Equity & Diversity

LGBT and Gender-Nonconforming Youth Target of Unfair Discipline, Groups Say

By Evie Blad — October 08, 2014 2 min read
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Like many racial and ethnic minority groups, LGBT and gender-nonconforming students often face unfair discipline at school, a group of civil rights and student organizations say.

And LGBT students of color often deal with multiple layers of bias in the classroom, which leads many to feel they are the target of “increased surveillance and policing at school,” the groups said.

The organizations—the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Crossroads Collaborative, a research organization led by University of Arizona faculty—released a set of research briefs combining findings from previous work with the results of youth surveys and issues raised in focus groups about school discipline.

“The briefs find that LGBTQ youth of color and gender-nonconforming youth are frequently blamed for their own victimization and targeted for harsh and biased school discipline. Additionally, LGBTQ students of color report increased surveillance and policing,” the Gay-Straight Alliance Network said in a release. “As the report notes, this is consistent with previous research ‘illustrating race-based bias and criminalization of youth of color, but it is important to note that these students are also targeted due to sexual orientation and gender identity, expression, or presentation.’”

Among the issues discussed in the briefs:

  • In focus groups, LGBT youth of color reported feeling a lack of support in school and a sense that they were being watched by educators, who expected them to repeatedly act up.
  • In one focus group, a student said teachers frequently assumed a gender-nonconforming peer was “acting up” because of how he looked.
  • Youth reported zero-tolerance policies (the target of broader criticism in the school discipline debate) are often unfairly applied to them. In focus groups, they reported a boy being suspended for carrying nail polish. Others reported a male classmate was suspended for his hair extensions, the same hair extensions his female classmates wear without incident.
  • Youth in focus groups said they were often “blamed for their own victimization.” Teachers assumed LGBT and gender-nonconforming students started confrontations with peers who were bullying them, or they did not properly address the bullying, the briefs say.

So what now?

The Advancement Project and the GSA Network released a set of policy recommendations to accompany the issue briefs. Those recommendations echo policy changes that have become the focus of broader efforts to change school discipline. They include:

  • Better collection and tracking of data to monitor the effects of school discipline.
  • Training for educators and school police in issues related to LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth.
  • The elimination of zero-tolerance policies in schools.
  • The inclusion of actual or perceived sexual orientation as a protected class in school bullying and harassment policies.
  • Eliminating the use of broad terms, like “willful defiance,” from school discipline codes if they could be subjectively or unfairly applied.

What do you think?

Researchers have long suspected that LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth have been unfairly affected by school discipline, but efforts to confirm that suspicion have been hindered by limited sources of reliable data. We don’t have an office for civil rights report that shows disparate discipline rates for these students like we have for black students, for example.

Do these issues match what you’ve seen in your school? Are teachers in your area trained to recognize innate biases of all kinds?

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