The nation's first state-accredited high school catering to the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students has announced plans to launch its own athletic program. Officials at Harvey Milk High, which stirred considerable controversy when it opened its doors earlier this month, said they hope to field teams in New York City's Public Schools Athletic League as soon as September 2004, the New York Daily News reports. "Eventually we need to be part of the PSAL," said assistant principal Alan Nolan, who is just getting a physical education program started at Harvey Milk. "There's great interest from the students in competing in basketball, volleyball, and other sports."
Gay rights advocates applauded the announcement and said the school's sports teams will break down barriers for gay high school students, similar to what Jackie Robinson did for African-Americans more than 50 years ago. "What a great lesson it would be for a Harvey Milk kid to turn around and hit a three-point shot at the buzzer," Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com, a gay-oriented sports Web site, told the Daily News. "Once you get on the field and you see someone kick a field goal or make a great catch, nothing else matters. Other kids will learn they're a lot more like them than they thought."
"When you see a bunch of kids playing basketball, it doesn't matter if they are black or white," said author and activist Billy Bean, who came out after playing outfield and first base for several Major League Baseball teams from 1987 to 1995. "If you can play, you're accepted."
Nolan said Harvey Milk officials aren't interested in pushing gay pride or any other agenda; they simply want to give their students the same opportunities available to other city school kids, including offering a supportive environment to learn the teamwork, discipline, and sense of achievement that sports can teach. Like Jackie Robinson, the athletes at the gay students' high school may have to be thick-skinned, said Cardozo High basketball coach Ron Naclerio, who foresees parent protests and thinks some teams might even choose to forfeit games rather than play a gay team. "They better have good security," added basketball recruiting expert Tom Konchalski. "They will take a tremendous amount of abuse from fans."
But other high school sports officials predict the controversy will fade quickly. "All children, regardless of orientation, should be able to participate in athletics," said Martin Jacobson, the athletic director at
Manhattan's Martin Luther King High School. "I would hope that a coach would use a game against a team from a gay high school as an opportunity to teach tolerance."