A private school, designed primarily for LGBT youth and teachers, is scheduled to open in September in Atlanta, Georgia.
Pride School Atlanta will serve K-12 LGBT students, as well as any students who feel “different” from others and do not feel supported in their regular school setting.
“Kids have full permission to be themselves — as well as educators,” said school founder and transgender teacher Christian Zsilavetz. “Where there’s no wondering, ‘Is this teacher going to be a person for me to be myself with?’ This is a place where they [students] can just open up and be the best person they can be.”
Zsilavetz, 45, said support for transgender teachers is often not provided by administrators in public schools.
“When [LGBT] kids can see you, when they know that they can come to you, they’re less likely to die (or be suicidal), for one,” Zsilavetz said. “They’re less likely to get pregnant, when they don’t really want to get pregnant. They’re less likely to get into drugs and alcohol and into depression.”
According to Yahoo.com, Pride School will first be housed in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta church when it opens next fall. Tuition will cost approximately $13,000 per student, with financial aid available.
Though Pride School is the first school primarily for LGBT youth that is more unstructured in its approach to learning than traditional schools, there are others in the planning stages for youth who feel alienated in public schools, says the news report.
“There’s a number of kids who come from the South… migrating to places like New York and other cities because they feel like it’s more tolerant for them,” said Ross Murray, a programs director for gay advocacy group GLAAD. “They should be able to stay in their homes, their communities. I think having a school like this in Atlanta… it means it’s much more regionally connected. If a student does need a place where they can be safe from bullying, from peers who want to harass or harm them, they’re not going to have to travel tons of distance to do that.”
Pride School is modeled after the Harvey Milk school in New York City and other similar education institutions for LGBT students, though these schools are more structured in their learning models, according to Yahoo.
Emma Grace, 16, who identifies herself as “queer,” says she is excited about attending Pride School, where she can further explore her gender.
“I think it’s greatly needed for a school to have LGBT-affirming surroundings and environment,” she said. “It’s still very much a hidden issue. Not a lot people talk about it because they’re afraid.”
LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality says in 2010 it “called upon the state legislature to immediately address the problem of bullying and harassment in schools,” following a report that found “nearly 9 in 10 LGBT students” said they were harassed within the last school year, and 3 in 10 reported either missing a class or an entire day of school because they felt “unsafe.”
The group states that in its research it found less than 30 percent of school districts in the state had “LGBT specific-inclusive bullying prevention policies.” Over the past several years, Georgia Equality’s network, called GSA Connect, has worked to train students in the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)—student-run clubs—in public schools.
According to Yahoo, two of LGBT advocates most notable achievements in Georgia are that members of the Atlanta Board of Education and school district staff marched in the 2015 Atlanta Pride Parade and the recognition of the first transgender student to the Walton High School homecoming court during the homecoming football game.