How does your school support LGBT students? Are there policies—at the school, district, or state level—that can help improve their educational and social outcomes?
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As you may have noticed, discussions about LGBT issues have gained prominence in education circles in recent years, particularly in the areas of bullying prevention, school climate, discipline, and sex education. That’s in part because of rapidly shifting public perception about the subject (surveys have found growing public support for same-sex marriage, for example).
But it’s also because research has shown that all students have a better chance of succeeding academically when they feel safe, supported, and engaged at school. About 55 percent of students surveyed in 2013 demonstrated signs of engagement at school, Gallup Education found in a study released in April. The organization said students are more likely to be engaged if they say they have a best friend at school, that they feel safe there, that they have at least one teacher who makes them “feel excited about the future,” and that their school is “committed to building the strengths of each student.”
How do we make sure those things are true for LGBT students? Here are some issues to consider.
LGBT youth have higher rates of suicide attempts, depression, and anxiety than their peers, a review by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found. Contributing factors include stress at home after sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity with their family, a lack of self-acceptance, and peer victimization. High numbers of LGBT youth report being bullied at school or cyberbullied at home. From a policy brief by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center:
In the words of one expert, LGBT adolescents 'must cope with developing a sexual minority identity in the midst of negative comments, jokes, and often the threat of violence because of their sexual orientation and/or transgender identity'. A recent review of the research identified 19 studies linking suicidal behavior in lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adolescents to bullying at school, especially among young people with 'cross-gender appearance, traits, or behaviors.'"
How can schools prevent bullying among LGBT youth? Should policies explicitly list sexual orientation and sexual identity among protected groups in bullying policies? Are there barriers to reporting bullying for LGBT students?
When the feds released new school discipline guidance in January to tackle disparate rates of suspensions and expulsions for students from racial and ethnic minority groups, supporters of LGBT students suggested they may also be disciplined at greater rates. In February, the Center for American Progress released a report that said LGBT youth are often targets of harsher penalties for the same behaviors and that those students also reported “significant distrust of school administrators and do not believe that school officials do enough to foster safe and welcoming school climates.”
Do teachers need training to recognize their own biases about LGBT issues? Should schools include such training in professional development? Without hard data to track LGBT students, how do you evaluate your school to ensure this isn’t an issue?
California is implementing a new law to guarantee protections for transgender students, including access to restrooms and sports teams that match their gender identity, even if it doesn’t correspond with what’s on their birth certificates. Students have also won court battles in other states about similar issues.
And advocates for transgender youth have called for more detailed federal guidance about how Title IX protects transgender youth. What should schools do in the mean time?
How do you discuss LGBT issues in sex ed classes? How should schools navigate religious convictions about the subject? And how do you handle these subjects if you’re in a state with laws that prevent such discussions? (See recent posts on Alabama and Mississippi). Should standards for sex ed teachers include training on recognizing their own biases, as some groups have suggested?
We want to hear from you. Please join us Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern. Follow the hashtag #ewedchat or check out the EdWeek and EdWeek Teacher Twitter feeds to contribute.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.