The School Hate Built

Harvey Milk High's Critics Fail to See the Reality of Queer Students' Lives

GLSEN maintains that most homophobic incidents in schools go unreported. What's more, schools are not required to keep records on gay-baiting. Teachers are taught to detect evidence of sexual and physical abuse among their students, and how to deal with learning disabilities, but no city policy mandates sensitivity training on matters of sexuality. The result is a piecemeal system in which some teachers deal with homophobia while others overlook it. Teachers who introduce lesson plans on anti-gay bias may risk losing their jobs for promoting homosexuality. "There's a rising fear among teachers about discussing sexuality," says SIECUS president Tamara Kreinin.

That would change if the City Council passes the Dignity for All Students Act, which prohibits biased-based bullying and mandates that teachers be trained to deal with homophobic harassment. The bill, currently in committee, had 37 sponsors at press time. "The good news is, there's a political desire to get a measure passed that protects students from bullies," says Ross Levi, legislative counsel for the Empire State Pride Agenda. "The bad news is, because of the disagreement all New York students are returning to school without a statewide law to protect them from bias."

Meanwhile, the Milk School estimates that it serves only 2 percent of queer students in the city system. "I'm only serving a small group of kids who are so abused and harassed that they really do need a place to study," says David Mensah, executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which has run the Milk School since 1985. "We're trying to make a safe environment for these kids without being harassed. But the painful reality is that the press coverage has created the very situation we're trying to avoid."

Pro and con: opening day at Harvey Milk High
photo: Shiho Fukada
Pro and con: opening day at Harvey Milk High


The author is a former eighth-grade teacher.

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