Ever heard of the Harvey Milk School in New York City?  Probably not.  It is a relatively new public school of only 200 students, still managed under the NY Board of Education, designed specifically to meet the needs of at-risk LGBT students.  Check it out: http://www.hmi.org/Page.aspx?pid=230

The Hetrick-Martin Foundation sponsors the school and runs after-school programs for the student body which relate to their needs as LGBT teens, but the school’s primary purpose is to serve as a haven for students who had experienced serious harassment in their previous schools and were at a significant risk for dropping out (which is the only thing one needs to prove in order to gain admittance to the school- whereas you do not need to be LGBT-identified).  “A survey on the school’s web site claimed that 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe there. The same survey stated that 28 percent of self-identified gay students will drop out of school; that’s more than three times the national average.”-Boston Phoenix.  What’s most remarkable, of course, is the school’s nearly 95% graduation rate!  And compared to NYC public schools average 59%, that is truly amazing,

But of course, there is controversy astir.  The Boston Phoenix ran an article back when the school opened in 2003, which talks primarily about the idea of “segregating” (for lack of a better term) LGBT students.  And there’s some legitimacy to that argument.

“Can you imagine such a city-sponsored solution flying if it were African-American kids having their heads slammed into lockers and harassed so persistently they were afraid to go to school? Of course not. White-racist violence is punished severely, and homophobic violence should be as well. We don’t need to create “safe” high schools for queer kids, we need to do the equivalent of sending in the National Guard to ensure their safety.”

And this is precisely the problem that the Harvey Milk School recognizes.  I don’t think that anyone sees separating LGBT kids into other schools as the end goal- it is simply a compromise based on a terrible problem.  Because the fact is, too many teachers, administrators, and faculty members know next to NOTHING about LGBT issues and how to deal with bullying and harassment of their gay students.  When teachers are incapable of protecting their students, some alternative measure must be found.

“… on a profound level, segregating GLBT kids in their own “full” high school represents an open admission that the public-school system is unable to perform one of its most basic tasks — securing the safety of its students. And underneath that admission lies a deeper problem. It’s true that attacks on queer kids — as well as on kids who are perceived to be queer because of their gender affect, cultural interests, or social attitudes — are epidemic in public schools. But the larger culture hasn’t yet decided how to deal with such assaults, and that plays into the hands of those who are openly hostile to at-risk minorities. The media response ranges from shrugging off homophobic ridicule as standard schoolyard bullying, to sharing an attitude common among school administrators that “someone is always getting picked on,” to praising the more modern, if ineffectual, approach of instituting sensitivity training.”

So while yes, the Harvey Milk School is not the optimal solution to the problem of LGBT bullying, it is playing a good role in helping at least 50 students a year graduate and have the possibility for a better future that regular NYC schools may have denied them.  Your thoughts?