First school for gay students draws dollars and criticism

Everyone was downright giddy at the Hetrick-Martin Institute when the New York Board of Education voted in June to approve a $3.2 million expansion of its Harvey Milk School, the first accredited public school in the world "devoted to educating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth."

The approval allows the school, which was founded in 1984, to increase enrollment from 50 to 170 students for the start of the 2003 school year.

While protest of the decision was expected from the Christian right, few expected such a severe backlash from within the gay community. The announcement came, after all, on the heels of one pleasant brush with the press after another.

In February, Hillary Clinton (D) of New York became the first senator to visit. In April, actress Susan Sarandon became a "principal for a day." Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg added to the chorus, telling a

throng of reporters that the vote was "a good idea" because some gay and lesbian students are "constantly harassed and beaten in other schools."

But after the New York Post covered the expansion last week, the floodgates opened.

"For those of us who have supported gay rights, the announcement of the new high school is baffling," wrote Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor, in a Newsday commentary. "The city's ... solution is not to correct those failings but to remove the students, as if they are the source of the problem. The establishment of a gay high school rings of a civil rights breakthrough when it is the scourge of equal rights."

Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York, asked the Post if there was a "different way of teaching" gay and lesbian students. "There's no reason these children should be treated separately," he said. But supporters argue that these students are already treated separately. "In a perfect world, there wouldn't be a need for HMS," responded Debra Smock, administrator for the Harvey Milk School, on the Hetrick-Martin Institute's website. "But there is a need for the school and a need for the expansion."

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