Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Fast Times at Harvey Milk High: Five Arrests Put the Nation's Only Public High School for Gay Students Back under the Media Spotlight

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Fast Times at Harvey Milk High: Five Arrests Put the Nation's Only Public High School for Gay Students Back under the Media Spotlight

Article excerpt

It was a crime spree that police say started October 5 in New York City's West Village and ended a month later in the nearby Chelsea neighborhood. By the time it was over, five students from Harvey Milk High School were arrested and a four-month media storm surrounding the school--the only publicly funded institution for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students in the country--was given new life.

The suspects--all of whom identify as transgendered--were reportedly pretending to be police officers dressed as prostitutes. Police say they handcuffed potential johns, brandished fake police badges, then stole between $85 and $1,200 from each of their four victims.

The five were identified as Brian Gonzalez, who goes by the name Whoopi; Gerald Howard (Kimberly); Kelvin Howell (Keesha); Keenan Oliver (Chanel); and Kevin Williams (Keva). All are 17 years old except for Oliver, who is 16. Police charged them with first- and second-degree robbery and criminal impersonation of a police officer. They will stand trial as adults, according to a spokesperson from the school.

While the police now have their suspects and New York City tabloids have a juicy story, administrators at Harvey Milk are left with one concern--keeping their emphasis on education.

"Harvey Milk High School has been under such a high level of media scrutiny since this summer," says Cathy Renna, news media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "I think a lot of the coverage was very sensationalized and quite inaccurate, and that has continued with this incident."

The scrutiny started during the summer with the announcement that Harvey Milk High, which has existed on a limited scale since 1984, would grow to accommodate 170 students thanks to an influx of $3.2 million from the city's Department of Education. Critics portrayed the school as one that was undeservedly provided "special treatment" during a budget crisis when funding for other education programs are being cut.

In fact, experts say nearly 100 programs catering to the special needs of different student groups exist in the New York City school system. And according to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which supervises the Harvey Milk school, only 65% of the school's $4.8 million annual budget comes from public agencies. The remainder comes from private donors.

The media have chronicled every bit of the debate. They reported the protests that met students on the first day of school. …

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