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More equal than others

"More equal than others" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2003," Dec. 13, 2003

Harvey Milk senior Kimberly Howard, 17, plans to attend New York University next year. A budding transsexual who is taking hormones to complete an external transition from male to female, he had hoped one day to play girls high-school basketball. But Mr. Howard may graduate before Harvey Milk is able to launch the developmental sports programs it announced in October. Still, he likes the school, he told WORLD: "I don't get teased as much."

Manuel Mendoza, 19, graduated from Harvey Milk last year after transferring from another school where he too suffered teasing. Harvey Milk "is OK," he said. "I went here because I dropped out of school a few years back, and I heard about this school from a counselor."

Publicly paid counselors in other cities also direct kids toward education and support programs tailored to homosexuals. Public schools in Madison, Wis., employ a full-time advocate for gay and lesbian students. Los Angeles Unified holds ongoing pro-gay staff development through a program called "Project 10." "We take lots of questions [from administrators], such as a transgender kid claims to be a girl, but records show he's a boy.... Two boys want to run for homecoming queen, can we do it? So lots of issues like that come up," said LAUSD's Deanne Neiman.

Harvey Milk High doesn't have those kinds of problems. And the school's supporters say questions of equal protection and segregation aren't a problem either, since the school is open to heterosexuals. But that may be only technically true. The school's website (hmi.org) advertises Harvey Milk as a school for "at-risk youth who often find it difficult or impossible to attend their home schools due to continuous threats, physical violence, or verbal harassment stemming from their sexual orientation or identity."

Some Harvey Milk students say it would be OK for heterosexuals to attend (as long as they aren't "hateful and discriminatory," one said); others seem to have embraced the idea that the school is homosexuals' home turf. "I don't think straight kids should go here," senior Allen Harris told New York Newsday. "We left our old schools to be safe. Why change the environment again and bring our attackers here?"

Newsday recently has coddled Harvey Milk High with generally uncritical reports, long on multicultural cheerleading and short on opposing viewpoints. But the school's warm press reception isn't simply the fruit of enlightened journalism. After the New York Times pacesetting editorial page in August came out against the idea of segregating homosexual students, a crack PR team from elite New York firms offered the Hetrick-Martin Institute a pro bono assist. One strategy, according to an Oct. 6 article in PR Week, was to "quiet [the media] down."

It worked. A brief spasm of public protest on the school's opening day gave way to a broad silence that has emboldened at least one private school for gays and lesbians to seek public funding for itself.

The Walt Whitman School in Dallas opened in 1997 with a handful of students. But according to spokesperson Becky Thompson, the school repeatedly faced obstacles to state accreditation, in large part because it relied so heavily on donations to keep running. In light of Harvey Milk's newfound public financing, Whitman is now "looking to become a charter school in Texas, another way for a school to get federal dollars."

New York state Sen. Diaz believes those dollars should provide equal protection for all students, not just gays and lesbians. His lawsuit, still pending before the New York Supreme Court, charges that Harvey Milk's public funding violates a board of education regulation, a state law prohibiting segregation based on sexual orientation, and the U.S. Constitution.

But the senator's critics say his opposition to the school's public bankroll is less about the law than about Christian "homophobia." Sen. Diaz, who in 1965 moved to the continental United States from his native Puerto Rico, is an ordained Pentecostal minister. That, along with his history of standing against homosexual activism, was enough for The Village Voice to brand him New York City's "most homophobic politician."

Such invective, Sen. Diaz said, is par for the liberal course. "That is the way the leftists fight back," he said. "They don't know any other way." He told WORLD that the New York state legislature recently adopted a resolution favoring passage of a same-sex marriage law in the new session that begins in January.

"I will be opposing that," he said. "And you can bet they will call me a homophobe again."

-with reporting by Daniel P. Taylor

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