NU students differ on gay-friendly school

Christina Salter

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The decision to withdraw a proposal for a gay-friendly high school in Chicago earlier this week left the school’s future in question.

The Chicago Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the proposal at the Nov. 19 meeting, but the design team withdrew their plan on Nov. 18.

The original proposal for the school, named Pride Campus, had changed too drastically from outside suggestions for the design team to continue supporting it, said Paula Gilovich, a design team member and education programs director at About Face Theatre.

The design team consisted of educators and organization representatives from across Chicago and was responsible for developing the plan for a gay-friendly school.

“The language got to a point where we didn’t feel comfortable,” Gilovich said.

Since the design team first brought the idea to the Chicago Public Schools over the summer, the proposal has attracted national attention.

Chicago Public Schools is the third-largest school system in the country and would be the third district in the nation to open this type of school, following New York City and Milwaukee.

Despite the attention the proposal received, the possibility of a similar program in the Evanston area is very unlikely in the near future, said Dottie Coppock, the department chairwoman of student services at Evanston Township High School. The Evanston community has not supported past ideas for a second comprehensive area high school, she said.

“I would be very surprised, at least in the near future, if that question would ever come to the public,” she said.

Coppock said while she doesn’t have an opinion on the need for a gay-friendly Chicago school, she is not aware of any problems for gay students at ETHS.

The issue of student safety outweighs any other concerns about the proposed school, said Northwestern Rainbow Alliance member Mykell Miller.

Many LGBT high school students are bullied and assaulted frequently and need a school where they can feel physically safe, said the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science senior. Miller would like to see a gay-friendly high school opened in Chicago as soon as possible.

“It’s a step backwards in the overall movement,” Miller said. “But it might be necessary.”

But most NU Rainbow Alliance members do not support the proposed school, said Lyzanne Trevino, the Rainbow Alliance social chairwoman.

While the plan has good intentions, the school would segregate students and “actually be more harmful” than the existing schools, the Weinberg junior said. Students who are not openly gay may need the school the most but wouldn’t want to tell their parents, she said.

“Incorporating a program in several already existing high schools would have a lot better chance,” she said.

The design team still intends to open a school in 2010, and it will submit an improved proposal in about six months, said Bill Greaves, a team member and the city liaison to the LGBT community.

Discussion of the high school grew heated at the Nov. 19 board meeting. School supporters from the Gay Liberation Network accused the city of placing political pressure on the school’s design team, while an opponent of the school said a gay-friendly school curriculum would “infiltrate these children’s minds.”

Whether or not the school is opened, the issue of tolerance in schools can’t be overlooked, said Board of Education president Rufus Williams.

“We have to create an environment in all our schools that allows children to come to school without being bullied and harassed,” he said.