6 out of 10 LGBT+ kids feel unsafe in US schools because of their sexual orientation

Six out of 10 LGBT+ kids feel unsafe in American schools because of their sexual orientation.

Meanwhile 43% feel unsafe because of their gender expression and 37% because of their gender.

For around a third of LGBT+ students, those fears have made them miss at least one entire day of school in the past month.

Meanwhile 45% avoid bathrooms and 44% avoid locker rooms. Moreover, more than three quarters skip school functions and seven out of 10 avoid extracurricular activities.

Those are some of the major findings from new research by GLSEN. The LGBT+ organization specializes in education for kindergarten to year 12 students (four to 17-years-old).

The study, based on data from 2019, has now come out and builds on two decades of research by GLSEN. However, while schools are generally more inclusive now than when they started carrying out regular surveys in 1999, the organization concludes that progress has now stalled.

GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard said: ‘We’ve seen significant improvement in the lives of LGBTQ students over the past 20 years, but progress has slowed.

‘This year’s report offers a clear blueprint for how schools can step up to help LGBTQ students reach their full potential.’

‘That’s so gay’

In particular, the researchers found anti-gay language remains a common form of bullying in American schools.

Indeed, almost 99% of students heard ‘gay’ used in a negative way, in the phrase ‘that’s so gay’. Likewise, almost the same number heard the phrase ‘no homo’. Both phrases had been on the decline but have become more popular again in recent years.

The vast majority – 92% – of LGBT+ kids – found that language distressing.

Similarly, almost all LGBT+ students hear other homophobic slurs, like ‘dyke’ and ‘faggot’ with many hearing them often. And similar numbers hear remarks against their gender expression, including accusations they are not masculine or feminine enough.

There’s been some improvement in the levels of transphobic language in schools. All the same, 87% of students still hear remarks against trans people, including the slurs ‘tranny’ or ‘he/she’.

Meanwhile, teachers and school staff are guilty of using this kind of language too. A little over half of students have heard homophobic language from educators, while two-thirds have heard them using transphobic language.

Moreover, they also ignore abuse. Just 14% of students say staff intervened when overhearing homophobic language at school.

Most schools don’t act when students report problems

Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that 86% of LGBT+ students have suffered harassment on assault. This may be because of their sexuality, gender identity, race, disability or religion.

For a quarter of kids, this was a physical attack. Most were pushed or shoved but bullies have also punched, kicked or used a weapon against thousands of LGBT+ kids.

Meanwhile, 58% of LGBT+ students experienced sexual harassment – including people touching them without consent in school.

Cyberbullying is also high with 45% having suffered online harassment or hateful texts in the past year.

Despite this, most (57%) victims didn’t report the harassment or assaults to school staff. In most cases, they feared that would only make it worse. Indeed, when they did report it, six out of 10 say the school did nothing or told them to ignore it.

Schools punish LGBT+ students

Again the researchers found that schools were actively persecuting LGBT+ students. Six out of 10 had experienced discrimination by their school.

In particular, 28% of pupils said the school stopped them from using a bathroom that matches their true gender. A similar number were punished for public displays of affection which straight, cisgender students were allowed to show.

Schools also punished kids for wearing clothes that didn’t match traditional ideas of gender or for wearing clothing that supports LGBT+ issues.

Some schools stopped pupils forming LGBT+ associations – known as GSAs, previously ‘Gay Straight Alliances’.

They also stopped them from including LGBT+ topics in their assignments, from taking part in school sports or from attending a dance or function with someone of the same gender.

All this is taking a terrible toll on the next generation. LGBT+ students are more likely to have missed school, have lower grade point averages and staff are more likely to discipline them.

Fewer want to go to university than their straight, cisgender peers. And they have lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression.

Those in more inclusive schools which tackle discrimination fare far better.

Meanwhile, LGBT+ students who are also people of color or immigrants tend to face additional harassment. Over half heard frequent racist comments at school.

‘Clear actions’

Despite this negative picture, GLSEN does highlight some reasons for optimism.

The survey found that support for LGBT+ students is increasing. For example, there are now more GSAs than ever and almost all students know at least one educator in their school who supports LGBT+ people.

The organization recommends that schools train staff to be more supportive and to intervene effectively when they see homophobia and transphobia.

It wants policies like dress codes and the use of facilities to affirm students’ identities, not discriminate against LGBT+ kids.

Schools should include positive and accurate representation of LGBT+ history, people and events in their lessons. And they must provide sex education that includes LGBT+ people.

Joseph Kosciw, director of GLSEN Research Institute, said:

‘Our research over the past two decades points to clear actions that schools can take to protect students who are facing anti-LGBTQ harassment and other forms of discrimination.

‘It’s time for each and every school leader to understand the barriers that LGBTQ students face and to commit to making the changes necessary to protect all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.’


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