Thursday, October 9, 2008

Separate high school for gays avoids problem, rather than tries to solve it

I fully appreciate the problem that Chicago Public Schools officials are trying to confront when they consider making one of the 20 or so new schools being proposed a place that would focus on being sympathetic to the interests of teenagers who are discovering they were gay.

It has been 25 years since I finished high school, and I can still remember the petty bickering, stupid rants and trivialities that were turned into major crises (while also remembering a couple of serious incidents that were downplayed at the time, supposedly “for our own good”).

I CAN RECALL the ultimate insult was to be labeled as “gay.” It didn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with sexuality or personal orientation. Anything that was disagreeable to someone was labeled “gay,” because what else was lower than someone who was gay?

And while I understand that today’s teenagers are growing up in a slightly more tolerant environment (they probably think our attitudes are ridiculous), I don’t doubt that there is still a general attitude that uses sexual orientation as an insult for anything different than oneself.

For those students who truly are discovering that they are not heterosexual, it must still be a tough trauma – piled onto all the other stupidities of growing up. Chicago schools officials cite studies they say show a higher-than-usual suicide, drug abuse and drop-out rate among gay teenagers.

But I have to side with those people who have a problem with the idea of creating a School for Social Justice Pride, even though I don’t trust the motivations of a lot of the people who are complaining about such a school, which will be voted on by the Board of Education when they meet Oct. 22, and could be opened for the 2010-11 academic year – if approved later this month.

I DETECT A sentiment among certain older people (including many who were back in high school at the time I was, and who probably have the idea that “gay” truly is insulting permanently burned into their brains) that providing such a school recognizes gay people as a legitimate part of society who should not be targeted for abuse.

Gee, what a radical concept!

But I’m not sure having a separate high school will really do much to change such attitudes. If anything, it might encourage people to step up the abuse at other schools – on the grounds that “those people” can go away to their own school.

What we ought to be doing is trying to burn it into the brains of the students at ALL the high schools in Chicago (all the schools in the nation, actually) that a lot of the anti-gay sentiment expressed by students makes more of a negative statement about the person who uses such insults, rather than the person at whom it is targeted.

IN THEORY, WE ought to be aiming for the day when use of the word “f-g” sounds as pathetic as someone who uses the word “n----r.” It ought to be a term that one uses at the risk of getting a punch in the mouth from the person at whom the “insult” was aimed.

Creating separate high schools actually supports the notion that such people ought to be separated from the general population.

Of course, I understand that the high school is not going to be limited to students who think they are homosexual. There won’t be some “gay” test one has to pass in order to gain admission.

And I could see that the high school, as currently described, would become a magnet for teenagers who are interested in serious college-preparatory coursework.

FOUR YEARS EACH of English and mathematics, along with three years each of a foreign language and sciences, combined with fine arts programs, will attract students of a serious caliber – regardless of sexual orientation.

Of course, in keeping with the theme of a school sympathetic to gay students, all students enrolled in the proposed school would be expected to live up to standards that oppose bigotry or other discriminatory attitudes toward gay people.

But if Chicago Public Schools officials are preparing to enforce such a standard at one high school, why not consider implementing such an attitude at all the schools? If anything, that would make more sense.

The simple fact is that “gay” people are everywhere in our society, and it ought to be a priority to knock down the prejudices that some might feel toward them. Also, those “gay” students are going to be expected as adults to merge into the society as a whole.

WE OUGHT TO be teaching people to work together at a young age, instead of separating them off and creating the notion that they can exist in a separate world.

And I don’t want to hear about how this offends the “morals” of those people who want to live their lives separate from everyone who isn’t exactly like themselves. If anything, I find anyone or anything who caters to those people to be immoral in their actions.

It does the “gay” students no good to be separate, and it reinforces in the minds of certain ignorant “straight” students the idea that they have a “right” to keep “those people” separated from the general population. Whether or not it is the intent, that is the result of designating one school as a “gay friendly” place for students.

By definition, it is saying that students at the 19 other new schools being proposed (along with all the existing public schools in Chicago) are meant for “heterosexual” students, and that teenagers there who happen to be gay can be singled out for abuse.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago Public Schools officials will vote later this month whether to follow ( the lead of public schools officials in New York and San Francisco to designate certain schools as having policies sympathetic to gay students.

How much bullying ( do gay high school students ( endure?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really agree with your statments. Great post.