Hit & Run

School Choice Can Help LGBT Students Deal with Hostile Environments

A private school in Atlanta provides a safer alternative.


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Lazyllama / Dreamstime.com

School choice is not the enemy for gay and transgender students. People with an entrenched interest in maintaining the public school status quo are selling it as a threat, suggesting the idea of charter schools and vouchers is all just a trick to siphon education funding away to religious schools and evil, evil "for-profit" corporations. (Whether or not parents are happier with the educations their kids are getting there is irrelevant.)

It's not entirely clear what the landscape on LGBT issues and public schooling is going to look like under President-Elect Donald Trump. It's an exaggeration of describe Trump as "anti-gay," but it's definitely accurate to at least describe his secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos as having a history connecting her to anti-gay activism. Members of the religious DeVos family don't just have a particular set of conservative views. Through their foundation, they've spent money on state-level efforts to block same-sex marriage recognition.

This doesn't necessarily mean that making life miserable for LGBT students is on DeVos' agenda. It does mean that her religious motives are being used to impugn school choice, and that's a shame. If school choice is for anybody, it's for students who don't fit into a "one-size fits all" education system, and that includes LGBT teens, particularly now that transgender people are coming out at a younger age.

For proof, head down to Atlanta. Reuters has a story about Pride School Atlanta, a private non-profit school focused on serving these students. It's the first of its kind down there and is not sitting around waiting for the federal government to create rules on how to treat its students. And more power to them:

At Pride School, where transgender students are the majority of its inaugural class, Josh Farabee, 14, feels comfortable showing off his spunky pink and lime hair and long mauve nails.

Under the gender-neutral restroom policy students voted for, he tried the men's restrooms but discovered he still prefers the women's.

The transgender student's days at the school are a far cry from his former public school, where classmates called him "tranny" and "fag."

"I don't wake up scared to go to school," he said.

One thing to note about Pride School Atlanta is that it's a private school, not a charter school, so it has a tuition. Imagine how great it would be for parents of LGBT kids if it were a charter school, and they were able to send their children to a positive school that was funded from the tax dollars they have to contribute into the education systems.

That's why it's so important not to allow the idea that school choice is just for the right people (white religious folks) to control the debate. Charter schools are a boon for poor minorities in urban environments and parents love them.

Parents should not have to rely on the hospitality of the president or whoever is in charge on the federal level to determine whether their children are treated right. School choice will give parents the power to put kids in schools that treat their students well and punish those that do not.