[This post written by guest blogger JustAnotherTeen]
We live in a world where more and more people are accepting of alternative lifestyles. Yet students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender still report very similar amounts of harassment and negative effects in school as they did in 1999. Recently, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released the 2007 National School Climate Survey, the only study of its kind to chronicle the effects of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, as well as transgender students. The survey brings both good and bad news. The good news is that with proper support, harmful verbal and physical abuse can decrease, grades can rise, and students are less likely to miss school out of concern for their own safety. The bad news is that far too few schools or states have comprehensive support for these students.
The most prominent example of physical violence is the story from February of this year, when a gay student in California was gunned down. According to the preface of the survey, “On Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008, an openly gay 8th grader named Lawrence King was shot to death by a classmate named Brandon McInerney at E.O. Green Junior High. Brandon was threatened by Lawrence’s self-acceptance of his sexual orientation and by his nontraditional gender expression, so threatened that he brought a gun to school and murdered Lawrence while he was working on an English paper in the school’s computer lab (a final and most extreme act in a pattern of bullying in which Brandon had engaged towards Lawrence for an extended period of time, a pattern which school officials seem to have done little to interrupt).” Although this is thankfully an isolated incident, it is further proof that we have a long way to go to make students feel safe in their schools.
Some key statistics from the survey:
• More than half (60.8%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (38.4%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
• Nearly nine-tenths of students (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) at school because of their sexual orientation. And two-thirds (66.5%) of students were verbally harassed because of their gender expression.
• Almost half (44.1%) of students had been physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and three in ten students (30.4%) because of their gender expression.
• For some students, victimization was even more severe – 22.1% reported being physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation and 14.2% because of their gender expression.
• The majority (60.8%) of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation could become worse if reported. In fact, nearly a third (31.1%) of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response.
Although all these statistics are appalling, the victimization and lack of response from educators is the most heinous. Schools should be a place where students can feel safe, not victimized. Does this remind anyone of the 1960s? We need our parents, lawmakers, and school administrators to wake up to the problems faced by students before we have another tragedy like Lawrence King. I encourage parents to talk to their children about why calling things “gay” is no better than a racial slur and about preventing harassment of their peers. I encourage them to talk to their school administrators about preventing violence directed towards LGBT teens. Together, we can help prevent violence and help students finally feel safe at school.
For more about the survey or the entire PDF, please go to the GLSEN site.