“If you are gay, no big deal,” explains the school’s founder Tina Owen. “If you aren’t, no big deal. Here they can talk about a relationship or a break-up without worrying about how that’s going to be received.”
The school, which enrols just 165 students, is funded by the ‘gay-friendly’ state of Wisconsin and aims to cater for young people who feel ignored or persecuted by their peers. Above all it values ‘knowledge’, ‘respect’ and ‘peace’ – words that are written on a mural at the front of the school.
A survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 9 out of 10 students had experienced bullying for being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender. Two thirds felt unsafe in the school environment and one fifth had already been physically assaulted. Only 29% of those who had reported physical abuse had received any kind of support or intervention.
Owen believes that even parents who struggle to accept their child’s sexuality understand the need to transfer them into a safe, nurturing environment.
One mother described the sadness she felt at having to drop her son off at school when she knew he would have to endure bullying. As a result she refused to enrol him in year eight and instead transferred him to Milwaukee, which was a 90 minute drive away.
Up until quite recently the U.S has been notoriously intolerant of homosexuality. Since President Obama stated his position as in favour of gay marriage, attitudes have begun to match those found in the UK.
Despite increasingly liberal attitudes, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people still face stigma in Britain. Coming to terms with sexuality can be a difficult process and sometimes support is necessary. To find out how counselling may be able to help, please view our page on Sexuality.
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