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A Response to the Harvey Milk School: It's Still Discrimination

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis /
September 5, 2003

First, I want to thank David Mensah and Bari Mattes for correcting the information in my September 3 Commentary, "Gender Bias," about the racial/ethnic population of the Harvey Milk School and the income levels of a typical Harvey Milk student's family. I amend the phrase in question to read "mostly intelligent so-called 'gender minorities.'"

The problem is that to point to the ratio of racial and ethnic minorities to non-minorities at the Harvey Milk School is willfully misleading: A student's race or ethnicity has no bearing on whether he or she gets into the school! Race and ethnicity and socio-economic status have nothing to do with it; they're simply accidents of the admission policy. Mensah's and Mattes' use of this statistical evidence is no less than an attempt to obscure the point, which is to question how students qualify for admission in the first place.

That said, I would point out that Mensah and Mattes have yet to respond to the article's main assertion, that it is a misapplication of public money to fund a public high school the admission to which is based on the "gender preferences" of students. There are any numbers of good reasons to channel students into special schools, but their sexuality is decidedly not one of them.

Nor does it wash for Mensah and Mattes to play the violence card. The Harvey Milk School does not exist for students who have experienced abuse at their schools; it exists for gay, lesbian, and transgender students, presumably whether or not they have been the victims of abuse. As Mensah and Mattes point out, it is the responsibility of law enforcement and the public school systems to assure the safety of students. But we don't know that the abuse suffered by Harvey Milk students occurred while they were at school. Nor do we know that all students of the Harvey Milk School have been victims of abuse at school. Perhaps Mensah and Mattes can set us straight on these issues.

That a student might be singled out for violence because he is gay is no less damaging than that a student might be singled out for violence because he is, for example, obese, or has dark skin, or wears glasses, all of which, again, unfortunately, have occurred too frequently. If the Harvey Milk School were indeed an "interim" school for students who had been the victims of abuse at school, there wouldn't be any need for me to repeat the following: Explain to me one more time how the concept of a high school for students of a particular "gender orientation" is 1) constitutional, 2) legal, and 3) an appropriate way to spend taxpayer money.

And for Mensah and Mattes to somehow disingenuously suggest that we should look at the Harvey Milk School "without bias or special agenda" is absurd. That is, in fact, exactly what I did in my commentary piece. I looked at the situation without bias or agenda and discovered that the Harvey Milk School is itself biased in its admission process. No matter that a small number of respondents to an opinion poll (conducted at the behest of the organization which, as I understand it, administers the Harvey Milk School) "think it's a good idea" to provide interim safe haven for students who are victims of abuse. Indeed, to use such an opinion poll to justify what may well be a violation of our country's laws is a willful misapprehension of the public trust.

And while I applaud the school's success, I would assert that any school which takes a small group of similarly intellectually capable students — regardless of "gender orientation" — and focuses equivalent resources on their education would likely achieve similar results. The real question is, why aren't those kind of resources being marshaled to provide similar learning environments for students regardless of "gender orientation?"

The separate-but-equal philosophy implicit in the Harvey Milk School's segregationist admittance policy is as dangerous to the legal foundations on which this country operates as it was when it was applied prior to the late 1950s to keep black students from attending white schools. And for the defenders of such a practice to resort to the court of public opinion is no less specious than was the appeal to racist public opinion prior to Brown v. Board of Education.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a legal challenge to the right of the Harvey Milk school to perpetuate discriminatory and biased admission practices. Certainly, given the courts' record in favor of such practices, the outlook for correcting the situation is not good. But until that challenge is made and an outcome determined in the courts, I find it hard to believe that the weak and dodgy assertions of such defenders as Mensah and Mattes are going to convince many Americans of the legitimacy or the justness of their cause.

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