By Joe Jones
Every two years GLSEN, an advocacy organization aiming at creating inclusive school environments for LGBTQ students, conducts a survey called the National School Climate Survey. The purpose of this survey is to interview LGBTQ students to assess how safe those academic environments are for them. What they found in their survey of 2017 was concerning. Rather than schools making gains in school safety for LGBTQ students, progress had actually slowed between 2015 and 2017.
Some of the key findings of the report include “homophobic remarks and victimization leveling off, steady increase in youth reporting negative remarks about transgender people, and a recent upward trend in the frequency of staff making negative remarks about gender expression, and more than a third of LGBTQ students (34.8 %) missed at least one day of school in the last month because of feeling unsafe at school.”
The report also says that “59.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 44.6% because of their gender expression, and 35.0% because of their gender.” The students surveyed also indicated hearing anti-gay slurs and other derogatory language. “Almost all of LGBTQ students (98.5%) heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) at school; 70.0% heard these remarks often or frequently, and 91.8% reported that they felt distressed because of this language.”
Students also experienced forms of verbal and physical harassment. “70.1% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) at school based on sexual orientation, 59.1% based on gender expression, and 53.2% based on gender.
•28.9% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year based on sexual orientation, 24.4% based on gender expression, and 22.8% because based on gender.”
Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director outlined the grave ramifications of their findings in a statment. “This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ wellbeing. Fortunately, the evidence continues to show that key interventions are working to improve students’ lives. We must continue to push to see them implemented in more schools, and support students who are organizing to improve their communities. LGBTQ-affirming supports in our schools reduce violence, improve academic achievement, and help save lives. Who wouldn’t want LGBTQ youth to feel safe and do better in schools?”
GLSEN also says that a negative school environment greatly affect their educational development and mental health “LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization were nearly twice as likely to report they do not plan to pursue post-secondary education. Also, LGBTQ students who experienced high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization and discrimination had lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression.”
LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied than heterosexual youth. Because they are disproportionately bullied, they are also more likely to be suicidal. According to The Trevor Project, “LGBT youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth” and “are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.” They also say that “each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.”
The GLSEN report indicates specific approaches schools can take to positively empower their LGBTQ students. “School-based supports continue to have a positive effect on school climate. School staff supportive of LGBTQ students, GSAs, LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, and comprehensive and supportive policies are all related to safer schools and better educational outcomes.”
Schools must make it a priority to make their environments a safe and inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ students, because the health and well-being of those students hinges on that, as well as their possibilities for future prosperity.