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Are gay-friendly high schools a good idea?

Annie Condron

Are gay-friendly high schools a good idea?This fall, Chicago public school officials voted on opening a gay-friendly high school to combat the alarming dropout and suicide rate of gay and lesbian students. The school didn't get enough votes to move forward, but it is an indication of future education trend.


At Social Justice High School - Pride campus, students would not have to be gay or define their sexuality to attend. The school is intended to be a safe place where students can avoid bullying and harassment because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, says Josh Edelman CPS New Schools exec. officer.


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According to CNN:

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.


This harassment, the study concludes, has affected students' ability to achieve success in school, causing their grade-point level to be, on average, half a point lower than that of heterosexual students nationwide.


Dropout levels are higher among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students because of more frequent truancy, the study found. Almost 32 percent of those students missed a class because of feeling unsafe, compared with only 5.5 percent of heterosexual students nationwide, the study said.


The concept behind a gay-friendly school is intriguing. On one hand, I can see this being an amazing environment for students to figure out who they are with an understanding peer support group. According to these troubling statistics, some action needs to be taken to ensure the education of these students. And don't all kids deserve to feel accepted and safe in the schools that they are required by law to attend?

I can also see this school being a positive environment for any student who faces harassment from their peers, regardless of the reason.

I am left with a list of questions to consider with this new school as well:

- I love the idea of this safe place, but why can't all schools be a safe place? ("Reality" is the obviously the answer, but the idealist in me needs to ask).
- Is 8th grade too early to make sexual identity an issue?
- Will separating kids who are different prevent growth and acceptance in the broader community? Is this too reminscent of segregation?
- Will parents be willing to send their teens to this school? In addition to potential religious and cultural resistance, parents may fear the presence of protesters or anti-gay activists using the school as a target. In 1985, a similar school opened in New York to vocal protests from anti-gay minister Fred Phelps.


Despite those protests, the New York school seems to be thriving. According to CNN, New York's Harvey Milk High School - comprised of students who were at risk of dropping out due to harassment - has a graduation rate of 95%.


What do you think? Are gay-friendly high schools a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments section.