Schools, segregation, and gay rights

Freddie asks:

Hey, why would someone like me be more invested in building a legal defense of gay marriage specifically and a larger lattice of rights to defend gay people generally? Why, maybe because of things like girls getting kicked out of their private high schools because the administration of said high school believes them to be lesbians.

Now, I understand that kicking girls out of school for being lesbians is wrong.  It’s not nearly as wrong as kicking girls out of the US Army for being gay, but that’s a story for another day.

What this really made me think of is the Chicago school board plan to build a “gay-friendly” public school.  Admissions will be lottery-based, but the school in question is expected to be largely composed of gay students seeking some sort of refuge from the daily prejudice they meet in normal schols.

Now what strikes me about this is that the gay-activist movement, or at least a part of the movement, seems to be advocating a sort of gay segregation, a purposeful seperation of gays and straights (or at least “outed” gays) from one another.  This is a legal appraoch to a cultural problem that will no doubt backfire.  How long did civil rights activists have to work to end black/white segregation of schools?  Now the gay movement wants to instigate that very same sort of segregation?

Good intentions aside, I think this is probably the most foolish legalistic approach I’ve heard of out of the gay rights movement.  What’s to stop another school district doing the same thing, not out of good intentions, but to say “protect” their children from the moral degredation they perceive in homosexuality?  Intentions are hard to classify, and extremely difficult to prove in a legal case.

And beyond that, we’re treading on public ground here.  Freddie is rightfully upset about those lesbians being kicked out of a private school, but quite frankly that school, so long as it doesn’t accept public money, is well within their rights to do so.  Do public schools have a right to create a “gay-friendly” school anymore than they have a right to create a “no-gays-allowed” school – or a “don’t ask, don’t tell” school?

I would say no, they don’t.  I understand it must be very hard to face the cultural hostility that many of these kids face every day at school.  But that’s part of the culture war.  And it’s part of being a kid in school.  In the utopian “gay-friendly” school there will probably be nerdy kids who are picked on for not being cool enough, or any other myriad social stigmatisms that make high school less fun that it ought to be.  But that’s life.  The cultural battle won’t be won by hiding from it.

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15 thoughts on “Schools, segregation, and gay rights

  1. quite frankly that school, so long as it doesn’t accept public money, is well within their rights to do so.

    All private schools have some sort of tax subsidy, so they are in effect taking public moneys already.

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  2. Well certainly I think special tax breaks should come with special strings attached. If a private school wants to be unbound from these strings, they need only refuse any public assistance. One argument for school vouchers would be any private school who accepted them would be forced to do away with these discriminatory practices. Ironically, that is also an argument against school vouchers for many on the Right…

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  3. Isn’t the real point here that because of a lack of legal rights these schools are “allowed” to do something that for anyone opposed to discrimination based on traits that others find personally unacceptable is morally reprehensible. The legality of the issue is a loop hole, its tertiary to the issue at hand which is that people shouldn’t be kicked out of schools for their sexual orientation anymore than they should for the colour of their skin or country of origin.

    Freddie notes the legality issue as primary because it enables this loopholing that with a casual glance seems just plain wrong. So getting into the legal minutia about private vs. public seems, to me, at best a distraction. And telling schools who they can and cannot kick out based on certain human rights is no more authoritarian than telling businesses who they can and cannot hire/fire based on the same criteria.

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  4. I disagree, Scott. There has to be a boundary between the State and private schools, private organizations, my home, and so forth. Allowing the State to determine these things outside the public sphere goes against the very grain of the freedoms from the State, that this country stands for.

    I would be very grateful for your thoughts on this piece, though, which touches on some of the notions of freedom of speech and so forth, especially since I mention Canada and their hate-speech laws a bit…

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  5. Look, I’m agnostic on this question. I do think that there is a huge difference between a priest being forced to engage in the behavior of giving a sacrament to anyone, like the sacrament of marriage, and a school being allowed to keep children out because they think the children have the status of being gay, a status which might not reveal itself in behavior on school grounds in any way. I think it’s funny that people mention the right of schools to discriminate on moral content; is any school out there saying “Your daughter can’t come to our school because we have an intuition she’s a bad person”? Not because of some behavior, but because they believed she was a bad person. Of course that doesn’t happen; schools don’t think that they can intuit that kind of thing, and anyway don’t care. As usual, people are more interested in adjudicating and judging homosexuality than in doing so for morality.

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  6. I guess on a practical front, I’d say if my son or daughter were gay, and there was a private school hostile to gays I would certainly not send them there and they wouldn’t benefit from my patronage. However if there was a public school whose administration was hostile to gays I would take legal recourse.

    I’m just not sure it’s an easy question at all, though, and you’re probably right to be “agnostic” on this one. I wonder if there are legal grounds for “wrongful dismissal” if a private school expelled a child for just thinking they were gay. Sort of like wrongful dismissal in the work place?

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  7. Agreed, E.D. And my comment wasn’t meant to reflect otherwise. But does this mean, therefore, that you don’t believe the State has anything to say about a private company firing someone because they suspect or it comes out that that person is homosexual?

    I’m not arguing for no boundaries, I’m arguing for boundaries where they make sense and I can’t personally find any logical reason why a private business can’t fire someone based on their sexual orientation (something that seems obvious on the face of it) but a school can kick two students out based on the same evidence.

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  8. I think there is a difference between employment and school, though, just as there are different rules for private clubs vs. places of employment. I’m not placing a value on that, per say, but there are reasons for this.

    And I do support wrongful dismissal laws for employment purposes.

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  9. E.D., I wonder if the line we might draw is between those enterprises that perform an overt social function and those perform a solely personal function?

    I.e. from my perspective work places and schools have a well defined social function, whereas private clubs do not, necessarily.

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  10. I think you’re absolutely on to something with that Scott, but I wonder where one can draw a clear distinction. Sports perform a social function. Arguably so do other forms of entertainment. So it’s tricky. And politically I think it’s very muddy waters to go at the jugular of the private schools, whether or not they deserve it…

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  11. Chicago school board plan to build a “gay-friendly” public school…seems to be advocating a sort of gay segregation, a purposeful seperation of gays and straights (or at least “outed” gays) from one another. This is a legal appraoch to a cultural problem that will no doubt backfire.

    Chicago did a terrible job selling this program, but essentially what they want to do is create an arts high school. A perfect place for nerds, miscreants, prodigies and gays. The freaks-and-geeks. These things exist all over the country, especially in the private market, though they aren’t sold as such. The people who go to them are quite happy with them, for the most part. (Wesley Yang wrote about them when discussing the Virigina Tech killer.)

    If you are a working-class single mom in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, and your nerdy and/or gay son is beaten up at school to the point where he doesn’t want to go, isn’t having a segregated school pareto-optimal? (Indeed, the kids at the school there don’t want him there either, and would be happier with him gone.) You could argue, and I think you do, that this student should take a civil-rights approach, and …… what? Work to be assimilated in? Hold sit-ins at the cool table? That seems to be working away from what we want.

    These things often self-segregate on their own optimally. At Illinois, public, I lived in the freak dorm, which was filled with artists, nerds and gays. Word got around that this is what this dorm was, and students self-selected where to live, and that was that. I was a lot happier than living in the frat dorms, where gays and nerds were ostracized at best, beaten at worst. Chicago school kids can’t self-select that way.

    How long did civil rights activists have to work to end black/white segregation of schools?

    I may be wrong on this, but black/white school segregation right now is more or less at the same level as it was in 1955. At least it is not much better. (Especially in Chicago!)

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  12. Yes, circumstantial or perhaps geographical segregation does exist at very high levels but this is not based on purposeful segregation so much as it is on the nature of racial groups to live in segregated neighborhoods in a semi-organic fashion. This would not be the case with nerds or gays, at least I don’t think.

    Also, I think both the notion of kicking kids out of school and creating schools specially for them is just a little absurd in that a lot of teenagers are very confused about their sexuality. There’s a lot of questions, doubt, experimentation etc. that goes on for young people. A lot of them probably won’t come to grips fully with that part of their maturing selves until after high school. People should not be so quick to either judge them or encourage them to fully understand their own complicated sexual beings at that young, hormonal age…

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  13. I understand it must be very hard to face the cultural hostility that many of these kids face every day at school. But that’s part of the culture war. And it’s part of being a kid in school

    Collateral damage! I thought the culture war was about a lack of Grand Narratives and thoughts about Power/Knowledge, not whether or not a kid who likes D&D gets shoved into a locker every other day.

    As for part of being a kid, not to engage the culture wars, but I’m not willing to take the existence and daily life of US high schools as an a priori fact, one we can’t improve on.

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