LGBT Teens in School

As far back as 1969, June has been an important month for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgender (LGBT) community. During the month of June, many events are held throughout the United States and the world in order to celebrate and support the LGBT community. Over the last few decades, the LGBT community and straight allies have organized to provide safe spaces for LGBT students throughout the country.

Today, we will focus on schools and what they are doing to ensure that their LGBT students feel supported and, most importantly, safe.

LGBT Teens in School

In 1999, the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) noticed that there was a lack of research about LGBT students in schools. In order to combat this lack of knowledge, GLSEN launched their first National School Climate Survey. This survey aims to understand and explore the prevalence of anti-LGBT language, victimization of the LGBT community, school policies that may be negatively impacting the LGBT community, the impact that hostile school environments can have on LGBT youth, and polices or other contributing factors that may offset any negative effects.

LGBT Teens in Schools

During the 2013 National School Climate Survey, over 7,800 students in middle school and high school were able to complete this survey.

The survey conclude that schools were unsafe and unwelcoming for teens of the LGBT community.

  • 65% of LGBT participants reported that they heard homophobic remarks frequently or often during school.
  • 30% of students reported that they missed at least one day in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable in school.
  • 85% of students were personally verbally harassed.
  • 56% of students reported that they felt discriminated due to policies at school and common practices.

Many of students in the LGBT community reported that there were policies in place at their school that restricted student expression, prohibited LGBT curricular content, and enforced traditional gender roles.

  • 18% of students claimed that were not allowed to bring same-sex dates to school dances.
  • 19% of students reported that they were deterred from wearing clothes that were deemed “inappropriate” for their gender.
  • 28% of students claimed that they were disciplined for public displays of affections which were not similarly cause for discipline towards non-LGBT couples.

GLSEN determine that the more LGBT students felt that they were being victimized and discriminated, the more severe the negative effects became.

  • Students who felt they were harassed at a high level had an average GPA of 2.8 Students who felt they were not victimized as often had an average GPA of 3.2.
  • 96% of students who reported low levels of victimization for their gender expression said that they would pursue post-secondary education. Only 92% of students who felt they were highly victimized for their gender expression reported that they were likely to pursue these avenues.
  • Students that felt they were highly victimized at school also reported having lower levels of self-esteem.

What are school doing to help?

One great way that schools are helping combat these negative effects is through the implementation of Gay Straight Alliances (GSA). GSAs are student-affiliated and student-ran clubs within schools where members of the LGBT community can go and find support from other members of their community within their school, as well as from non-LGBT students who are supportive of the LGBT community. GSAs provide a safe environment for students to discuss common problems of the LGBT community such as sexual orientation and gender identity. Members of GSAs strive to create a school environment that is free of harassment, discrimination, and intolerance.

According to GLSEN’s National School Climate survey, half of all students surveyed reported that their school had allowed the implementation of GSAs. In 2008, GLSEN reported that they had over 4,000 GSAs registered with them. This is great news for the community because it has been observed that the presence of a GSA in school is very positive for the students there.

  • 57% of students in schools with a GSA reported hearing less homophobic remarks versus 75% at schools where a GSA wasn’t present.
  • Students that had access to a GSA reported that they experienced less violence based on their sexual orientation or their gender expression. In Michigan, for example, it was noted that students who were in LGBT relationships or might be in one soon, were half as likely to experience dating violence, being threatened or injured at school, or miss schools due to fear.
  • One third of LGBT of students without a GSA reported missing school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable at school. When a school had a GSA, that number dropped to one fourth.

LGBT Teens in Schools

Across the country, teachers seem to be supportive of GSA’s themselves. Over half of teachers in secondary schools believed that the presence of a GSA would make their school safer for LGBT students. GSAs have the added benefit of allowing students to identify faculty members that are supportive of the LGBT community. In schools with a GSA, only a third of students were able to identify supportive faculty members, while half of the students were able to identify them if they had a GSA. Because of this, LGBT students who have a GSA in their school also report feeling that they belong to their school’s community more than students without a GSA.

With this in mind, it would seem that GSAs are a valuable addition to any school. It is not disputed whether there aren’t awful struggles within schools for LGBT students. Across the board, students are reporting feeling unsafe due to the prevalence of LGBT discrimination and harassment. GSAs seem to offer a way to combat the negative effects that may arise from these circumstances. If you are a student who doesn’t know if their school has a GSA, may want to join your school’s GSA, or want to start a GSA at your school but you have no idea where to start, call us at Teen Lifeline. Our Peer Counselors are trained to help you figure out the steps you need to take to feel safe at school, or help those around you feel safe.

Luis Barcelo

For the past four years Luis Barcelo has volunteered thousands of hours for Teen Lifeline as a Peer Counselor. Now, as an adult volunteer and communications intern at Teen Lifeline, he hopes to continue helping struggling teens wherever they may be.


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