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Bullied at School, Gays Now Prep For the GED With Other LGBTs!

by Christine Malcom
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Feb 11, 2013

In the first program of its kind, twenty-five members of Chicago's LGBTQ community begin no-cost classes this week at the Center on Halsted to prepare for the Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) Exam. The one-of-a-kind program, offered in partnership with Truman College, is open to all ages and offers students a chance to prepare for the exam in a community setting with an LGBTQ competent teacher, as well as opportunities for individualized tutoring. Demand for the program has been so great that that an additional three-hour assessment testing session has been scheduled at the Center on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 12 p.m.. The prep class begins later that same day.

"The program was very much driven by our youth patrons who made us aware that there's a big need in the LGBTQ community for those who experienced bullying, harassment, or just feeling unsafe in school as a result of their identity or their perceived identity," said Tom Elliott, the Center's new Director of Public Relations.

In its 2011 report, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that more than 80 percent of LGBTQ youth are harassed in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than 60 percent are harassed as a result of their gender expression. High school dropout rates among LGBTQ students are almost three times the national average, according to a report by Lambda Legal and a study published in the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine" in March 2012 found that in Chicago, LGBTQ youth of color are particularly at risk for harassment and generally have low social support in school.

Although information on the Center's inaugural class are still incoming, membership seems to reflect the realties of Chicago's LGBTQ community. The majority of those enrolled are youth, but ten members are over the age of 25, indicating the appeal of an all-ages class. Elliott also noted that the Center is pleased that the class includes some of the most at-risk members of the LGBTQ community.

"Most [of the first class] are African American and we know that we have a healthy transgender component, too. Many are homeless and low income. It's exciting for the Center to be able to offer this opportunity and build strong ties with all of our community," Elliott said.

The Center's growing awareness of the needs of its youth patrons making for a program like this fortunately coincided with a move within Chicago's City Colleges to build relationships with community centers around the city. As part of that larger effort, Truman College reached out to the Center in the first partnership of its kind.

"Truman is completely funding the program. They identify interested teachers and we screen them for LGBTQ cultural competency in one-on-one interviews. Once we give them the stamp of approval, [Truman] handles the employment issues, makes sure they're qualified to teach. Our relationship with them has been great," said Elliott.

In addition to creating an LGBTQ community of learners, the partnership allows Truman and the Center on Halsted is able to offer more to students in the program. For those who are struggling with the preparation or simply want more individualized attention, the Center is able to provide one-on-one tutoring by their trained volunteers, most of whom are local educators.

"The program was very much driven by our youth patrons who made us aware that there’s a big need in the LGBTQ community for those who experienced bullying, harassment, or just feeling unsafe in school as a result of their identity."

"What's unique about the program is [pairing] the accountability of the community, and the opportunity to build relationships there, with individual mentorship," said Elliott.

The timing of the program is also fortunate given changes coming in 2014. The current version of the GED exam, and any scores' parts of the exam that students have already passed, will expire at the end of 2013. The new version of the exam is not only rumored to be more difficult, the testing fees will increase sharply from $50 until the last seating in Oct. 2013 to $150 when the new exam is in place.

The impending changes have likely contributed to high interest in the program. The Center has continued to receive calls from interested patrons and hopes that they will be able to build on the successes of the first offering when the program runs again in the spring.

"It's definitely a time sensitive issue for our community. We already have a lot of interest in the May session and we're hoping to serve more students," Elliott noted.

Although the focus of the program is on the GED exam itself, both the Center and Truman College hope it will lead to long-term relationships and bigger things. On the City Colleges' side, one advantage is that enrollees in the GED program are considered to be Truman students for the duration of the preparation course, and graduates of the program who successfully pass the GED exam are automatically enrolled at Truman and can begin gaining college credit immediately.

The Center hopes that those attracted by the GED program will take advantage of other career building and development opportunities such as the Silver Fork program. The twelve-week vocational training is open to all community members over the age of 18 and seeks to open doors particularly to the unemployed and underemployed.

"We see the GED program as connected to everything we're trying to do here at the Center. It's a chance for our community members to build on their own lives," said Elliott.

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Christine Malcom is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Roosevelt University and Adjunct Faculty in Liberal Arts and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a physical anthropologist, theater geek, and all-around pop culture enthusiast.


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