Are LGBTQ Students Safe?

Every child should have the right to equal and fair education; they should also be able to feel safe while getting this education, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

*Note: This article was originally published on Pride Pocket prior to merging with MyUmbrella*

The fight for equality has advanced remarkably in the past decade, however, there’s still a lot of work to do. In a survey taken by The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education, which reports what the school climate was like for teens in 2015, horrifying facts about being LGBTQ in school were revealed.

Every child should have the right to equal and fair education; they should also be able to feel safe while getting this education, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. The GLSEN study found that “57.6% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 43.3% because of their gender expression”[1].

School should be a place of education, not the place of fear that it’s become for LGBTQ students–many of whom are missing school because they feel so unsafe there. Imagine not feeling safe enough to attend your homecoming or graduation. Unfortunately, researchers found that LGBTQ students “reported avoiding school functions and extracurricular activities at a rate of 71.5% and 65.7%, respectively because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable”[1].

There is a reason why LGBTQ students don’t feel safe in a school environment, and it is because they aren’t safe. Reports show that “27.0% of LGBTQ students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 20.3% because of their gender expression”[1]. 

When it comes to sexual harassment, “59.6% of LGBTQ students were sexually harassed (e.g., unwanted touching or sexual remarks) in the past year at school” [1]. As for online harassment, “48.6% of LGBTQ students experienced electronic harassment in the past year” [1]. The feeling of safety is one thing, however, physically being in danger at school simply because a child is LGBTQ, is absolutely unacceptable. This becomes especially concerning when educational spaces purport to have anti-bullying policies in place.

Alarmingly, it’s not just students participating in the harassment of their LGBTQ peers, as the study showed that “56.2% of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or other school staff, and 63.5% of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff”[1].

It is clear the attitudes of teachers and staff towards the LGBTQ community determine the rest of the school’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community. If educators and authority figures are providing the example that it is acceptable to have no respect towards the LGBTQ community, it is more likely that students are going to be harassed for being LGBTQ by their peers.

Administrative behavior and attitudes dictate how incidents of harassment are reported, so it is unsurprising that “63.5% of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response or told the student to ignore it” [1]. 

When schools ignore reported incidents of harassment, LGBTQ students are less likely to come forward with future issues in fear that they too, will not be taken seriously– resulting in the fact that“57.6% of LGBTQ students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff” [1].

While all this information is daunting, there are ways to try to lower these statistics. If schools start taking reports of harassment seriously and better educating their students on how to treat LGBTQ individuals with equality and dignity, we can bring these statistics down and start providing a truly safe school environment for all students. 

Programs that provide safe spaces like GSAs and other LGBTQ alliance clubs “experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression.” For example, “21.5% of students with a GSA experienced higher levels of victimization based on their gender expression, compared to 34.0% of those without a GSA” [1].

These incidents of harassment are preventable. It is up to us to advocate for communities and schools to include LGBTQ issues through support and outreach programs, which are essential for the safety of our children and the development of a society that prides itself on freedom and fairness.

1. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2015%20National%20GLSEN%202015%20National%20School%20Climate%20Survey%20%28NSCS%29%20-%20Full%20Report_0.pdf

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