News & Politics

Save Our Schools: A Queer Perspective

This week, I came across two stories (an AP piece and a blog post by the National Education Association) about efforts that families, educators and schools are making to accommodate transgender students in their classrooms as early as elementary school.  Having this kind of support at the place where kids spend most of their awake time can no doubt be lifesaving.  And it seems that such an inclusive environment would also have a hugely positive, if less direct, impact on non-LGBT children and children who are a part of queer families.  Of course, some are doing so more successfully than others, but just the notion that a growing number of young people will gain access to safe spaces at increasingly earlier ages was heartening to me.

schoolbusBut the warm and fuzzy feeling was short lived, as I returned attention to my own city’s school district.  Here in Philadelphia, just last night, our school leaders voted in favor of a “Doomsday Budget” that provides for principals and (some) teachers – and not a single thing more.  This comes after having already taken action to close 23 neighborhood public schools.  Those lofty ideas of trans-inclusive student health programs?  New gender neutral restrooms?  Training and resourced dedicated to LGBT awareness?  My kids’ future schools are slated to open in the fall without nurses or guidance counselors – if they open at all.

I’m not really being dramatic.  I really don’t know what to expect when my son is ready for Kindergarten in two years.  In fact, I can’t even assume there will be Kindergarten, as that is often on the chopping block in Philly and PA.  I get such a heavy heart when my three year old asks “Are they closing my school, Mama?”  For now, our family is just doing our best to support the parents, students, teachers and community members throughout the city fighting tooth and nail to save our schools.

Unfortunately, there are many families across the country in this predicament, particularly those living in urban areas.  We’re seeing an unprecedented attack on public education – a crisis that is disproportionately harming families of color and poor and working class families.

There happen to be a number of reasons I support the preservation of public education, but I think there are serious implications specifically relevant to LGBT people – from adults who might want to work at a school to LGBT children and children of LGBT parents who’d like to be educated.  Private schools, religious or otherwise, fire staff for being gay.  We can look to Louisiana, whose school system was almost entirely privatized following Hurricane Katrina, for some rough examples of what can happen to classroom curriculums.  In LA and other places where public schools are being taken over by voucher programs, or religious or corporate entities, students are learning things like the fact that “gay people ‘have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.’”  And, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of private schools with explicitly anti-gay policies – policies that allow, for example, students to be expelled for being gay.  Without an infrastructure and process for the public to at least weigh in on decisions like these, values that seem basic to many of us are no doubt being threatened.

I went to great public schools (not really realizing how lucky I was at the time) – and I always thought my kids would do the same.  Yesterday was a sad day for public education in Philadelphia, but I’m hanging on to hope that leaders here – and everywhere – will step up and make courageous decisions to fully fund our schools.  Our kids are counting on it.

 

[PHOTO: POLLY PAGENHART]

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