Abused gays find refuge in school of their own

8th August 2003 at 01:00

New York City is set to open America's first state school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender high school students.

The Harvey Milk high school, in the downtown area of the city, will open officially as a public school in September with about 100 students aged 14-18. Named after a gay San Francisco politician assassinated in 1978, it intends to double its intake by next year.

The school is being opened in response to an alarming rise in cases of harassment and assault against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transsexual students in the city's state schools.

"If gay students weren't still being harassed in the public school system then we wouldn't need the school," said Mary Jane Karger, a New York representative for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Network. "But I'm pleased that we now have a a safe haven."

A recent survey conducted by her network found that nearly 70 per cent of gay and lesbian students in New York faced verbal, sexual, or physical harassment or assault at school.

Harvey Milk high is the result of the expansion of a two-classroom public school programme launched in 1984 by gay-rights youth advocacy group, the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Now the school, which cost $3.2 million (pound;1.99m) to renovate, will be fully funded by the city.

New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said: "Everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gay and lesbian have been harassed and beaten in other schools. It lets them get an education."

But Mike Long of the State Conservative Party, a former chairman of a community school board in New York, said it was a waste of taxpayers' money. "What are you going to do (next), come up with separate schools for tall, fat, and skinny people as well?" he said.

Harvey Milk's principal, William Salzman, a former Wall Street executive, said the school will be academically challenging and will specialise in computer technology, arts and culinary programmes. School officials said they expect nine out of ten of its students to go on to higher education.

In June, the New York State Assembly passed the Dignity For All Students Act, which authorises the commissioner of education to establish policies and procedures to make public schools an environment free of harassment and discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation and gender or sex.

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