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Saturday | August 02, 2003

Gay hysteria

By Steve Gilliard

If you've been paying attention, the President has found a pressing need to not only ban gay marriage, but civil unions. In an unrelated, but linked story, New York City has fully funded the Harvey Milk High School, which had been run by the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Now, this is something I know a little about, since I wrote about it nearly 20 years ago, when the program first started. In all the hysteria about a "gay"
high school . And in a wave of open homophobia, I'd like to shed a little light on the program.

The Harvey Milk High School, an expansion of a 1984 city program consisting of two small classrooms for gay students, will enroll about 100 students and will open in the fall.

"I think everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a briefing today. "It lets them get an education without having to worry. It solves a discipline problem. And from a pedagogical point of view, this administration and previous administrations have thought it was a good idea and we'll continue with that."

The program was supported , in large measure, by NYU. The two founders, Hetrick and Martin, had taught there and got space from the university for their program, because there was a desperate need for it.

Hetrick-Martin does outreach with gay youth and from what I was told, the kids they saw were at the end of their ropes, literally. They were saving kids from suicide, homelessness and sexual assault in their high schools. It wasn't for gay kids, but troubled kids who were gay and headed for the streets or an early grave.

The program is small, 100 kids, out of a high school population of 400,000. If it was merely a school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered kids, they would have to have in every borough, serving anywhere from 20-40,000 kids at a minimum. Harvey Milk is not for "gay" kids, but troubled kids. Kids who face physical violence in school. Some dismiss it as bullying, but we're talking things as serious as assault with a deadly weapon to rape. Which gay and bisexual kids are far, far less likely to report. Administrators are often indifferent to these attacks. Harvey Milk exists so that these kids can get their consitutionally mandated educations safely.

Most gay kids attend New York's Public Schools with little problem. But for those facing eviction by homophobic parents, violence and sexual assault, there needs to be a place where they can continue to get their educations and become useful members of society.

What amazes me is the wholesale assault on gay rights is deemed to be a protection of marriage. The President and his allies want to drag us back to the days of Plessy V. Fergusson without even thinking about it. You don't have to like gay marriage or civil union, but then rights aren't supposed to be placed up for a vote.

Make no mistake, like all the caterwalling about the "gay" high school, much of this talk about making gay marriage illegal won't change reality. But what it will do is create an America with two classes, those who can marry and those who can't. Those who have their legal rights protected under the law and those who don't.

Amending the constitution is dangerous enough, doing so to forever deny a class of people basic rights is even more dangerous and a denial of reality. You can't prevent gay families. You can only make their lives harder. What societal interest is there in making the lives of gays harder? To forever complicate adoptions, estates, rental agreements and medical care? What point is there in doing that because you think the rights of marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals?

The constitution is not a magic wand, designed to make things we disagree with disappear. If it was, I wouldn't be living in the United States. Nor would most of the Catholic, Jewish, Hispanic and Asian immigrants or their descendents. As Americans, gays should have the right to formal legal bonds, whatever you call them. Not because we like or approve of their lifestyles, but because they are American citizens.

Anyone who wants to enshrine this bigotry into law, or defend it with law, is fundamentally un-American. Loving v Virginia, which ended misegenation laws in the US, was, at first, unpopular. Now, it's irrelevant. One day, we'll realize that disenfranching gays from the protections of civil law and stable families is silly. It's not about personal likes, but basic rights under the law and if gays will form families, what possible sense does it make force these families to live as second class citizens?

Posted August 02, 2003 07:57 AM





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