New York City officials on Thursday defended the creation of a new public high school for gay, bisexual, and transgendered students after the head of the state Conservative Party threatened to file a lawsuit against the school. At a City Hall news conference, supporters of Harvey Milk High School said it is needed to protect gay and lesbian students from harassment and physical attacks. "These kids are the most likely to be hurt or to hurt themselves," said city council speaker Gifford Miller. Councilwoman Margarita Lopez said students who will attend Harvey Milk "are there because they have been brutalized. This program provides them with a safe haven and a chance to get an education."
State Conservative Party chairman Michael Long, a vocal critic of the school, said the school illegally discriminates against students based on sexual orientation. He said he's looking into filing a lawsuit against the city to shut the school down. The city has spent $750,000 to expand the school. "The issue is whether taxpayers' money should go toward segregated schools and promoting the gay lifestyle," Long said. "We are looking at taking many angles against this."
The school is an expansion of a two-classroom public school program that began in 1984. A gay rights youth advocacy group, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, has managed and financed the program since its inception. Renovations will be complete in the fall, and officials at the school said it is open to any child threatened in school, straight or gay.
Earlier Thursday more than 80 Hispanic ministers voted unanimously to back Long's effort to file a lawsuit. "Every child suffers violence, not only the gay children," said the Reverend Ruben Diaz of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization. "You do not fight violence through segregation; segregation in this country is over."
Diaz said that separate schools may be needed for students with physical disabilities but not for students of different sexual orientations. "These people are normal," he said. "Normal people do not need special education."
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