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'It's another way to help a segment of society that needs attention.' --Principal Warren L. Steinberg : Fairfax Pilot Project Quietly Seeks to Cut Gay Student Dropout Rate

November 14, 1985|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

A counseling program for homosexual high school students, the first of its kind in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is being tried at Fairfax High School to reduce the dropout rate among the school's gay and lesbian adolescents.

The program, which has operated quietly at Fairfax since September, 1984, is a district pilot project. It was developed at Fairfax after teachers noticed a high incidence of academic and discipline problems among avowed homosexual students.

If the project is successful in persuading homosexual students to stay on through graduation, administrators and school officials said, it might be used at other schools where there are similar problems among gay students.

'Attempt to Relieve Some Pressures'

"This is not an advocacy program," said Virginia Uribe, an avowed lesbian health teacher and counselor who founded the project. "It is an attempt to relieve some of the pressures on gay kids so that they can go on to graduate instead of dropping out."

Uribe named her counseling program Project 10, for the statistical portion of the general population (10%) believed to be homosexual. "It's the same way at the school," she said. "We have no idea exactly how many kids have a same-sex orientation, but that's probably the best figure we could get."

Uribe said that since the fall of 1984, when word of the program was first carefully spread through Fairfax's small clique of openly homosexual students, she has counseled more than 50 students.

"Not all of them are kids you would immediately classify as definitely gay or lesbian," Uribe said. "I've talked with some kids who are confused about their identities, but were afraid to tell anyone else about their feelings."

The school district is providing $6,000 a year for the project. Uribe meets with gay students at least one period each school day.

But because school officials were reluctant to add to their original funding request, they asked the neighboring city of West Hollywood to pay for books and other materials for the program. Last week, the West Hollywood City Council approved Uribe's $1,800 funding request.

Community Support Wanted

"You can only tap Board (of Education) resources for a pilot program up to a certain point," said Fairfax Principal Dr. Warren L. Steinberg. "It was our feeling we should also seek support from the community as well, and West Hollywood was the community to go to."

West Hollywood Councilman Stephen Schulte was involved in early discussions about the program. And West Hollywood Councilwoman Helen Albert, a former teacher who introduced the request, agreed that West Hollywood had an interest in the fate of the Fairfax program. "It's the high school where our students go," she said. "and it helps us by making sure gay students graduate instead of ending up on our streets.'

Uribe added that West Hollywood's large gay community--estimated at more than 30% of the city's population--also played a role in the funding request. "Since there's a large gay constituency in West Hollywood, I thought they would see the need for it," she said. "I thought they would be more sensitive to some of the conflicts that our gay kids have."

Homosexual students at Fairfax, according to Uribe and other school officials, had been showing visible signs of those conflicts before the counseling program began a year ago. "The social and educational pressures are hard for any high school students," said Lee Saltz, a counselor and health teacher who heads an anti-drug project at Fairfax. "But they're even worse for gay kids."

Problem With Graffiti

Taunts from other students were common, Uribe said. Anti-gay graffiti, identified by the letters VTH (Violence Toward Homosexuals) scrawled on school walls, was another problem. And there were incidents between gay students and punk-rock students.

"The punkers like to prove how tough they are so they pick on gay students," said Leah Fein, a UCLA student and 1985 Fairfax graduate who helped Uribe develop the counseling project.

Some gay students withdrew into drug and alcohol abuse, Saltz said. "We found a high correlation between questions about sexual identity and drug use," she said. "And in most of those situations, grades suffer."

Other gay students reacted by flaunting their homosexuality. "Some kids were dressing outrageously," Uribe said. "There was a bad situation when two girls started kissing each other in public. It was obvious something had to be done."

Uribe's response was to start an informal talk session with openly gay students in her classroom during her lunch period. "They had no one else they could talk to," Uribe said. "Their parents either didn't know, or else did know, but wouldn't listen. They obviously couldn't talk with the straight kids. And a lot of these kids were very intelligent, but their grades didn't show it."

As the sessions continued, Uribe found that she required more time. "These kids were in danger of dropping out and I couldn't help them with just a few minutes a day," she said.

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