Monday, September 08, 2008

Queers, Safety, and Schools

A proposal for Pride Campus, an open admission public high school that will implement a college prep curriculum in all subject areas, was approved by the CPS Office of New Schools last week. The school will serve LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning and allied, according to the school’s planners) students from all over the city.

The Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice submitted the proposal to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of New Schools for the Social Justice High School-Pride Campus.

A CPS community hearing about Pride Campus will be held Thursday, Sept. 18, 6-8 PM, 2008 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted. If, after the hearing, CPS gives the school its final approval, Pride Campus will open in 2010. No location has been selected for Pride Campus yet.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the school. I understand that schools can be lethal and are often dangerous and scary for queer and queerish kids; all the stats support that. And as a girl who liked to hold hands with other girls, hung out with drama-kids, and dressed like a freak in high school, I was called dyke and other lesbian-baiting names, shoved into lockers, and had bottles thrown at me; I hated most of my time at high school (I always loved drama club), barely graduated, and would have gladly escaped to another, safer, place if one had been available.

I became an educator, in part, to create schools that are not just healthy and safe places for all students, but joyous, art-rich, and vibrant zones where all kinds of people encounter and learn about and from each other. I know this is possible, and it is public education at its best. From this perspective, the idea of a Pride Campus prompts questions:

  • With the advent of Pride, what happens to the queer and otherwise non-conforming kids left behind in all the other schools? Shame?
  • Will Pride Campus let CPS continue to avoid really making sure all schools respect and care for all students?
  • Will schools push their trannies, fags, and dykes out to Pride Campus, rather than work with their teachers, parents and students to develop an inclusive educational culture?
  • Is the school a retreat, really, an admission of systemic failure to love our queer youth?

It seems to me that Pride Campus is still a “choice” school, one that plays to the fantasy that we can all just choose our ways into better situations, and those left behind, who just didn’t choose as well as we, aren’t our concern. It’s exclusionary, in this case, not because it requires high SATs or signed contracts for admission, but because it asks for a declaration of identity/affiliation that many youth just can’t make.

If we have given up on the big job of building a society, or even a city school system, that actively recognizes everyone’s rights, why settle for a queer day campus? Maybe we should demand a Pride Boarding School, a 24 hour safe zone, a home for all the LGBTQ kids thrown out by parents, forced to attend “ex-gay” Christian camps, afflicted by abstinence programs that ignore their existence, subjected to “marriage is for a man and a woman” speeches by politicians and preachers. Let’s make it big, let’s take over city hall, hey, how about declaring the whole city a Pride Campus?


Tom Murphy said...

So if you take over city hall and the whole city , for that conservatives would be oppressed. Would you then get the ACLU to defend us? That is a great question. I wonder if the ACLU will ever stick up for an oppressed, Irish Catholic white boy. The fact is...all people of every race, creed, color, sexual choice, etc. have been oppressed at some time in their life. We can either choose to be called victims or, move forward and make a differece and achieve REAL pride. I think of my early Irish ancestors. They were despised when they first came to America. They fought and worked hard to achieve character, integrity, and respect from their fellow citizens. One way to get respect is not to play the victim/poor me card. Think about it.
PS- I hope I am not being "oppressive" in my opinions.

Therese Quinn said...

Thanks, Tom. I think there's a difference between taking up space with pride and joy at difference, and being oppressive to anyone. I'm in for of rights and justice for all.