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Volume 68, Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Opinion
 

Harvey Milk a true haven for GLBT students

Nathan Herrington
Guest Columnist

The Daily Cougar's staff editorial (Wednesday, Opinion) on the Harvey Milk School in New York, although similar to my initial reaction, presented a rather uninformed version of what this school is actually setting out to accomplish. The goals listed on HMS' Web site, http://www.hmi.org/, seem to contribute to, more than harm societal progress. The support and specialized attention that students receive at HMS result in more productive and responsible citizens, saving taxpayers money in the long run on mental healthcare and incarceration costs. HMS is not some sort of exclusive, elitist environment seeking to lead a gay separatist's movement. Its Web site presents the school as a last-chance, pseudo-recovery center where desperate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens can find solace. 

Safety, not segregation, is the goal of HMS, given that many GLBT teens face harassment in high school. Of course, it would be optimal if that safety could be achieved in the normal setting, but schoolteachers already spend too much time focused on discipline rather than education. Furthermore, many public schools, including some in Texas (e.g. Cypress High School), turn down students' requests to form gay/straight alliances. This sends the message to GLBT teens that, in some cases, school officials aren't even a safe place to turn. If other students are hostile toward you and teachers are against you, it's very likely you will fall through the cracks of the education system. Safety can be provided at HMS and they've been doing so for the last 20 years. It's only until recently that it became publicly funded.

Segregation was imposed externally on all students before the Supreme Court decision of 1969. Even if black students had desired otherwise, they could not have attended their designated school. Contrarily, not all gay and lesbian students will attend this school and those who do, will do so by choice. HMS services only a small portion of the total GLBT youth population. The vast majority of GLBT youth attend their zoned schools. If you use the standard that 10 percent of any population is GLBT, there are more than 100,000 GLBT students in New York City; 170 (1.7 percent) of them will go to HMS, the other 99,830 (98.3 percent) will be in their zoned schools. It's not the tormented kid's responsibility to teach tolerance to society. 

Some opponents say, "Well, then shouldn't we create special schools for chubby kids? What about kids with glasses? Surely they've experienced harassment too." The difference is that GLBT kids not only find rejection at school, but in many cases, at home as well. They live in a world that often tells them what they are doing and who they are is sinful. In the struggle to create an identity, such negative influences result in a sense of self-hatred, an internalized homophobia that can turn the teenage years into an insurmountable stumbling block. 

Finally, I seriously doubt the unconstitutionality of such a school. First, public schools with specific standards of admittance have existed for years. Even in Houston, the High School for Performing and Visual Arts and the High School for Health Professions turns students away if they do not meet the school's strict standards. The trend in education is a realization that different students have different needs and interests. However, in the rare case that a heterosexual student did want to attend a school catering to gay students, as HMS' Web site states, "all are welcome."

Things aren't always as they appear and heralding HMS as a step backwards is clearly judgment based on misinformation. Taxpayers should be informed on what their money is being spent on, but doing so without all the facts is simply counterproductive. To form a fair opinion, visit the school's Web site at www.hmi.org.

Herrington, a senior Spanish major, 
can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu.

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