Concerns about the Harvey Milk School

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Let's celebrate the news that New York City has established a public high school for homosexual students; it's good to hear that teen-agers who were chased out of school because they're gay now have a place to go. But along with the recognition of the short-term benefit for the students of Harvey Milk School, we should be concerned about the role of such a school in the long run.

That concern is captured by the name of the non-profit group that administers the Harvey Milk School: The Institute for the Protection of Gay and Lesbian Youth. The Institute, a private, non-profit group, directs the school for the benefit of 20 students who dropped out of regular schools in the face of harassment from peers. (And, judging from reports from a public school teacher who is a NAMBLA member, from faculty members as well.) But do homosexual youth need protection from such harassment, or do they need the power to fight it?

Sometimes the difference is difficult to see, but examples from recent history can make things clearer. When black students faced hostility as Arkansas public schools were integrated in the 1950s, President Eisenhower sent the National Guard to schools with them. Not merely to protect the students, but to lend the power of the United States government to blacks claiming their legitimate right to decent education.

If anyone suggested then - or if anyone suggested today - that students of one race be education in a separate school to protect them from the hostility of bigots, it's hard to believe the proposal would be regarded as progressive.

It used to be regarded handicapped or learning-disabled students were warehoused in special schools "for their own good." Now, such students and their parents demand that these students, as much as possible, attend regular classes. And laws reflect the legitimacy of this demand. Gay students have the same rights. It should be the job of every teacher, every principal, every administrator to lend the power of the government to gay students seeking an education in regular public schools. Not just in New York, but in schools across the country. That's the demand gay students have a right to make, and to settle for the "protection" of a separate school is a poor bargain.

Again, let's be glad that the Harvey Milk School is there for students who need it. But let's remember that the school is the symptom of a problem, not the solution to it.

source: 'Editorial' by Chris Farrell; NAMBLA Bulletin, Vol. 6, N. 6; July/August 1985