NYC Prepares to Open New High School for Homosexual Students

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The post-Labor Day, back-to-school tasks for New York City administrators include opening a new taxpayer-funded high school especially for students identifying themselves as homosexual, bisexual or transgender. Critics of the idea say the Harvey Milk School in Manhattan will segregate students and is a waste of taxpayer money.

Some 100 kids are registered to begin attending classes at the new high school Sept. 8. The Harvey Milk School is named for the openly homosexual member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who was murdered by an anti-homosexual former supervisor in 1978.

The idea to open the school for homosexual/bisexual/transgender students was lauded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a press conference in July.

"I think everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools," Bloomberg said at the time.

Since then, however, the decision has attracted criticism from people who believe the creation of such a school is tantamount to segregation and from others angry that taxpayers will be footing the bill.

"The question this school raises is: Should there be a school for victims of discrimination? Should there be a school for black kids harassed by white kids or white kids harassed by black kids?" asked Michael Meyers, president and executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

The Harvey Milk School will be a part of Manhattan's Hetrick-Martin Institute, a not-for-profit agency dedicated to serving homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals.

"This (school) isn't about having a school with a gay agenda. These students have to hide between classes to survive," said David Mensah, executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Mensah added that all teenagers are eligible to attend the school, including heterosexual youth.

According to statistics supplied by the Hetrick-Martin Institute from the National Mental Health Association, 28 percent of teenagers identifying themselves as homosexual drop out of school each year, three times the national average. Almost 70 percent of homosexual, bisexual and transgender students also reported that they had personally experienced some form of harassment or violence while in school. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they felt unsafe in their schools.

The harassment of homosexual students is not the only challenge facing New York City school administrators.

In January, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes went on the offensive after numerous violent incidents, including attacks against teachers, rapes of students and a series of assaults specifically targeting Asian students at Lafayette High School became so rampant the school was dubbed "Hell High" by the news media.

According to police records, one violent incident was reported every three days at Lafayette High School during the first half of the 2002-2003 academic year, making it one of the city's seven most violent public high schools.

In 2002, teachers at Lafayette High School threatened to walk out if security wasn't increased.

On average, the New York City Department of Education spends over $100 million each year on security and security-related issues, which includes security guards, security cameras and metal detection devices.

But while there is little disagreement over the need to counter bullying and discrimination in the schools, the debate is intensifying over who should pay for solutions to the problems.

State Sen. Ruben Diaz from the Bronx has stated publicly that the Harvey Milk School is an improper use of public money and that there are more immediate needs to address in the city's troubled school system. Diaz has filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court seeking to block operation of the school, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of other students. The case is still pending.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is also on record as saying harassment is no reason to segregate students based on sexual orientation.

"If you want to protect them by creating a special school, yank out the bullies and create a special school for them," said Mike Long, chairman of the New York Conservative Party. "The school system is trying to fix the problem of bullying by removing a particular target of bullies and creating an environment of segregation. There is no reason these children should be treated separately."

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