via PFLAG)


lelah said...

I would like to see the money for this go into programs teaching acceptance and love in all schools. I think separating these students would not be good for society. I think that by telling all students it's okay for someone to be LGBT is a lot better than herding these kids away from everyone else. I am speaking from the viewpoint of a straight person who has never had to personally face this issue, though. I might have a different view if I were gay.

aviva said...

Well, lelah, I'm gay and I completely agree with you. I think it's great that the city is willing to do something like this; it shows that they're thinking about discrimination and the detrimental effect it can have on teenagers. But I'm not sure this is the best option. It is segregation, though not intended negatively, and implies that if you're gay/queer/trans you have to go to a separate place where you'll be accepted, that you can't be part of a "normal" school community.

Habladora said...

Alright, I'll admit, when I started reading the NPR article, I thought this sounded like a good idea. Then I got to the Hantas Farmer quotation and thought, 'it's true, this is segregation - and we don't want to send students off to 'go be gay away from everyone else' as though it were a quarantine.'

So... we have:
Pros: LGBT students can escape hostile environments where they are being harassed by their peers. The school would probably be great for building a sense of community for LGBT kids as well.

Cons: Having a Pride Campus might be used as a way for the other schools to avoid dealing with their issues. We need all schools to be safe environments for all students, and I'd hate to see principals trying to push victims of bullying and harassment to just leave rather than working to protect those students where they are.

Also - what message does this send to other students? I mean that as a serious question - does it imply that the Chicago community values or devalues the LGBT community?

frau sally benz said...

I'm also ambivalent about this decision. I think "hooray! a place for them to be safe and free to be themselves." Then I think "boo! a way for them to continue to be seen as other."

This is my general feeling with most situations like these -- same sex schools, fraternities & sororities, etc.

For Habladora's question, I think what this says about Chicago is that they respect LGBT rights and concerns, but are trying to figure out how to address them. Of course, I don't live in Chicago, so I can't say that for sure, but that's what I would take out of this decision.

pfunkem said...

Well, I think we should look at the example of Harvey Milk High School in New York. Here are some stats on LBGTQ Youth:

Another good example would be HBCU. I think that every student needs a place where he/she/ze feels safe, valid, and accepted. Everyone deserves to have a place where they see themselves and others like them reflected in a positive light. And while teaching acceptance and tolerance is important, we can't ignore the horrible discrimination, persecution, unequal treatment, and violence that these students face.

I think we can't deny people safe havens -- for example, when someone is being abused, we don't just try to teach the abuser how to be different (although, yes, that is what we want) -- we offer a safe space for the abused to escape the ill treatment. So I don't think you can say "I'd rather see this money go into programs teaching acceptance," because we can't reallocate money for domestic violence shelters into just teaching men to not be abusers. You have to do outreach, but you first and foremost have to protect people from harm.

I think it's important to note that these students are facing more than just ostracism. Not every LBGTQ student is physically harmed, but many are. And that is unacceptable.

Kekla said...

Conceptually, I don't like the idea of segregating LGBTQ students, either. I think education about acceptance is the most important thing for our society's future. We need our youth to grow up understanding how to love each other despite differences.

In practice, though, I think a gay-friendly school is a good idea, particularly since participation would be voluntary. It's a safety issue. Pfunkem's domestic violence analogy is better than a pure segregation analogy. Why? Look at black/white segregation, for example: it was the status quo, before integration occurred. People knew (and accepted!) what they were getting themselves into by sending their black children to a mixed school. LGBTQ teens are popping up from within an integrated environment that they are legally required to be in. It's not fair.

It takes significant personal evolution to be able to face constant harrasment and not be damaged. Most LGBTQ teens are not there yet, so they are being physically, intellectually and emotionally damaged by being surrounded by prejudice and harrasment. That's not helping the cause. (If all our future civil rights attorneys are dropping out in the tenth grade...who's going to take the next 47 states to court over same-sex marriage?)

As much as we want and need to train the homophobes among us in the ways of acceptance, we shouldn't want to do it at the expense of the education, opportunites, emotions and very lives of our LGBTQ youth.

Kekla said...

P.S. Actually, here's what I hope happens: every LGBTQ student and ally in Chicago starts clamoring to get into the new school, to the point where the administration realizes that they won't ever fit them all into one school. So they go to Plan B: segregate out all the homophobic, harrasing students into one school so they can share their hate freely on one another and be targeted for serious diversity-acceptance education. :)

And why not? Intolerance should be treated as what's odd and needs to be removed from the mainstream...

Anonymous said...

Safe, queer spaces are integral in my life and if compulsory education is to exist, queer kids should have the opportunity to not be harassed constantly.
Every school ever should be queer positive, obviously - but that's not how it is right now.
Starting this school can't be the be all end all of making school enjoyable and it could potentially take away from making other schools working on their shit, but it's at least a temporary thing that will make kids feel safe.

roseblack said...

I do think that there's a difference between enforced segregation and attending a targeted magnet program. Another good analogy might be historically Black colleges. They provide a safer space for those students who consider that a priority. Given the high suicide rate among LGBT adolescents, I think that providing that space for the students who most need it has a value. Also, it does sound as though non-LGBT students would be eligible for the program.

Диана said...

There is a lot to be said for safe spaces. Women's only school and gyms, historically black colleges, ethnically centered youth groups and sports teams - there are all places for people to VOLUNTARILY (that's the key word here) go and find common ground, understanding, and a shared sense of self that may not be available anywhere else in their lives. Clearly, LGBTQ youths can't remain in designated safe spaces for their entire lives, but that doesn't negate the positive role that these spaces can have, especially during a time as crucial to identity formation as high school is.

Killer Kesh said...

This would be a great thing! I'm a born and bred Milwaukee gal and I went to Milwaukee High School of the Arts, where a good population of the school was gay. Although I'm straight myself, it was a great place to go to high school just because there was less stigma against lgtb and so open to all sorts of diversity! Honestly I would have to say, though we did experience some problems, we were a gay-friendly high school. Everyone should go to one! It was the most enlightening experience I've ever been a part of and am proud.