LGBT High School Program Begins in L.A.

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 3, 2010

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center in Los Angeles has added a new service: now, in addition to housing, job placement, health, and other areas of assistance, the center provides a safe educational environment for LGBT students.

There's need for such a program, given the experiences of many GLBT youth, noted a Feb. 1 article in the Los Angeles Times, which characterized the educational program as a "harassment-free school" and reported that students in the program meet with instructors twice weekly, doing a considerable amount of homework in between sessions. The program is set up to accommodate around 40 students, ranging from 7th through 12th grades, but the program could be expanded if there's enough response. For the time being, one instructor sees to the education of three students. But the program is not an equivalency program: graduates receive a high school diploma, just as if they had attended a regular school.

The program, which is co-administered by the center's Lifeworks program, came about after Marsha Aizumi saw how her son, Aiden, suffered at school. Aiden had to finish his education from home; Marsha reached out to educators to see if there might not be a better way for GLBT students to have their educational needs met in a non-hostile environment.

Unfortunately, hostile educational environments are all too commonplace in the experience of GLBT youth. The article cited a 2007 survey by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national organization that promotes safe schools: the survey results showed that a whopping 86% of GLBT students nationwide said they had been harassed while at school. More than 30% had gone so far as to resort to truancy out of fear for their safety.

Such pressures have led to the creation of other programs for GLBT students. New York City's Harvey Milk High School, administered by the Hetrick-Martin Institute, provides a safe space for a student body just shy of 100.

A similar school was proposed in Chicago in 2008, but the controversial idea did not gain approval from the city's school board.

But in the digital age, not all schools for GLBT youth need take the form of brick and mortar buildings; an entirely online program, the Minnesota-based GLBTQ High School, started up last month.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.