This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District, which will accept applications for new charter schools through Nov. 15, already has received 22 letters of intent.
One of them is from James Baldwin Charter High School, which would stress lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.
Named for the gay 20th-century African American author, Baldwin Charter would be built on anti-bullying principles in hopes of providing a safe atmosphere for all. It would also feature LGBT awareness in its curriculum.
Quincy Riley-Greene, founder of the LGBT youth group Q Spot, is making the pitch for the charter. He said he hears from students all the time who feel marginalized in school.
"They may hear words such as the f-word, or ‘that’s so gay,’ or ‘being gay is wrong.’ Even though acceptance has increased, within the school environment, I think there’s still a disconnect," said Riley-Greene. "Those policies may be on paper, but they’re not necessarily being enforced."
A 2013 school climate survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 55.5 percent of LGBT youth nationwide felt unsafe at school because of their orientation.
Riley-Greene came up with the idea for a charter about a decade ago after learning about Harvey Milk High School in New York City. Resistance, though, came from leaders in the gay community who believed that such a school could create more problems than it fixed.
"Some of them felt like by creating this type of model, in a sense it’s like segregation," he said.
Now, he said, the community is more open, and he believes Baldwin charter would provide an example to other schools in the city.
"This is where all schools need to be. They all need to be safe. They all need to be bully-free. This model can do that and show other schools how," said Riley-Greene.
The proposal for Baldwin High focuses on a vacant 30,000-square-foot building in Mantua. Backup options are also being explored.
The Philadelphia School District says it trains its staff to deal with harassment based on orientation and gender identification. It tracks incidents of bullying, but doesn’t keep statistics by type.
"This issue does come up, but is not one of the primary issues that drive bullying in schools," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.
Changes for the better
Advocates for the rights and safety of LGBT youth say the city’s public schools have come a long way in their sensitivity to the needs of the community.
"The schools, in some ways, have gotten better," said Carrie Jacobs, executive director of The Attic, an LGBT youth group. "It used to be very, very, very, very bad; now it’s not as much."