A new school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in grades K-12 is being established in Atlanta as a safe zone for such students being bullied in traditional schools. But a Georgia Baptist leader is asking if a 5-year-old kindergarten student can identify as being LGBT – or even a first or second grader, for that matter.
The school, being called the first of its kind in Georgia, will also employ LGBT teachers at what will be known as Pride School Atlanta. It will serve as an alternative for LGBT students, though the school “is open to any student who believes they’re not getting the support they need for ‘being different,’” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) quoted founder Christian Zsilavetz. The paper reported the venture on Jan. 4.
Bob Bagley, chairman of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs Committee, seemed confused by the concept behind the new school, which could appear to be a potential step backward for those who support the LGBT lifestyle.
“It seems to me that after many years of seeking to be accepted by the public, that this is a change of direction in the LGBT community’s effort to be part of mainstream America,” said Bagley, the committee spokesman who also serves as director of missions for Murray County/North Georgia Association in Dalton.
IMB photo by Will Stuart
“To remove children from the normal educational environment, for any reason, would isolate them,” he said. “This would also exclude them from any possible exposure to the biblical view of their lifestyle, and place them in the hands of adults who have chosen to live an alternative life.
“What will be the developmental outcome for a child after years of being in this environment?” he asked.
Gender dysphoria not fully understood
Jan. 5’s Wall Street Journal seemed to agree with some of Bagley’s observations. In an op-ed column titled “The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood,” Debra W. Soh detailed how younger age sexual development is not fully understood.
“Psychologists have learned how to treat adults with gender dysphoria, but how about 5-year-old kids,” Soh noted.
The guest columnist is provost dissertation scholar and doctrinal candidate in psychology, specializing in sexual neuroscience at York University in Toronto. She identifies herself as “a gender-dysphoric child who preferred trucks and Meccano sets to Easy-Bake ovens.”
In the article she relates how her parents allowed her to wear boy’s clothing and behave as a boy until she “outgrew my dysphoria by my late teens. Looking back, I am grateful for my parents’ support, which helped me work things out.”
While segregating LGBT children from the rest of the public education is one concern, Bagley’s underlying questions center more on how a child as young as a kindergartener or early elementary school is aware enough of sexual orientation to begin dealing with those concepts.
Education or indoctrination?
“My deeper concern (other than segregation) is raising a child in that environment for as long as 12 years, beginning in kindergarten,” Bagley noted. “Can a child at 5 years of age really exhibit characteristics toward a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered lifestyle? How about at six or seven years of age as they enter the elementary school that is being proposed?
“If those tendencies are not yet evident, will their education serve as indoctrination into a lifestyle that they may not otherwise embrace?” he asked.
School to be based out of Unitarian Universalist church
Initially, Pride School will be based out of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta church after it opens by September. Tuition will be set at $13,000, the AJC reported. Zsilavetz said financial assistance will be available for students who need it.
“I think right now what a lot of (LGBT) students face is separate but equal education in the public schools,” Zsilavetz said. “Because if you can’t go to the bathroom all day and you can’t use the locker room and you’re bullied in the classroom and the teachers aren’t standing up for you, you don’t have a full seat at the table.”
The school would be modeled after the Harvey Milk school in New York City and other education centers across the country designed for, but not limited to, LGBT youth. Pride School would be a so-called Free Model school with a setup more unstructured than traditional schools, where students’ interests are supposed to drive what they learn.
Small but growing movement among LGBT community
The spokesman said the school is part of a small but growing group of like-minded schools appearing on the national scene. They are designed to educate LGBT youth who feel disenfranchised from public education. The Atlanta school will be the first in the Southeast and, according to gay rights advocates, a significant development for the movement, the AJC reported.
Forty-five-year-old Zsilavetz has taught math and other subjects since 1992. He says he never felt “truly open or supported by administrators while teaching in public schools and wanted that to change. He wanted LGBT students and teachers to be able to openly discuss who they are in a school setting without fear, he said in an interview with AJC.
“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.”
Nearly 9 in 10 LGBT students report experiencing harassment within the last school year, and three in 10 report missing a class because they felt unsafe, according to gay rights group Georgia Equality. The newspaper reported that fewer than 30 percent of Georgia school districts were complying with new state legislation – signed into law in 2010 – that required district policies to prevent LGBT bullying.
The number of pro-LGBT organizations, known as Gay-Straight Alliances, at public high schools has also grown statewide to 43.
Last year the state’s first transgender student was named to a high school homecoming court, a Walton High School student in Cobb County, who was recognized during the homecoming game.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, news service of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)