LGBT-friendly Schools

With my daughter out as a lesbian at school I am holding my breath waiting to see what happens. So far so good. She has almost two years to go until middle school though. Middle school was just the worst for me, and from the kids I know in the neighborhood who are in or just graduated from middle school it still is hard to endure.

Earlier this week I avoided doing work and tried to assuage my concerns about my daughter by checking out the local school district’s Visual Arts Magnet middle school and high school on the internet. Maybe those schools would offer a more nurturing, diverse environment for my artistically-inclined daughter, I thought. Educationally, I feel the future is up in the air in a way it wasn’t before. I just don’t know what’s going to happen at school tomorrow, next month, next year and the media offers me a daily array of nightmares to ponder.

I used to live in NYC near the Harvey Milk school for LGBT kids. As I understood it from someone who used to teach there the kids who manage to transfer to Harvey Milk had a really rough time wherever they’d been before. It wasn’t a school you went to just to enjoy the comradeship of other queer kids. Schools like Harvey Milk are few and far between.

Thus far my girl has been tough and brave. She says the kids who use religion to denounce her are stupid; she claims she doesn’t listen to them. Perhaps more importantly she has a circle of friends who embrace her (though I am pretty sure most of the parents still haven’t heard about her disclosure from their kids yet – let’s see what happens when the news trickles up to the parents). Her natural commitment to social justice would suggest that she can handle life in the neighborhood public school – that she might even do some good there.

Yet as a mother I don’t want ANYONE to be mean to my kid. Obviously, that is unrealistic since kids are mean to each other for many reasons and few people, if any, get out of childhood without a few battle scars.

TIME magazine is running a special feature on bullying, and one of the articles is about the Alliance School in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s an LGBT-friendly charter school, the first in the nation. The article gives voice to the kids who find the Alliance School a safe haven, as well as those who would say my daughter might be better placed in her neighborhood school, for her own sake and for the sake of her classmates.

The article, A Separate Peace argues that schools like Alliance might not be the answer, yet for some children a school like this is the thing that will keep them alive long enough to make it through school. Author Kayla Webley writes,

Parents want to protect their kids, but is wrapping them in an Alliance-style cocoon of tolerance the best solution? Some conservatives oppose the idea of a gay-friendly school on moral grounds, others for fiscal reasons: Why should taxpayers help make sexuality a central part of a child’s or a school’s identity? Developmental experts — and many gay activists — question the wisdom of shielding some students rather than teaching kids coping skills and promoting an atmosphere of respect on all campuses. “Being segregated doesn’t help gay kids learn, it doesn’t help straight kids learn, it doesn’t help bullies learn,” says Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor at Cornell University who chairs the human-development department. “All it does is relieve the school and the teachers of responsibility. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.” And yet to some bullying victims, it’s nothing short of a lifeline.

It is hard to embrace the argument that taking queer kids out of hostile schools is a problem because it relieves the schools of the duty to educate their staff and students about diversity and LGBT issues, and fails to hold the schools accountable for teaching bullies the error of their ways. As far as I can tell many schools are choosing to ignore LGBT students until someone dies. Moreover, in many states it seems to be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get LGBT awareness materials added to the curriculum in any form.
I’d like to know that there was a school like the Alliance School in our general area, just in case life gets tougher for our girl down the road. For now I will keep holding my breath and waiting.
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