Before it went belly-up, Chicago’s nascent gay-and-allies high school was known as Social Justice Pride Campus, then, in an apparent attempt to gain broader support, it took on the name Social Justice Solidarity Campus. The former name—Pride—was the inaugural version; the planners switched to the latter—Solidarity—after encountering opposition, notably by evangelical ministers. The shift in nomenclature is telling; the school’s planners always seemed stuck somewhere between missions—were they about fostering gay pride or developing between-group solidarity? And, as seems likely, were they trying to mollify the wrong folks? After all, these ministers think queers are doing “the work of the devil.” Why try to reason with that?
Queer youth suffer in many schools, that’s for sure. But I still have questions: Will the goal of safety for gender and sexual minority youth be best achieved through the establishment of one school or the enforcement of the city’s already strong anti-discrimination policies? What about providing education toward justice for queer youth across city schools? Remember when Billie Jean King donated $10,000 to provide copies of the film It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School to every school in Chicago? What would happen if Duncan and Daley required these schools to show the film and discuss the “issues”? Can schools be made safer across the board, say, by repairing every broken window, boiler, and plaster wall, filling classrooms with art, plants, books, and computers, inviting neighbors to visit classes and plant school gardens, and strongly representing love and respect for every person in the building and community, so that all kids flourish? Bigger vision, bigger results.
Let’s refuse to let Daley spend a penny on the Olympics before every child is safe in every Chicago school.
And every school has a garden.