Sunday, August 3, 2003

Harvey Milk High's in N.Y., but bigotry's everywhere



Laura Pulfer

I don't suppose we have to think about it yet. At least not officially. The first alternative public gay high school is in New York City. So it's far away. And it's very small.

Harvey Milk High School, named for the openly gay San Francisco politician gunned down in 1978, is expecting about 100 students this fall.

"I think everybody feels it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It lets them get an education without having to worry. It solves a discipline problem."

Predictably, not everybody "feels it's a good idea." New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said students at Harvey Milk won't be equipped to deal with the "real world."

As usual, I am cursed with the ability to see both sides. On the one hand, why wouldn't we concentrate on stopping the harassment in existing schools, "solve our discipline problem" by punishing the offenders instead of offering the victims a chance to escape?

Several local schools have formed Gay-Straight Alliance groups in recent years. And there's been a lot of ink under the bridge in the 25 years since Anita Bryant was telling us to drink orange juice and lock up gays. Surely we are more enlightened, more tolerant, less afraid.

But a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll reports that after several years of growing tolerance, Americans appear to be "returning to more traditional attitudes" toward homosexuality. Maybe straight America is fed up with TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and endless wrangling over gay marriage.

On the other hand, we have alternative schools for smart kids and gifted kids. Maybe they are postponing the "real world," too. Most of us aren't as smart as the kids at Walnut or as musical as the kids at SCPA. And maybe some kids need more incubation time before they face the "real world."

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

I called my friend Tim Burns, who graduated from high school with my daughter in the early 1990s. He started coming around when they were in the sixth grade and was a fixture at our house by the time they were in middle school. I could tell when Tim was in the family room by the peals of laughter rolling up the stairs. A very witty guy and a good friend. Think Jack on Will and Grace, only more handsome and without the exaggerated swish. Sometimes.

Tim's first car was a glossy black Dodge Charger. The letters scraped on it while he was in class showed up in particularly ugly and unambiguous relief. Anti-gay epithets etched on the hood and in both side panels. Would he have applied to enroll in a school like the one in New York?

"For sure."

If you have kids in school, ask them. When somebody says, "You're so gay," ask if it's a compliment. Harvey Milk High School is just a little school at the edge of Greenwich Village in New York City. But bigotry is never very far away. And it's very big, my friend Tim says, especially when you're an adolescent.

It's something to think about.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




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