A recent study from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network concludes that a large majority of LGBT students experience harassment and discrimination in school. The study also presents steps that teachers can take to make the school environment more welcoming to such students, including creating more inclusive lessons.
The GLSEN survey was conducted online over a period of five months in 2013 and includes responses from nearly 8,000 students between grades 6 and 12 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Respondents came from 2,770 different school districts.
According to the survey, nearly three in four LGBT students were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation in the past year, and more than a third were physically harassed. The majority of these students (56.7 percent) did not report the incident to their school, and of those who did, 61.6 percent said they received no response from the school. In addition, 55.5 percent of LGBT students said they experienced discriminatory policies at school, a finding that backs up previous studies.
In the survey’s findings, harassment and discrimination were associated with absences from school, relatively low GPAs, and increased rates of depression. Students who reported high levels of victimization were also less likely to express interest in post-secondary education than their peers.
GLSEN suggests that schools and teachers take steps to increase the availability of in-school resources for LGBT students, which are linked to lower rates of harassment and make students feel “more connected to their school community.” The report encourages teachers to advise or support Gay-Straight Alliances and to use “Safe Space” stickers (left) and posters—part of GLSEN’s free Safe Space Kit—as a way of communicating their support and availability for students in need of someone to talk to.
Teacher training is also identified as an area of improvement. Less than a fifth of surveyed students reported that staff intervened in situations involving homophobic remarks “most or all of the time.” As a result, GLSEN sees a need for teachers to be more aware of issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender expression and to intervene in situations where they see students harassing or teasing their LGBT peers. “Such trainings may help educators become more aware of the experiences of LGBT students,” says the report.
The study also suggests that teacher develop LGBT-inclusive curricula where possible. Many students expressed a current lack of access to information about LGBT history and issues both in libraries and in class readings. The study notes that in STEM and social science subjects in particular, “positive LGBT content” in high school was associated with an increased interest in entering the field in college.
These issues are particularly important in rural and small-town schools, where students report more instances of harassment and lower access to resources and institutional support.
Image: Infographic provided by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.