The below post is by Sarah Kennedy, the Central Region's Media Field Strategist here at GLAAD.
My brother is not gay. He is, however, an ally. He grew up with two openly gay siblings, and at his Midwestern high school he stands up for kids who get bullied because they are gay or people think they're gay. In fact, he's just about the only one there who does.
An ally supports Harvey Milk H.S. students
That's why I was happy to hear that local leaders in Chicago were proposing a school for LGBT students and their allies.
This past Thursday, Chicago Public Schools held a community forum at Chicago's Center on Halstead to give community members the opportunity to discuss the proposed school. The Chi Town Daily News reported that the plans were well received and that during a "lengthy question and answer session, most audience members voiced support for the project."
Reading through the media coverage of the proposed school, I thought of how amazing it would have been for me growing up in the Midwest if I had the option to go to a high school where I felt comfortable - and safe - being myself. As a former closeted high schooler, and as somebody who now worries about the safety of the students my brother tells me about, I'm excited Chicago is starting to take these steps.
I remember hearing about the Harvey Milk High School when it opened five years ago in New York City, and the way the media latched on to the story. The school was designed around the needs of at-risk LGBT students, yet the news stories weren't about students' safety or anti-gay bullying. Instead, the focus was on the sensationalistic aspects.
People all over the country questioned the idea of Harvey Milk High School, rather than discussing how truly difficult it can be for an LGBT student to simply walk down the hallway. Sure, my younger brother would stick up for you, but he's the rare exception, and with teachers who aren't equipped to intervene it can lead to disastrous situations.
Students who are the victim of bullying, harassment and violence because of their orientation and how they express themselves, like Lawrence King, are not always in an educational environment where faculty and staff have the capacity to ensure their safety and well-being.
Beyond feeling safe from bullying and harassment, there is the basic need to feel okay about yourself at school. I wasn't out in high school, not because I was afraid of physical harassment, but I wasn't in an environment where I believed I could have led a sort-of-normal life at school, free from being ostracized.
I'm hopeful that conversation around this school will contribute to a larger national conversation about school safety for LGBT kids. The best option is always to have students feel comfortable and safe at any school. Until that becomes a reality, schools that focus on the safety of LGBT students may just be our best bet.