On Oct. 22, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ( GLSEN ) held a webinar on findings from its 8th biennial National School Climate Survey.
Amidst a lack of U.S. data around the LGBT student experience, the survey was launched in 1999 to provide "a national picture of the scope and impact of anti-LGBT bias and violence in our schools," according to GLSEN.org . The 2013 survey of 7,898 students between the ages of 13 and 21 was conducted online and included students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Forty-three percent of those surveyed were cisgender females and 2/3 identified as Caucasian. Higher weight was given to Hispanic or Middle Eastern students; and the number of African American students in the sample was low compared to the population, possibly due to students utilizing the option of being coded as multiracial.
Overall, and not surprisingly, harassment and discrimination of middle and high school LGBT students continues. More than half of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and almost 40 percent because of their gender expression. GLSEN measures gender expression by allowing students to rank themselves on a continuumvery masculine vs. very feminine, or not applicableand comparing that to assigned sex at birth.
Three-fourths of the students surveyed say they have been verbally harassed by peers, with one-third physically harassed ( pushed or shoved ) and one-sixth physically assaulted ( punched, kicked or injured with a weapon ) because of their sexual orientation.
According to Emily Greytak, GLSEN's director of research, "[LGBT] students avoid gender segregated areas [such as bathroom and locker rooms] because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable" by the threat of peer victimization and biased language and remarks. And what are school administrators and teachers doing about it? There appears to be minimal staff intervention, with negative remarks around gender expression garnering less intervention than homophobic ones.
More than 56 percent of those surveyed never report events to school staff because they doubted that staff would address the situation, much less discipline the attackers. According to GLSEN Senior Research Associate Neal Palmer, "One student reported in the survey, 'The staff do nothing about harassment, they just say that kids will be kids. Since when does being a kid include being so cruel?'" As a matter of fact, over half of the surveyed students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their own teachers or other school staff.
Some of the varied forms of anti-LGBT discrimination included differences in the way public displays of affection are treated when the couple is same-sex vs. opposite sex, prevention of LGBT topics in classroom assignments, rules against same gender dates to school functions such as prom, transgender students being prevented from using their preferred names or pronouns, and restrictions on how students express themselves ( e.g. they're prevented from wearing or items that support LGBT issues or clothing deemed "inappropriate" ). Transgender students have the highest rate of victimization and negative experiences.
As a result of discrimination and victimization, LGBT students suffer from lower academic achievement, lower educational aspirations, they miss more days of school, have higher levels of depression and feel less like they belong.
However, GLSEN has seen changes in school-based support systems that help change school climate and increase well being for some LGBT students. Having a greater number of supportive educators really brought about more change and makes more of a difference. While almost all of the surveyed students could identify one supportive authority figure in their school, LGBT students with many ( 11+ ) supportive staff had higher GPAs, felt safer and more connected, and were less likely to miss school.
The survey found decreases in frequency of anti-LGBT remarks and an increase in LGBT-related resources and support, such as GSAs ( gay-straight alliances ). Students with a GSA in their school experienced lower levels of discrimination and victimization, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to hear "gay" used in a pejorative manner.
There has also been an increase in anti-bullying policies in schools, although not in terms of having a comprehensive policy covering sexual orientation, the report states. GLSEN was surprised by a finding that textbooks and other readings in classroom curriculums were much more LGBT-inclusive.
The full study is at GLSEN.org .