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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 38
New reports: Teen suicide and violence show school climate unsafe for LGBT students
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New reports: Teen suicide and violence show school climate unsafe for LGBT students

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Recently, students across the country headed back to the classroom. With summer vacations behind them and a full school year ahead, tomorrow's leaders returned to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Beyond the books, the classroom has long been the place where sweetheart crushes manifest, passing notes becomes commonplace, and friendships are forged. Unfortunately, according to two alarming new studies, many LGBT students - from kindergarten to college - returned to school to find harassment, victimization, and violence.

On September 14, in a message to America's students, President Barack Obama urged kids to ignore bullies and treat each other with kindness and respect, saying part of the beauty of life 'lies in its diversity.'

'If you do take away one thing from my speech, I want you to take away the notion that life is precious, and part of what makes it so wonderful is its diversity," Obama said from a Philadelphia school during his second back-to-school address, broadcast to thousands of schools across the country on September 14. "We shouldn't be embarrassed by the things that make us different. We should be proud of them. It's the things that make us different that make us who we are, that make us unique.'

President Obama's words did not reach 15-year-old Billy Lucas. Last week, Billy's mother found him dead inside their Indiana barn. He had hung himself - the latest teen to be bullied to death.

Billy was a teenager who didn't quite fit in. He never told anyone he was Gay, but students at Greenburg High School thought he was and bullied him for being different. Little to nothing was done about the situation. The details of his torment are heartbreaking.

"People would call him 'fag' and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he's different basically," said Dillen Swango, a student at Greenburg High School. "They said stuff like 'you're a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was Gay or whatever."

According to Dillen, on the day Billy took his own life, students had told him to kill himself.

Billy's death, along with the countless others in states across the country, should be a wake-up call.

GLSEN SURVEY FINDS LGBT STUDENTS AT RISK
On September 14, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released the results of The 2009 National School Climate Survey. The results, a culmination of 10 years of pioneering research documenting the experiences of LGBT students, were alarming.

The 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that at school nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.

Since 2009, the survey shows, there has been a decrease in LGBT students hearing homophobic remarks; however, LGBT students' experiences with more severe forms of bullying and harassment have remained constant. In other words, LGBT students are experiencing a hostile school climate, and that could have an adverse effect on educational outcomes and their psychological well-being.

Some key findings of the 2009 National School Climate Survey include:

o 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed, and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

o 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed, and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

o 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as "faggot" or "dyke," frequently or often at school.

o 61.1% reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and 39.9% felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

o 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once, and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.

The reported grade point average of students who were most frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed, the report found.

In a strange, oxymoronic finding, being "out" in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students. Outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological wellbeing.

Students reported that having a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns, and a greater sense of belonging to the school community. The survey found that the presence of supportive staff contributed to a range of positive indicators, including fewer reports if missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations, and a greater sense of school belonging.

"A look at 10 years of National School Climate Survey data reveals some gains in the availability of resources and supportive educators, thanks in part to GLSEN's work and that of educators and advocates across the country committed to safe and affirming environments for all students," said Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN senior director of research and strategic initiatives. "Nevertheless, it is still the minority of LGBT students who report having sufficient support in school, which may explain why we have not seen greater improvements regarding in-school victimization."

LGBT EXPERIENCE AT U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES "POOR"
Campus Pride, a national non-profit working to create safer, more LGBT-inclusive colleges, announced the release of a landmark research study. The most comprehensive national research of its kind to date, the "2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People" documents the experiences of nearly 6,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators who identify as LGBT at colleges and universities across the U.S.

The results are poor, revealing significant harassment of LGBT students and a lack of safety and inclusiveness that exists on campuses across the country.

"National research has consistently shown that LGBT youth in kindergarten through high school encounter alarming rates of harassment, discrimination, and bullying. There has never been a comprehensive national study to document what happens when these youth go to college - until now," said Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride's executive director. Some key findings:

o LGBT respondents experienced significantly greater harassment and discrimination than their heterosexual allies, and those who identified as Transmasculine, Transfeminine, and gender non-conforming experienced significantly higher rates of harassment than men and women. o LGBT students were more likely than heterosexual students to have seriously considered leaving their institution as a result of harassment and discrimination. o LGBT respondents of color were more likely than their LGBT white counterparts to indicate race as the basis of harassment, and were significantly less likely than LGBT white respondents to feel very comfortable in their classes (60%, 65%, respectively). o Respondents who identified as Transmasculine, Transfeminine, and gender non-conforming have more negative perceptions of campus climate when compared with those who identify within the gender binary. Dr. Susan Rankin, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the report, said, "Unequivocally, the '2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People' demonstrates that LGBT students, faculty, and staff experience a 'chilly' campus climate of harassment and far less than welcoming campus communities. This comprehensive report provides substantive research and the necessary recommendations to assist administrators, educators, advocates, activists, student leaders, and elected officials in making university and college campuses safer and more accepting for all of its community members." Windmeyer added, "Now is the time to act. It is shocking that it is 2010 and less than 8% of accredited colleges and universities have the responsibility to create safe learning environments for everyone, regardless of sexual identity or gender identity."

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