Gay students can be themselves at specialty school

USA Today
|
November 16, 2012

When Kailee Hernandez told her friends at Central High School last year that she's gay, things changed between them.

Girls she was once close to mocked the then-sophomore, acting as if she was hitting on them. When she entered a classroom, they sometimes just stared at her.

Kailee, 15, dropped out before the school year was over.

This fall, she is back in class, at Q High, one of a handful of programs or schools across the country for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths that offers high-school courses and other activities in what its founders call a harassment-free environment.

Kailee said the change has been dramatic. At Q High she can focus on schoolwork, preparing for college and a career as a pharmacist without being distracted and demoralized by taunts.

"At my regular school, I met people every day that had something negative to say about who I am," she said. "I'm getting support here. For the first time in my life, I was very excited to go to school."

While state law and school policies prohibit bullying, advocates and education experts say safe-harbor programs such as Q High are needed for situations where schools don't do enough to protect gay and transgender students.

When bullying endangers students or causes them to drop out, these programs can keep children safe and on track academically, some experts and advocates say.