The mission for Pride School Atlanta is both simple and powerful: Provide LGBT students – as well as those identify as queer, questioning, intersex, a-sexual and allies – a safe, fun and rigorous learning environment free of homophobia and transphobia, a place that, according to the school’s director, Christian Zsilavetz, “honors their identities so they can be themselves, find themselves and find friends and mentors who can help them navigate the challenges of life and education.”
The K-12 institution will initially operate out of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta church when it officially opens in September. Though tuition will be around $13,000, Zsilavetz says financial assistance will be available for students.
“There’s a number of kids who come from the South … migrating to places like New York and other cities because they feel like it’s more tolerant for them,” Ross Murray, programs director, global and U.S. South, for GLAAD, tells The Florida Times-Union. “They should be able to stay in their homes, their communities. I think having a school like this in Atlanta… it means it’s much more regionally connected. If a student does need a place where they can be safe from bullying, from peers who want to harass or harm them, they’re not going to have to travel tons of distance to do that.”
The school would be modeled after the Harvey Milk School in New York City, however since Pride School Atlanta is a private institution, it will not depend on school districts for policy or funding. Also, unlike Harvey Milk School (which caters only to high schoolers), Pride School will open its doors to kindergarten through eighth graders as well.
“We recognize the need for LGBT-affirming and diversity-affirming education for many youth,” Zsilavetz explains. “Many parents of children who are not gender conforming or come from an LGBT family are happy with their kids’ preschool, but are already asking themselves, ’But what about Kindergarten?.’ Regardless how youth identify or express themselves, they are welcome here. Everyone here has the right to use whatever restroom or pronoun or other self-identifier they prefer.”
It’s been a long road to getting the school open.
Zsilavetz began working on the school in May of 2014, reaching out on Craigslist asking if anyone in Atlanta wanted to join his efforts. One family wrote back, a Trinidadian-American lesbian raised in the area and her pregnant African-American wife. More voices joined the cause and finally a Board of Directors was formed and a fiscal sponsor was found in the Institute for Transgender Economic Advancement.
The media attention already garnered has proven its potential impact. “It was God that my son and I saw your article in the paper,” Zsilavetz recounts, reading off a note he received from a parent earlier this week. “We’ve been trying to figure this out alone.”
The school is currently seeking donations to help them reach their opening date this fall. To learn more about the school and how to donate visit their site.
As Zsilavetz’s seven-year-old daughter puts it, “Pride School is a place where everyone can be themselves.”