Schools failing to protect LGBTQA students

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

For all the progress we think this country has made over the years in becoming more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, it is depressing that the schoolyard remains one of the most frightening places for scores of children who fall victim to bullying.

Steady violence and harassment against these students based on their orientation have prompted calls for the establishment of a new, voluntary high school in the Chicago Public School system that would accommodate students that identify as LGBTQA, questioning and their allies.

While the contributors to this opinion cannot personally empathize with the hate that many in the LGBTQA community have experienced, we recognize that the straight community has a long way to go in becoming accepting of those different from us.

But it is astounding that in 2008, CPS would consider resorting to segregation to fight intolerance. What’s appalling is that we have let the situation get this bad.

The pressure should be on the majority to make public education a welcoming place for all students, regardless of race, gender, orientation or religion. Those in minority communities should not be made to feel that the only way to cope with their peers is to separate from them.

New York’s Harvey Milk school, after which this proposal is modeled, became not just a safe haven for LGBTQA students, it became a target of protestors like Fred Phelps of the anti-homosexual Westboro Baptist Church.

While another school will likely be met with similar bigoted opposition, the bigger worry is that the larger public will view this as just an easy way to push its responsibility to the welfare of all students out of sight, away from other students and, ultimately, out of mind.

Schools that tolerate hostility to these students are not only driving them away, they are complicit in promoting a culture of ignorance that spawns more hostility.

By separating, neither group benefits. The majority miss out on the opportunity to gain a personal tolerance that only comes from interacting with those different from them. Conversely, those that don’t identify with the majority miss out on experience getting accustomed to those that do.

The failure to properly address the plight LGBTQA students face through education and tough enforcement of bullying rules is a black mark on CPS and the broader school system. Our state should not make the mistake of thinking that one high school being LGBTQA-friendly is enough.

It shouldn’t settle for anything less than every school being a place where every student can learn without fear.