A new school aimed at LGBT youth and teachers who feel bullied or not accepted is opening up in Atlanta, Georgia.
Pride School Atlanta will be open to any student K-12 who believes they’re not getting the support they need for “being different,” Christian Zsilavetz, Pride School founder, said.
According to their website, the school is “to provide LGBTQIA students, families and educators a safe, fun and rigorous learning environment free of homophobia and transphobia – a place that honors their identities to they can be themselves, find themselves, and find friends and mentors who can help them navigate the challenges of life and education.”
Zsilavetz, a transgender teacher of nearly 25 years, said this school will give kids and educators full permission to be be themselves.
“This is a place where they (students) can just open up and be the best person they can be,” he said.
While schools with a similar philosophy are opening up nationally, this is the first of its kind in the Southeast.
“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,” GLAAD programs director Ross Murray said. “They should be able to stay in their homes, their communities. I think having a school like this in Atlanta…it means much more regionally connected. If a student does need a place where they can be safe from bullying, from peers who want to harass or harm them, they’re not going to have to travel tons of distance to do that.”
Sixteen-year-old Emma Grace dropped out of high school to be home-schooled after she was bullied and received little support from teachers and counselors. Grace, who describes herself as “queer” is excited about the prospect of Pride School.
“I think it’s greatly needed for a school to have LBGT-affirming surroundings and environment,” she said. “It’s still very much a hidden issue. Not a lot of people talk about it because they’re afraid.”
Three out of 10 students reported missing a class because they felt unsafe within the last school year according to Georgia Equality. Additionally, 9 out of 10 LGBT students reported experiencing harassment. They lobbied state lawmakers to create legislation to reduce bullying in schools.
In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, the group found that less than 30 percent school districts in Georgia had LGBT-specific bullying-prevention policies.
“Since then we have been working with individual school districts to enact LGBT-inclusive policies that protect all Georgia students,” their website said.
Recently, a number of schools have adopted policies to help stop bullying. More schools have also started Gay-Straight Alliances. Last year, a transgender student was nominated for homecoming court for the first time at Walton High School.
While work is being done to benefit the LGBT community, there is still work to be done.
“I think right now what a lot of [LGBT] students face is separate but equal education in the public schools,” Zsilavetz said. “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.”
Tuition for Pride School Atlanta will be around $13,000 with financial aid available. It is expected to open this September and will initially operate out of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.