Sunday, October 17, 2010

Separate Schools for LGBT Kids?

To its credit, the Toronto District School Board, has a long history of supporting alternative schools. In fact, it boasts North America's first public alternative secondary school, SEED, which stands for Shared Experience Exploration and Discovery, and which was originally a "free" school. There are currently 41 alternative schools operating within the board, as well as multiple special schools and programs for arts, athletics, science, etc. A few of the most recently inaugurated alternative schools have been controversial. The elementary "Africentric Alternative School" caused quite a stir when it was proposed in 2007; the typical arguments for and against separate schooling for minority children were trotted out, but in the end the school was approved and opened its doors to 90 children in 2009.

In light of the disturbing spate of suicides among gay and lesbian students in the US, one has to wonder if separate schooling should be considered in this case as well. In fact, there is a program, housed in one of Toronto's alternative schools, called Triangle. Here's how the school board's website describes it:

Unique in Canada, we offer academic and applied level programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (lgbtq) students who are able to work independently with some guidance. Our program covers lgbtq history, literature, and issues as well as a lunch program, class field trips, access to lgbtq community events, and co-op education.

This program, then, provides the safe space for LGBT youth that is so sorely lacking in regular middle and secondary schools. Which is wonderful, but I find it sad that such a school should be necessary. The optimistic side of me believes that if anti-bullying education were taken seriously enough, started early enough, and were specific enough—if it included explicit discussion of words like "fag" and "queer" and "gay," and explanations of how and why they are used as slurs—then separate LGBT schools would not be needed. But I'm enough of a realist to know that this is not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, programs like Triangle—in fact, whole schools—should be set up across North America as options for LGBT kids. If they prevent even one teen suicide, they will have been worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's a pretty mindblowing thought experiment. One problem would be that a lot of kids at that age wouldn't be ready to self-identify as gay. Another would be that the schools they leave behind would then be even more likely to foster anti-gay prejudices.

    On the other hand, if there ever were such schools, I bet a lot of parents would want to send their straight kids there . . .