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More Schools Take Up Gay-Bias Issues

In classrooms across US, subject of homosexuality is included in antidiscrimination lessons

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Long before the US military adopted the idea, America's schools approached the subject of homosexuality with their own version of "don't ask, don't tell." But as growing numbers of teens identify themselves as homosexual, schools across the country are addressing the subject head on in the classroom.

The attempt to discuss homosexuality with children at school is controversial, but it is a growing national trend - found in New York, Los Angeles, and many parts in between:

* Hundreds of high schools now sponsor gay-straight alliances, in which students meet after school to talk about bias and urge tolerance.

* Thousands of public elementary, middle, and high schools have adopted anti-bias policies, which strictly forbid discrimination, foul language, or bullying because of sexual orientation.

* Three schools - in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas - have been founded specifically for gay, lesbian, and "questioning" teens. Two are funded by local taxes, and one is private.

Gay advocates say such efforts are often necessary for gay students to receive an education and, in some cases, to merely survive.

Nearly 10 percent of American youths say they are chronically abused by their peers, according to several surveys. Bullying strikes gay teens the hardest, and they are four times as likely as other teenagers to commit suicide.

"We are here to help kids complete their normal education without the obstacle of harassment and abuse," says Verna Eggleston of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which runs the public Harvey Milk School in New York City. The school, named after the slain San Francisco county supervisor, was created in the mid-1980s to meet the needs of gay teens, she says. In New York alone, thousands of gay teens drop out of school each year, and 35 percent of the city's 20,000 homeless youths describe themselves as gay or lesbian.

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