- During the past several years, LGBTQ students have experienced a more positive school climate, but they could now be facing more hostile campus environments, according to a survey commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
- Education Week reports that according to the survey, verbal harassment of transgender students increased between 2015 and 2017, while reports of gender expression-based physical harassment and assault were relatively stagnant. Additionally, more than 80% of LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school in 2017, the report says, and one-sixth of students say their sexual orientation or gender expression was the reason they were physically assaulted at school.
- While almost everyone in the survey said they had the support of at least one staff member at their school, more than half of LGBTQ students heard homophobic comments from staff members. On top of that, less than 20% of these students said staff intervened most or all the time when they overheard a homophobic comment at school.
It's not news that bullying and harassment are significant problems in schools, and members of the LGBTQ community often face harassment and bullying because of their gender or sexual identities. Students who are bullied can face severe physical, emotional and social issues, including depression and anxiety; shifted eating or sleeping patterns; lower academic achievement, lower attendance, a greater likelihood of dropping out of school, and drug or alcohol abuse, according to Stopbullying.gov. The GLSEN report found that nearly 20% of LGBTQ students said they changed schools because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and more than one-third of them missed at least one school day in the last month because they didn't feel safe.
Schools have been working to prevent bullying and implement protective measures to help students through these issues. The Center for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning says social-emotional learning (SEL) programs can be an effective way to lower the likelihood that bullying will take place, because the ideas it promotes contradict those associated with bullying and other negative interactions with peers. Widespread awareness has additionally been drawn to the issue with October being deemed National Bullying Prevention Month.
To an extent, school districts are legally obligated to step in when bullying takes place or to shield students from it in the first place. In addition to protections under federal law, 20 states and the District of Columbia have anti-bullying or anti-discrimination laws in place that explicitly protect LGBTQ students, according to the University of California Los Angeles School of Law's Williams Institute. Some suggest that recent policy decisions at the federal level made LGBTQ students more susceptible to bullying and harassment. In February 2017, the Trump administration moved to withdraw Obama-era protections for transgender students who, under the policy, could use bathrooms and facilities in public schools that corresponded to their gender identity. The "Dear Colleague" letter also said schools had to quickly respond to harassment of transgender students and use students' preferred gender on school paperwork. It's possible that the "Trump effect" is contributing to higher bullying among the general student body in Republican districts, and it's likely that this includes students who are members of the LGBTQ community as well.
It's in schools' interests to not only protect the general student body, but to also it's also make sure that those students who might be more vulnerable to bullying and harassment are properly shielded. School leaders can ensure that teachers are having conversations with students about empathy and about tolerating multiple viewpoints respectfully. They can also work with staff members and student leaders to create an inclusive school climate so that the frequency of these events declines and all students feel they have a welcoming place to learn.