Life’s lessons may be best learned at a public school — especially if you are gay.
A mural celebrating education and scholastic achievement greets all who enter the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Franklin High School. Even though Franklin was not the most prestigious school, it taught this 2002 graduate the skills needed to excel in college.
My mom wanted me to attend a public school that embraced diversity—and Franklin fit the bill. I have many good memories from Franklin but I wonder how my high school career would have differed had I attended an all-male school, especially because I am gay. I would not have felt comfortable a single-sex school, especially a religious one, where I would hear that my lifestyle is a “sin.” Not being taunted for expressing myself, I was comfortable with a rainbow pin on my backpack, and saying, “I’m gay, and I’m proud!”
Looking back, all my friends were females or gay males, making the coming-out process smooth. Had I gone to an all-male school, it may have been hard to come out to hormone-ruled teens—comfortable releasing their testosterone rage. I would have felt awkward trying to fit in, leaving me in the closet, fearing the alienation that often comes with homosexuality.
High school was also a welcoming experience for Edwin Rivera, a 2002 Franklin alumnus and 22-year-old California State University, Long Beach student. “Most people knew I was gay, and they did not taunt or try to hurt me which made my years in high school very memorable,” says Edwin. As a freshman, he helped organize Franklin’s Gay Straight Alliance. “I made sure to reach out to those who were in need of a friend or someone to talk to,” he says. Edwin feels it would be beneficial for gays to attend public school over religious institutions. “They may be forced to go deeper in the closet and live an unhappy four years, only to experience life a bit too late,” he says. “Public schools try to accommodate most of their student body by allowing them to have outlets and to meet other people by joining clubs and organizations specifically organized for their sociocultural background.”
However, not every person has the same positive experience. Some gay students have difficulty coming to terms with their sexual identity. University of La Verne sophomore Adam Carranza, 22, was not openly gay while attending El Monte High School. His understanding, as shaped by family and friends, equated homosexuality to weakness. “Because of this, I didn’t think anyone would take me serious as a leader,” says Adam, former El Monte High School Associated Student Body president. “I would ask myself, ‘How can someone follow somebody who’s weak?’” When rumors that Adam was gay—he was never seen dating girls in high school—popped up, he tried to dispel them by dating girls. “I took the prettiest girl with the macho boyfriend and took her away from him to prove others wrong,” he says. Adam wanted to come out but was afraid for his twin brother and friends. “I didn’t want them to deal with the issue.” Adam chose not to come out to straight male friends because he did not want friendship confused with attraction. “I was afraid I might not have male friends,” he says. “If I did not have male friends, I would think myself less of a male.” His high school experience pushed him to be more open and self-accepting. Even though he understands that he is not weak, he still finds coming out at ULV hard, fearing judgment. “All I can do is hope they don’t stereotype me or sum me up as ‘gay—he’s just gay.’”
Proponents of co-ed schools say they better develop students as individuals, and foster skills needed to handle interactions with both genders. “I have seen students transfer from public to private schools and blossom,” says Lisa Porter, ULV assistant professor of education. “However, I have also witnessed students who left private settings improve in their academic and social skills after enrolling into a public school.” Of the various benefits to attending public school, Porter explains that the obvious is cost. Also, public schools receive government funding for programs to enrich students. These funds are not available to private schools, limiting variety.
Porter says that public schools are often more diverse—ethnically, racially, and socio-economically. “However, simply going to school together doesn’t produce a community,” says Porter. “Schools must foster opportunities for students to learn and appreciate differences as well as overcome the injustices that have existed because of these differences.” Porter says that all schools need to place more emphasis on diversity. Edwin agrees, “This may decrease hate crime rates and homophobia because people will not feel intimated or experience ‘culture shock.’ ”