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Phoenix Nonprofit Opens Arizona’s First LGBT High School

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 15:04

LGBTQ High School

Jorge Salazar • Special to College Times

Tyler, a student at the new PHX high schools, works on a computer.

High school is hardly a walk in the park for most teenagers. Acne, bad fashion choices and heartbreaks plague memories of many past and present student bodies. But for some, such worries pale in comparison to the harsh reality experienced by LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) youth in the American public school system.

Almost a third of LGBTQ students drop out of high school because of harassment related to their sexual orientation, according to research by the American Psychological Association.

A Valley organization made it its mission to provide such students an environment through which they can experience the highs and lows of high school without the added fear of homophobia and bullying.

One n ten, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting LGBTQ youth in the Valley for nearly 18 years, held a ribbon cutting ceremony in on April 13 to commemorate an historic event for Arizona: the opening of Q High, the first LGBTQ high school program in the state.

Mayor Greg Stanton, along with fellow supporter Councilman Tom Simplot, praised the venture and the organization at the ceremony.

“So many kids that participate in one n ten are kids [who] have overcome incredible adversity in their own lives,” Stanton said. “And this organization supports that they find the right way in some of the most difficult days of their lives so that they can provide the leadership for our city, community and state moving forward into our future.”

Linda Elliott, executive director of the organization, can attest to the struggles of the youth the program strives to support.

According to Elliott, a third of the youth the center supports is comprised by dropouts, half of which are homeless. When she began her work with the organization, she decided action needed to be taken. If the LGBTQ youth that frequented the center were to have a future, they would need to get their high school diploma. Elliott knew that the youth had dropped out of school because they had been bullied and did not feel safe in a public school setting.

“They felt safe here,” she said of one n ten. “They felt welcomed here. So we needed to get the school in our environment so that they would come back to school and get their degree.”

One student’s story

Safe isn’t a feeling 16-year-old Tyler uses when describing the experience of public high school.

The androgynous youth does not want to be labeled as gay, straight or lesbian, nor as a girl or a boy. Furthermore, the LGBT teen does not want a last name printed for fear of attracting negative attention.

A self-described LGBT youth, Tyler encountered bullying issues freshman year of high school after coming out. The teen was routinely confronted and used as subject of gossip at school, as well as prevented from accessing certain school areas by bullies.

Tyler said that being LGBT prevented school officials from being supportive or proactive in stopping the bullying, even when threats of violence had been made.

“Every time I went to them, they wouldn’t do anything,” the teen said. “I really think that if a straight student had come to them, it would have been different.”

The bullying continued in the hallways, even after notifying school officials, culminating in a public shaming session.

“One [girl] threatened to beat me up,” Tyler said. “She got in my face screaming about me being an LGBT student. It was humiliating and terrifying.”

According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, over 80 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed and approximately 40 percent reported being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation. Nearly two-thirds of students surveyed said that they felt unsafe in school because of their LGBT identity.

When the school failed to address the bullying, Tyler began receiving threatening phone calls at home from a classmate.

“I was afraid to go to the school campus,” Tyler said. “No kid should have to be scared to walk around their school.”

Today, Tyler isn’t afraid of hallway bullies or inattentive school officials.

As part of Q High’s pilot group, the LGBT youth has found the safe school environment public school couldn’t provide.

Tyler spends roughly five hours a day at the one n ten facility’s classroom doing schoolwork from Tuesday to Saturday. Through Q High’s online schooling program, Tyler is able to cover all the course material an Arizona public school student needs in order to graduate thanks to a partnership with the Arizona Virtual Academy.

Tyler gets help from staff and volunteers, as well as a lunch break and recreational options just as one would in a typical high school setting. The difference lies in the environment.

“You walk into the building and there’s six people saying ‘hi’ to you as you walk to the classroom,” Tyler said. “It’s so great to be in this center where everyone is so friendly and helpful.”

Tyler does not regret the move from traditional schooling to one n ten’s program.

“I prefer going to Q High,” Tyler said. “It’s a safe environment and I’m not bullied. Nobody is calling me names, and I don’t need to be stressed about where I am. I can be comfortable and do my school work without distractions.”

The program

“We started this program so that our youth could actually get their high school diploma and have an equivalent to a diploma instead of just having a GED,” said one n ten Program Coordinator Kado Stewart.

Stewart said the idea of Q High came to fruition six months ago, but that the effort to assist one n ten’s youth members scholastic achievements began earlier.

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