It wasn’t Mickey Roby’s sexuality that made the 14-year-old the target of classmates’ taunts. It was her mother’s.
“When they found out that my mother was gay, it was really hard,” said the elfin freshman with dyed red hair. “I was spit on. They’d make little jokes in class.”
At Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas, Mickey doesn’t encounter such problems. It’s the nation’s first private school for homosexuals, though a few students--Mickey, her 13-year-old sister, Rikki, and another boy--are there not because they are gay themselves, but because a parent is.
Walt Whitman Community School--all three teachers, seven students, one building and three classrooms--is the dream of Becky Thompson, who is lesbian, and Pamala Stone, who is not. The veteran educators had observed students harassing others at the Walden Preparatory School in the north Dallas suburb of Addison, which they both left in January.
Thompson and Stone also were troubled by studies concluding that homosexual youth are at higher risk for destructive behaviors.
“The more we talked about it, we just became committed to doing it,” Thompson said. “It was a simple, ‘Here’s a problem,’ and we had the solution.”
Tuition at Whitman is $7,000 annually. Thompson said all seven students are receiving financial assistance from people who want the school to succeed. The school also is seeking grants from private foundations.
They hope eventually to have up to 30 students.
Although they expected to attract dropouts a few credits shy of graduation, only two students are seniors. That shows the earlier age at which people are becoming aware of their sexuality these days, Thompson said.
In earlier years, people didn’t consider their sexuality until they were in their late teens or early 20s, she said.
“I think if you lived in a small town anywhere in the U.S., you might not even know what gay meant,” she said. “You might think that you were having particular feelings, but you might not know how that turned into being gay.
“Now it’s on television. It’s a very different culture now.”
That was the experience of 20-year-old senior Chris Mayhall, who dropped out of Stephenville High School with one year to go after telling his parents of his homosexuality and getting thrown out of the house.
“I did not know what gay meant until I was 18 years old,” Mayhall said.
Schoolmates guessed he was different by how he carried himself and who he hung out with.
“People would call you [names] in the halls and in classes,” he recalled. “Teachers, they don’t do anything. I went to a counselor who said not to carry myself that way.”
David Buckel, a staff attorney with Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, said the Whitman school is the first of its kind in the country.
“I’m sure you’re aware of the sadness that attaches to the formation of a school like this,” he said. “The public schools haven’t really caught up with the desperate need that lesbian and gay youth have with struggling with bigotry in the public schools every day.”