Chicago Proposes Gay-Friendly High School

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That's so gay. It's a phrase that can be heard in the hallways of many American high schools.

In Chicago, plans are under way for a new school where gay students and others wouldn't face the bullying and harassment they endure in other schools.

Some in the community support the idea. But others question whether tax dollars should fund it or whether such a school should exist at all.

School officials and gay activists teamed up and created a proposal for a new school. William Greaves, the city's liaison to the gay and lesbian community is on the design team. He said the proposed Social Justice High School-Pride Campus would be a college prep school for about 600 students.

"We as a team saw many ... lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning [students] and their allies who were well integrated into the system and doing well academically," Greaves said, "but we saw just as many, if not more, who were isolated struggling, who were dropping out."

He said the school would support those students as well as others that don't feel safe regardless of their sexual orientation. New York's Harvey Milk School and Milwaukee's Alliance High school were inspirations for the Chicago proposal.

At a recent public forum hosted by Chicago's Office of New Schools, most in the audience supported the proposed school. Some had questions about where it would be located, its curriculum and even how students would decide which restrooms to use. There were opponents — like LaShawn Greer — who praised the design work but had other concerns.

"It's not to take away my compassion for anybody here. I try to raise my children righteously via the word of God via the Bible because this is my belief," Greer said. "I cannot support with my own tax dollars paying for something that I don't agree with."

Others had different reasons for opposing the school. Hantas Farmer, a transgender, cited the ground-breaking Brown v. Board of Education school decision.

"Have any of you considered that this is nothing but de facto segregation? I support you in principle. School should be safe for everyone. But I'm not sure segregation is the way forward," Farmer said.

After the session concluded, Renee Ogletree, a school official who is a lesbian and also black, said she had wrestled with that same idea. But, she said, she doesn't believe Chicago's proposed school is a step backward.

"We have these high-performing magnet schools or schools for automotive-makers and things like that. It's OK to have certain audiences targeted as primary targets for learning — and we're not saying that only LBGT students are going there," she said.

This week, the CEO of the schools signed off on the proposal. The school board will decide later this month whether to approve the recommendation allowing the school to open in 2010.

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