Whoever said schooldays are the happiest of your life was obviously playing truant from reality. For many lesbian and gay students sick of homophobic insults and beatings, the idea of a school populated entirely by homosexuals seems like a dream.
But in fact it exists.
The Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas, Texas is a refuge for at-risk gay youth.
Kids arrive from all over the US and stay with host families while attending the academy. It is an alternative to dropping out of education altogether.
The students, all 15 of them, enjoy the same activities as their straight peers, but there are differences: Coping a feel is more likely to mean checking whether your classmates’ hormone pills are kicking in. Behind the bike sheds turns into blowjobs in the bathroom and peer pressure is being persuaded by your fellow pre op transsexuals to undergo gender reassignment. And homophobia is still rife among the gay students at Walt Whitman.
Chase, a 15-year old, HIV-positive heartthrob, objects to boyfriend Damien cross-dressing: “I want a man,” he says.
Damien is rejected by his host family, a middle aged gay couple: “I was acting too homosexual in public. And they were worried I was going to get them shot.”
And Josh, an unpopular student, is lynched for wearing too much make-up and is held down by classmates as they scrape it off with a spatula.
Meanwhile the students of Walt Whitman, although no older than 17, must deal with adult issues at a time when others kids across the US are enjoying their innocence.
Chase faces up to his HIV-positive status for the first time. Damien makes a transition to Denise during the academic year: (“Since I dress in girl’s clothes would that make me transgendered or does it just mean I have a really high fashion sense?” he asks.)
Michael, Damien’s best friend, questions whether they can still be friends now Damien is a girl.
And Angela another trans pupil makes tough decisions about her future: “Once I get the money I’m gonna lay my ass on that table and get operated on,” she says.
Unsurprisingly Walt Whitman – which is one of three gay schools in the US, the others are in Los Angeles and New York – does not get the support to match the valuable work it does.
The board needs to raise over $475,000 to gain official recognition from education authorities.
” The school doesn’t get the respect or support it deserves. It is struggling to get accreditation and because it is academically stymied it is also financially hobbled,” says Producer Fenton Bailey.
All of the pupils at Walt Whitman make incredibly brave choices to move and attend the school.
One of the older students, Andrew, cheerfully explains the incident that finally prompted him to apply: “This jock came up to my lunch table and said ‘you fucking faggot I’m fucking going to break every fucking bone in your faggot assed body.’ He kept saying the fucking part.”
But some critics still say gay schools are hiding LGBT(lesbian gay bi transgendered) youth from the problem, rather than solving it.
” People who say it’s segregation, oh fuck off. Homophobia is segregation. That’s what needs to get fixed,” says Bailey. “There wouldn’t be a need for the Walt Whitman Community School if there wasn’t anti-gay feeling.
” Life is no bunch of roses in a gay school, but elsewhere? They would be beaten up, kicked, ostracized and ultimately destroyed.”
by Simon Finch
Executive Producers: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato
Director/Editor: Jeremy Simmons
Producer: Thairin Smothers
1 x 60 minutes