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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:38:54 PM CST

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Chicago proposes Pride high school for gay students

by Susan Dosemagen
Oct 09, 2008

When Chad Weiden was in high school, he ate lunch in the bathroom because he did not feel safe in the cafeteria. He was scared to get on the bus. He feared for his life.

“Social justice has been a passion of mine because I was that kid that was not safe in school,” Weiden said. “I’m gay.”

He is now slated to become the principal of the proposed Social Justice High School–Pride Campus that aims to create a safe, affirming environment for gay and lesbian students across Chicago.

“What we seek to do is become a training center, to really push back to make sure all schools are safe, supporting and affirming for all LGBT students and all students in the city of Chicago,” Weiden said.

Members of the team planning the school said the college-prep school will be open to all students in the city regardless of sexual orientation. Students will be selected by lottery for the 600-student capacity school, proposed to open in 2010.

Weiden said the idea for the school grew from the safe, supportive environment created at Social Justice High School in Little Village, where he is assistant principal. After seeing the success there, they looked for other student populations that might benefit from that type of environment.

“Who else really deserves equal access education and is a social justice issue?” Weiden said the design team asked. “The GLBT community.”

Katie Hogan, a founding teacher of Social Justice High School and a member of the planning team, said they want to create a culture where students want to come to school every day.

“Those who think times have changed and schools are safe … you are wrong,” said teacher Brad Rossi.

He said he could not count the times he has been called “fag” or other names as a high school teacher. He said if he experienced that treatment as an adult in a position of authority, it’s easy to imagine the experience for students.

A recent survey of 6,000 students by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reported nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and three-fifths felt unsafe at school.

“We want to continue to create great options to students in communities that have been historically underserved,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan. “I think there’s a niche there we need to fill.”

Duncan proposed the Pride Campus to the Board of Education on Wednesday for approval, along with 17 other schools. The board will consider the recommendations on Oct. 22, said Jaime Guzman from the Office of New Schools.

Some critics of the school say it will separate and insulate students from prejudice, making it difficult to adjust to life outside the Pride Campus.

Beth Kelly, professor of women’s and gender studies at DePaul University, rebuffed the argument by saying students are in school for six hours a day and have to live in an imperfect world the rest of the time.

“This is something we can do without waiting for a perfect world in a far distant future,” Kelly said.
The Pride Campus will prepare LGBT students to face discrimination and to empower them, she added, although they hope to place the school in a welcoming neighborhood.

“It will literally save lives,” Kelly said.