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Gay school dispute isn't over

CLERGY REACTS | Minister 'thought we had a deal,' but designers sticking to original plan

November 20, 2008 - Chicago Sun Times - LINK

BY ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter/rrossi@suntimes.com

A Humboldt Park minister charged Wednesday that top designers of a gay-friendly high school reneged on a "deal'' with clergymen to strip the gay focus from the school's mission and said "hundreds of ministers'' would oppose restoring the original plan, as some gay activists now demand.

The proposal to create a gay-friendly high school was pulled from the agenda of the Chicago School Board's meeting Wednesday, but the controversy continued to grow.

Several members of the Gay Liberation Network blasted Mayor Daley and Ald. Tom Tunney at a CPS board meeting today, blaming them for not supporting a gay friendly school and letting it get killed behind the scenes.

(Al Podgorski and Brian Jackson/

Miguel Garcia, 16, a junior at Jones College Prep in Chicago, is seen Oct. 29, 2008, during an interview at the school. Jones College Prep, where the 16-year-old is a junior, has the city's largest Gay Straight Alliance, an organization of more than 100 students that he and other members say wields more influence at their downtown campus than even the student council. (AP)

All eight school designers vowed to resurrect the idea in time for a 2010 opening. Some hoped to bring the plan closer to its original vision: providing a safe, supportive haven for all students, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning youth and their Allies, or LGBTQA students.

Several gay activists say a lack of political support from Mayor Daley and backroom pressure from clergymen sunk the proposal.

"The political pressure . . . is an outrage and a disgrace,'' retired CPS teacher Roger Fraser, a member of the Gay Liberation Network, told school board members.

Outside the meeting, Wilfredo De Jesus, pastor of the New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, said he was shocked to hear the revised plan was pulled.

De Jesus said he led a group of 10 ministers who met with Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan to voice concerns that the original proposal would segregate gay youths. He then met privately with design team members.

"I was recommending that we make a school that's all-inclusive, for kids that are straight, gay, obese and not just target one group of people,'' said De Jesus, who said he is not anti-gay.

Two top school designers signed off last week on a final proposal that changed the name of the school from the Pride Campus of the Social Justice High School to Social Justice Solidarity High and replaced references to LGBTQA students with references to a broader student body, De Jesus said.

"We thought we worked out a deal. . . . If they are saying they want to bring back the original concept . . . there would be hundreds of ministers who would oppose it,'' he said.

Not all clergy oppose the school: Brent Holman, of the 45-member Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, favored the original plan and urged board members to approve a school that would "affirm and glorify'' gay students.

Duncan said he supported the original plan, finding it "absolutely interesting and intriguing.''

But Duncan said he did not pressure the school designers to withdraw the revised plan.

"The design team will take time to reconsider those ideas and come back with a stronger proposal,'' Duncan said. "This is a very healthy part of the process. There's plenty of time. It's more important to get it right.''


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