Chicago school officials held a hearing last week to help determine whether or not the city will open a high school catering to gay, lesbian and transgender kids.
Those in favor argue it will reduce violence against gay teens, lowering their risk of injury, absenteeism, and substance abuse. Opponents call it a municipal endorsement of homosexuality, which they say is wrong.
Some gay advocates argue against it from a totally different direction, saying it marginalizes gay kids, making them invisible. This is really closer to the point.
The way to make gay kids safer is not by hiding them in a protected environment—it’s integrating them into the social system of their schools. When straight people have gay friends, gay kids won’t get harassed any more than their straight peers. When gay kids are known as Kevin and Maria rather than the homo dude or the lesbo chick, they’ll be tormented only as much as anyone else in their high school.
All teens need to learn empathy. That means resonating with the humanity of people who seem different from us. The rich kid might hate his face; a young woman with large breasts might feel as embarrassed as her flat-chested classmate; a kid in a wheelchair can feel horny and ignored; and a gay kid can feel overwhelmed by teasing.
Straight kids need to know more about the lives of gay kids. And gay kids need to build relationships with straight kids—since they will live in a world with mostly straight people.
Gay people don’t have a “gay problem” any more than German Jews had a “Jewish problem” or Alabama blacks had a “black problem.” Gay kids don’t need a ghetto or a plantation—they just need normal life. For better or worse, high school is the closest any 15-year-old is going to get.