Chicago is set for a vote on the new high school targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual students on November 19th. Below is today’s column on the school, which I reluctantly oppose as I did the Harvey Milk high school.
Yielding to bias;
Segregating kids removes the victims, not their tormentors
BYLINE: By Jonathan Turley
With a vote scheduled for Nov. 19, Chicago appears on the brink of creating the city’s first high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. For those of us who have been lifelong supporters of gay rights, it is a difficult reform to oppose. However, the planned School for Social Justice Pride Campus would be a terrible setback for public education and gay rights.
The proposal stems from the best possible motives. A recent study by researchers in Chicago found that gay and lesbian students are three times more likely to miss school than straight students. A recent national study found that these students are 86 percent more likely to be verbally abused, 44 percent more likely to be physically harassed and 22 percent more likely to be assaulted. Those figures should be cause for alarm for everyone.
However, the new school is less an intervention than a concession to intolerance and violence.
Officials have insisted this would be a high school that targets gay and lesbian students who have difficulties in conventional settings, not a “gay high school.” But that is precisely how it will be perceived by students, who will tell any student they suspect of being homosexual to “go to gay high.” More importantly, instead of removing homophobic bullies, the schools would be removing the victims. The result will be a less diverse student body and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes. It is not the victimized students but their tormentors who need special attention.
Chicago is poised to follow the example of New York’s Harvey Milk High School, the nation’s first high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. It was a highly ironic dedication, since the late gay rights leader Harvey Milk struggled to fully incorporate gay and lesbian citizens into society.
The new school would serve 600 students, a relatively small number in a system with more than 400,000 students and 655 schools. It may indeed prove better for those students, as has Harvey Milk High. But the impact on the overall student body is the greatest concern. A school system has a legal and moral obligation to maintain a safe and nurturing environment. Chicago officials are embracing the approach of segregationists from the 1960s, who insisted that blacks would be “safer” in their own schools.
The proposed gay high school is on some level a continuation of a trend in public education led by the Chicago Public Schools. Chicago is now a patchwork of specialized “charter” or “themed” schools that separate students by race, gender and professional aspirations. Various high schools now cater to specific military branches, including the Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force. Many educators, including myself, have opposed this trend as embracing segregation or aspiring to offer little more than trade schools. School systems such as Chicago are quickly becoming educational theme parks that have abandoned the concept of a shared common curriculum and community for learning.
On Nov. 19, Chicago school officials should take a truly brave stand against homophobia and intolerance. They should reject the School for Social Justice Pride Campus and demand that every school offer an accepting and positive environment for these students. We do not need thematic public education. We need core public education that trains our future citizens to live in a diverse and tolerant society.
Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.