A few years ago, as a teaching assistant at New York University's urban journalism program for inner-city schools, I spoke with some students who had nothing but praise for Harvey Milk. After enduring unrelenting harassment at their former schools, they found, at Harvey Milk, an environment in which they could learn in peace. So it's hard to be too automatically down on this.
Yet the idea of incorporating this sort of segregation, even voluntary segregation, into the public system is unsettling. I can't begrudge the students who feel they need it the ability to exit hostile environments. But this puts school districts in the position of picking and choosing which categories of student merit their own separate facilities. And what of straight students trapped in bad schools? As I understand it, they'd be denied access to a potentially better education that the state has made available to their gay peers. More troubling still, in an arena lacking full, genuine educational competition, there's a possibility that this limited form of exit (Milk only takes about 100 students) will ease pressure on public administrators to crack down on harassment and make ordinary public schools a safe environment for all students.