Equity & Diversity

Hostility Toward LGBTQ Students May Be Rising in Schools, Survey Finds

By Corey Mitchell — October 15, 2018 3 min read
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After years of improvement in school climate, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students could be facing more hostile environments on campus, a new national student survey found.

The frequency of verbal harassment of transgender students increased between 2015 and 2017, after years of decline, while reports of physical harassment and assault based on gender expression remained roughly the same.

Overall, more than 80 percent of LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school in 2017, with roughly one-in-six students reporting that they were physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, according to the survey commissioned by GLSEN, formerly the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

While there were fewer reported incidents of physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation in 2017 than 2015, the frequency of verbal harassment based on sexual orientation remained unchanged during that time.

About 23,000 LGBTQ youth from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories participated in the 2017 National School Climate Survey. More than 70 percent of the respondents were high school students.

The findings come in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s decision, in February 2017, to rescind Obama-era guidance on the rights on transgender students is playing out in schools. The guidance called upon schools to respond quickly to harassment of transgender students, to use their preferred gender on school forms and in assigning them to sex-segregated classes and activities, and required that schools allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

“We’ve seen great progress on dismantling homophobia and transphobia over the past decade, and increasing access to LGBTQ-inclusive supports in K-12 schools. Unfortunately, in 2017, that continued progress has slowed, and in some cases, we see no change at all. Worse still, our findings indicate that many schools have become even more hostile towards transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” Dr. Joseph Kosciw, the chief research and strategy officer at GLSEN, said in a statement.

“The good news we continue to see is that LGBTQ youth have better mental health and academic outcomes in schools with supportive and inclusive policies, educators, curriculum, and student-led GSA clubs.”

A significant share of survey respondents also expressed concern that school employees contributed to the hostile environment in schools.

More than half of LGBTQ students heard homophobic remarks from staff, and over two-thirds heard negative remarks from staff about students’ gender expression. The survey also found that less than one in five LGBTQ students reported that school staff intervened most of the time or always when overhearing homophobic remarks at school.

“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ well-being,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a prepared statement.

Despite the upward trend in negative remarks from staff, most students did report having supportive adults at their schools: nearly 97 percent could identify at least one staff member supportive of LGBTQ students at their schools, and more than 60 percent could identify six or more helpful staff members.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Nearly one-in-five LGBTQ students reported changing schools due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • Eighty percent of LGBTQ students have engaged in social-political activism, such as advocating for safe schools online or policy change at school
  • More than a third of LGBTQ students missed at least one day of school in the last month because of feeling unsafe at school, and at least 40 percent avoided bathrooms and locker rooms.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.