Atlanta, Georgia will soon be home to the first school specifically meant to offer a safe place for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer students and staff members.
Pride School Atlanta, expected to open for enrollment next year for students in grades K-12, will be the first-ever school specifically created for LGBT students who feel unsafe or are victims of bullying in the public school system.
The school’s founder, Christian Zsilavetz, is a 45-year-old transgender man who has been in the field of teaching for almost 25 years. While the school was created specifically for LGBT students and staff members, Zsilavetz said he would welcome anyone who feels they are being treated unfairly due to “being different.”
“Kids have full permission to be themselves — as well as educators,” Zsilavetz told the AP. “Where there’s no wondering, ‘Is this teacher going to be a person for me to be myself with?’ This is a place where [students] can just open up and be the best person they can be.”
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta will initially be home to the private school, with enrollment coming at a cost of around $13,000 per year. However, financial assistance will be available for those who need it, writes Sunnivie Brydum for Advocate.
Once the school opens, it will be the first of its kind in the Southeastern United States. Modeled after the Harvey Milk High School in New York City, it will feature a “Free Model” approach to education, which offers an individualized curriculum for each student based on their interests.
Recent research suggests that LGBT students are more likely to be harassed or bullied at school than their straight peers, to the point that it greatly affects their chances at educational success. In April 2015, 64 congressional Democrats looked to the federal Department of Education for answers in the protection of these students from bullying at school. Discrimination and bullying has been found to increase rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide, and can raise a student’s chances of dropping out of school.
According to the latest School Climate Report issued by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in 2013, the majority of LGBT students are subjected to harassment while at school, with 65% reporting hearing anti-LGBT language “frequently or often,” and 30% stating they have missed at least one day of classes within the last month due to feelings on being unsafe. In total, almost 9 out of 10, 85%, of LGBT students said they had been verbally abused within the last year.
Ross Murray, programs director for global and U.S. South at GLAAD, discussed the importance of having a school like Pride throughout the country to offer students who feel unsafe the opportunity to attend school within their own communities, writes Kerry Cardoza for Spectrum.
“They should be able to stay in their homes, their communities. I think having a school like this in Atlanta … it means it’s much more regionally connected,” Murray said.