Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer students — and teachers — in Atlanta will have a dedicated safe space to learn and work next school year.
Pride School Atlanta, Georgia's first school specifically created for LGBT students and those who feel bullied or unsafe at public schools, is slated to open in September, reports the Associated Press.
The school's founder is a 45-year-old transgender man with nearly 25 years' experience teaching, the AP reports. Christian Zsilavetz founded the school specifically for LGBT students and teachers but told the wire service that Pride School Atlanta will welcome anyone who feels they've been mistreated at so-called traditional schools for "being different."
"Kids have full permission to be themselves — as well as educators," Zsilavetz told the AP. "Where there's no wondering, 'Is this teacher going to be a person for me to be myself with?' This is a place where [students] can just open up and be the best person they can be."
The private K-12 school will initially be housed at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, with an annual tuition of roughly $13,000, according to the report. Financial assistance will be available for students in need, organizers promise.
The Pride School Atlanta would be the first of its kind not only in Georgia but in the entire Southeastern U.S., reports the AP. The school will be modeled on New York City's Harvey Milk High School, a public school run by the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and utilize a similar "Free Model" approach to education, which encourages teachers to customize each student's curriculum to the student's interests.
Research consistently shows that LGBT youth are much more likely than their straight cisgender (nontrans) peers to report being bullied or harassed at school, and that such incidents can hinder the student's educational success. In April 2015, 64 congressional Democrats asked the federal Department of Education to take action to protect LGBT students from harassment and bullying in school.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's latest School Climate Report, published in 2013, found that most LGBT students experienced discrimination at school, with 65 percent of students saying they heard anti-LGBT language "frequently or often," and 30 percent reporting they missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe going to class. A staggering 85 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed in the previous year.
Such discrimination not only increases LGBT youth's already-elevated risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse but can also prompt students to drop out of school.
That's what happened to Emma Grace, a queer 16-year-old who spoke with the AP about her plans to attend Pride School Atlanta.
"I think it's greatly needed for a school to have LGBT-affirming surroundings and environment," she told the AP. "It's still very much a hidden issue. Not a lot people talk about it because they're afraid."