(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- In a suburb south of Birmingham, Alabama, in one of the most conservative states in the country, a charter school dedicated to fostering LGBTQ+ youth is going into its second year.
Magic City Acceptance Academy, which teaches students in grades six through 12, enrolls more than 230 students and plans to add over a hundred more this fall. Nearly half of these students identify as LGBTQ+.
Loki, a senior at the academy who identifies as LGBTQ+ and uses they/she pronouns, described being in a “really dark place” going to their former high school.
“The bullying and harassment that I faced on a day-to-day basis was very overwhelming,” they told ABC News’ Steve Osunsami.
Magic City, which opened its doors last year in Homewood, Alabama, has overcome numerous hurdles.
The Birmingham City School Board rejected the school three times before finally approving it, Alabama Today reported.
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Magic City Acceptance Academy is a haven within a state that has some of the most restrictive legislation affecting transgender youth.
Last month, a measure to prevent transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming medical treatment went into effect, despite a federal judge blocking part of the law’s provisions.
Alabama also has recently passed legislation restricting bathroom use to the gender a person was assigned at birth.
The school has been targeted directly in political ads by two of the states’ current gubernatorial candidates, who say it is an example of how tax dollars were being misspent.
Candidate Tim James called out the school recently in an ad saying, “It’s not education. It's exploitation.”
Candidate Lindy Blanchard said that current Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is "allowing Alabama tax dollars to be spent on schools designed specifically for transgender students" in an ad.
Loki described fearing for their safety when they saw the ads, as well as being angry that these candidates would “use children as a pawn in their politician campaigns.”
In nearly 40 states, legislation that targets LGBTQ+ children and their parents has been drafted by lawmakers, according to Freedom for All Americans’ legislative tracker.
There have been more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in at least 28 states this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Eight states have signed such bills into law this year.
Such bills have banned LGBTQ content from some classrooms and schools, criminalized gender-affirming care for transgender youth, banned transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and forced transgender women out of girls' sports teams.
This hostility has only led school Principal Michael Wilson to double down on making Magic City Acceptance Academy a safe space.
“It's about, first and foremost, being proud of who you are within your skin,” he says.