Chicago considers an LGBT high school


Chicago school officials are thinking about creating a high school for LGBT students, upsetting the religious right as well as some gay activists who say all schools should be made safe for LGBTs.

The Social Justice High School-Pride Campus would be open to all, but with emphasis on sexual minorities who face violence or harassment in mainstream schools, the Chicago Tribune reported. Of an expected 600 students, most would be black and Latino, school officials predicted.

Five years ago, New York City unveiled its Harvey Milk High School, an expansion of a two-classroom public school program for at-risk LGBT kids that began in 1984. Since its inception, the New York school has been managed by the Hetrick-Martin Institute gay advocacy group under the auspices of New York public schools.

Harvey Milk High now boasts a 95 percent graduation rate, far above both the city average and that of queer kids, of whom 28 percent drop out of high school every year, Hetrick-Martin said.

Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan praised his agency's proposal.

"Given how large and diverse we are, I think there's a niche there," he told the Tribune.

A public hearing is set for Sept. 18. The plan then goes to an evaluation team and after that to the Chicago school board. It's unlikely the school would open before 2012, the Tribune said.

Opinion within the gay community is divided. Some people feel it segregates queer kids unnecessarily, that kids forced to list a "gay high school" on job applications, etc., would be stigmatized, and that students and staff would become a concentrated target for hate violence. Others, citing such atrocities as California's Larry King slaying, say many queer kids are simply not safe on a mainstream campus.

"If we're going to set up a separate school, let's put the bullies in the school and not our gay kids," objected Rick Garcia, public policy director of Equality Illinois, to the Tribune.

But Modesto Tico Valle, executive director of the Center on Halstead, who's helping with the plan, said the school would foster queer leadership.

"Having an established institution of individuals who are proud and out will allow us to foster good leaders for the future," Valle told the Tribune.

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