First day at Harvey Milk High protested
September 09 2003 11:00 PM ET
The first publicly funded school in the United States for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered teenagers opened in New York City Monday as a handful of protesters rallied across the street. There were also demonstrations of support for Harvey Milk High School. In front of the building people cheered and held up banners reading "God made us queer" as classes commenced at the school named after the openly gay San Francisco politician, who was assassinated in 1978. The school, which for 20 years was funded privately and comprised just two classes, is now bankrolled jointly by the city education department and a gay rights youth advocacy group, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a first for the United States.
When city officials announced in July that the school would open in the new academic year in September along with others for New York's 1.1 million city-educated children, critics in this country and overseas said creating a special school would not solve the larger problem of homophobia.
"I am offended because this school is only for a particular sexual orientation," protester Reuben Israel said Monday. "I say it is discriminating.... These people say, 'Accept us for who we are,' but don't
accept anybody else."
School principal William Salzman said the school is not segregationist. He said it provides a safe learning environment for children who have been physically or emotionally abused in other schools
because of their sexual orientation. "We are very proud to have them here in a safe, nurturing
environment," Salzman, a former Wall Street executive who has recently worked as an assistant high school principal, told reporters. "Some may say it is segregationist, it's not. All the students are here voluntarily. There are schools where some things may be taking place, but we can't change the whole world, but what we can do is work with one child at a time."
He said over 70 students are enrolled so far in the revamped school, which will specialize in computer technology, media, art, and culinary programs in addition to the city school curriculum. The city spent $3.2 million to renovate the building in Manhattan's Greenwich Village neighborhood.