January 21, 2010

>Teaching Tolerance Mag: Are LGBT-Friendly Schools the Answer to Anti-LGBT Bullying?

>Teaching Tolerance Magazine, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, published a great article in its Spring issue on the thoughtful arguments for and against creating more and bigger LGBT-friendly schools. Two exist currently, Harvey Milk High School in New York and The Alliance School in Milwaukee.

On the one hand, do LGBT-friendly schools segregate LGBT students and their allies? On the other hand, do they offer LGBT students and their allies a better opportunity to feel safe while getting an education?

Put another way, are LGBT-friendly schools a short-term fix to a long-term problem that lets other schools off the hook when it comes to addressing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment? But even if they are a quick fix, should students have to endure constant bullying and harassment when there's an alternative?

The discussion also begs another question - shouldn't every school be LGBT-friendly?

Said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in the article:

Given the inequalities in the existing system, these schools are essential resources of last resort for students who may otherwise not graduate. They fill a pressing need.

Full discloser: Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Alliance's lead teacher, Tina Owen, and several Alliance students. Five minutes with Tina and the students and you can tell Alliance is not only necessary, but that other public schools could learn a thing or two from the school.

Take the story of Jahqur, a non-LGBT-identified student, who spoke to Teaching Tolerance:

Jahqur Ammons, now a junior, failed seventh grade. “I spent more time chasing girls than chasing grades,” he says. Jahqur’s brother, already at Alliance, told him about the open campus, the small classes, the helpful teachers. Jahqur enrolled at start of his freshman year.

“When I came here,” he says, “I thought all gay people were nasty. I used to say snide things. But I got to know them instead of judging them. Now I realize they’re just like me.”

Last year, when a conservative Christian group picketed the campus, it was Jaqhur who led the response. “The protesters were saying this school was teaching us to be gay and that we were all going to hell,” Jahqur recalls. “I didn’t think that was very a Christian thing to say. So we got all the students to go outside and show them: Gay, straight, trans, goth, emo — we’re all one.”

What do you all think about LGBT-friendly schools?

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