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Friday
Oct072011

Milwaukee Public Middle School a Haven for Gay Youth

ABC News(MILWAUKEE) -- It's literally dangerous to be young and coming out of the closet.  Transgendered kids suffer a high rate of homicide.  And more and more gay teenagers are committing suicide because they were bullied for it.

Last month, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life after being bullied at school for being gay.  His death has sparked a national debate about how to stop bullying in schools.  Rodemeyer's idol, Lady Gaga, even asked President Obama to make bullying a hate crime.  But is passing a law really the answer?

One all-American city may have already come up with a unique solution.  Milwaukee is home to the first public middle school where coming out of the closet is accepted, even if you're in the sixth grade.

Fourteen-year-old Emiliano Luna was one of The Alliance School's youngest openly gay students.

"You can truly be yourself here, without having to worry about being picked on or threatened or beat up," he said.

Respect and risk-taking are other key lessons in a class at the school known as Life Skills.  Fifteen-year-old Robbie said he took a big risk coming out to his parents so young.

"They respect it. They don't get it, but they respect it," he said, adding that it was a risk worth taking.

Alicia Moore, a teacher at Alliance, said Robbie found a safe haven there: "Robbie, early on in the school year, came to school with a black eye.  I said, 'Robbie, what happened?'  He said, 'not everyone is as nice as they are here.'"

The school has made efforts to make every student feel comfortable inside and outside of the classroom.

"This is the unisex middle school bathroom," said 16-year-old Becca Dybao, while proudly giving ABC News a tour of her school.  "We do this so students can feel if they want to be a tranny, they can be a female."

A bathroom for kids who are transgendered might be seen as controversial, but students and parents feel that it's a life-saver for kids who are bullied every day.

The Alliance School has had its share of critics and setbacks.  When the school faced the possibility of losing its charter, lead teacher Tina Owen said the school was "life or death for some of these kids."  Students from the school pleaded in front of their local school board to keep Alliance open.

The board agreed to keep the school open for at least three more years amid cheers and applause from students and teachers.  It's a victory for kids like Emiliano, who, like Jamie Rodemeyer, adores Lady Gaga.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio