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Chicago is planning a new gay-friendly public high school. It's envisioned as a safe haven where teens would not face bullying and harassment. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: Let me introduce you to 17-year-old Matt Schlegel. He's a high school senior, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a Cubs cap. He's tall and blonde with a couple of lip piercings. The giveaway that he may be gay is a button he wears as a joke on his sweatshirt.
Mr. MATT SCHLEGEL (High School Senior): That's basically a heterosexual couple, and it has a cross through it.
CORLEY: Schlegel told his family and friends he was gay when he was a sophomore. He's been able to navigate high school easily but says he knows lots of other kids who have not. He started a gay-straight alliance at his school and says he knows plenty of students who'd like to join such a club but won't.
Mr. SCHLEGEL: They tell me that they - they don't have the conscience to do it. They're too scared to do it, and if they were to do it, how bullied they would get.
CORLEY: Several studies shows students considered gay or lesbian often face violence and are more likely to drop out of school. So a team of Chicago school officials and gay activists created a proposal for the social justice high school pride campus. William Greaves, the city's liaison to the gay and lesbian community, is on the design team. He says the pride campus would be a college prep high school, welcoming and safe for gay youth.
Mr. WILLIAM GREAVES (Chicago City Liaison, Gay and Lesbian Community): We, as a team, saw many LGBTQA students, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and their allies, who were really well integrated into the city, into the system, really doing well academically. But we saw just as many, if not more, who were struggling, who were isolated, who were dropping out.
CORLEY: Greaves says New York's Harvey Milk School and Milwaukee's Alliance High School, who created the safe havens for gay students, were sources of inspirations for the Chicago proposal, but the pride campus from the very start will be open to any student.
Mr. GREAVES: I feel tonight is incredibly strong.
CORLEY: At a recent public forum, most in the audience supported the proposed pride campus. Some had questions about where would it be located, its curriculum, and even how students would decide which restrooms to use. There were opponents, like LaShawn Greer, who praise the design work but said...
Ms. LASHAWN GREER: I try to raise my children righteously via the word of God, via the Bible because this is my belief. I cannot support with my own tax dollars paying for something that I know that I don't agree with.
CORLEY: Others had different reasons for opposing the school. And Hantas Farmer, a transsexual, cited the ground-breaking Brown versus Board of Education school decision.
Ms. HANTAS FARMER: Have any of you considered that this is nothing but de facto segregation? I support you, in principle, the school should be safe for everyone. But I'm not sure segregation is the way forward.
CORLEY: After the session concluded, Renee Ogletree, a school official who is African American and lesbian, said she had wrestled with that same idea but doesn't believe Chicago's proposed school is a step backward.
Ms. RENEE OGLETREE (Chicago School Official): It just like, we had these high-performing magnet schools. It's OK to have certain audiences targeted as primary targets for learning.
CORLEY: The head of the Chicago public schools has given their proposal his approval. But it will be up to the school board to decide later this month whether Chicago will open a new gay-friendly high school in the year 2010. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.