Atlanta students who have experienced bullying on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity may soon have a place to get their education without harassment. Christian Zsilavetz plans to open Pride School Atlanta for students grades kindergarten through 12 who need support for "being different," the Associated Press reported.
Zsilavetz, who is transgender and has 25 years of experience as a teacher, said that at Pride School Atlanta, students will be free to be themselves. "This is a place where [students] can just open up and be the best person they can be," Zsilavetz said, AP reported.
Set to open in 2016, Pride School Atlanta will open during a national conversation on how to make education more accessible for LGBT youth. Whether it be accommodating transgender students in bathrooms or in locker rooms or the problems that religious institutions make for LGBT students, 2015 was full of stories of LGBT students and their allies pushing back against discriminatory institutions, students and families. The nationwide problems have some students fleeing their districts in search of a better education experience.
"There's a number of kids who come from the South ... migrating to places like New York and other cities because they feel like it's more tolerant for them," Ross Murray — programs director, global and U.S. South, for gay rights group GLAAD — told AP.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's 2013 National School Climate Survey, 56% of LGBT students face a harsh school climate. Additionally, 71% of students have heard the word "gay" used derogatorily, 65% have heard homophobic words like "dyke" or "faggot" and 33% have heard derogatory language about trans people and gender identity.
And those are nationwide statistics. According to Georgia Equality, 9 in 10 LGBT students in Georgia experience harassment, and 3 in 10 will miss a class or skip school because they fear for their safety.
AP reported Zsilavetz is modeling the school after New York City's Harvey Milk High School, run by the Hetrick-Martin Institute. According to the school's website, nearly 60% of HMHS graduates attend college or go to an advanced program.
While students will benefit from the school environment, Zsilavetz hopes teachers and administrators will benefit from being themselves, as well. Zsilavetz told AP that he hopes students and teachers can discuss who they are with each other openly, free from fear.
"When [LGBT] kids can see you, when they know that they can come to you, they're less likely to die (or be suicidal), for one," Zsilavetz told AP. "They're less likely to get pregnant, when they don't really want to get pregnant. They're less likely to get into drugs and alcohol and into depression."
"I think right now what a lot of [LGBT] students face is separate-but-equal education in the public schools," Zsilavetz continued. "Because if you can't go to the bathroom all day and you can't use the locker room and you're bullied in the classroom and the teachers aren't standing up for you, you don't have a full seat at the table."