LGBT Week: Joseph Kosciw on Making Schools Safe and Affirming Places to Learn for LGBT Students

I am Joseph Kosciw, Senior Director of Research & Strategic Initiatives, at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN has worked for over 20 years to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. For 10 of those years, GLSEN has been documenting the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth: the prevalence of anti-LGBT language and victimization, and their effect on LGBT students’ achievement.

Lessons Learned: GLSEN’s research consistently shows that schools where homophobic remarks are rampant and unaddressed by school personnel—or where LGBT students are frequently the target of harassment or assault—are often unsafe environments for LGBT students. Such hostile climates are related to missed school and classes, lower grades and educational aspirations, and poorer psychological well-being. (See Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz & Bartkiewicz, 2010).

Although our results suggest that school climate remains dire for many LGBT students, they also highlight the important role that institutional supports can play in making schools safer for these students. All of the following are related to fewer negative school experiences and increased positive educational outcomes:

  • having a student club that addresses LGBT student issues (often referred to as a Gay-Straight Alliance)
  • having the curriculum include positive information about LGBT people, history and events
  • having educators who are supportive of LGBT students, and
  • having school and district policies that provide protections explicitly related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Evaluation research can be crucial in understanding the role of school supports for LGBT youth:

  • Evaluators can lend their knowledge and expertise to local LGBT youth programs and safe school organizations to assess their effectiveness.
  • Education researchers can ensure that evaluations of bullying prevention programs and other school-based programs to improve school climate examine how the effectiveness of these programs may vary for different groups of students, including LGBT students.
  • State education agencies and school districts should include questions about students’ sexual orientation and gender identity as part of regularly administered surveys on bullying or school climate, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) or the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire.

Only then will we be able to have a full, comprehensive perspective on the experiences of LGBT youth in schools and on what school supports and school-wide interventions help provide a safe and affirming learning environment for all students.

Rad Resource: Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., and Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

Hot Tip: GLSEN’s research reports can also be found at: www.glsen.org/research

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating LGBT Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the LGBT AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our LGBT members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting LGBT resources. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice.

1 thought on “LGBT Week: Joseph Kosciw on Making Schools Safe and Affirming Places to Learn for LGBT Students”

  1. Hello Mr Kosciw, I recently read your Making Schools Safe and Affirming Places to Learn for LGBT Students post on AEA 365. I was drawn to your write up because I am a teacher in British Columbia, Canada and a member of an organization called SOGI 123. SOGI is an acronym for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. SOGI inclusive education prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. SOGI inclusive educators work to integrate diversity among all genders, orientation or family unit by introducing content that is represented by different voices, images, and social groups based on religion, ethnicity, race, dis/ability etc. SOGI believes in the right that all students are represented in the way that they wish to be perceived.

    Some of the respsonsibilites of a SOGI rep are to:

    • Lead SOGI events, activities and initiatives within the school
    • Provide guidance for teachers to incorporate SOGI awareness at grade level, including creating lesson plans.
    • Provide age-appropriate resources for classroom teachers through videos, websites, reading and visual materials.
    • Develop and lead presentations for staff meetings
    • Liaise with SOGI School Leads from other schools to share information and engage in professional development opportunities
    • Support SOGI activities and initiatives, possibly including Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSA’s), Pride parade and district days
    • Support families, staff and students with SOGI issues/situations as they arise

    You mentioned in your blog post that school climate for some LGBT students remained dire and you highlighted the important role that school supports can play in making schools safer for these students. I could not agree more, which is why I wanted to make a difference for students at my school. As you pointed out, having programs and curriculum that included positive information about the LGBT community through storytelling, history, speakers, movies, artwork can provide exposure that is inclusive for all students along with an opportunity to learn and grow.
    While I have not personally done nay evaluation research on this topic I do find it interesting to look into to truly understand that impact of a program on the school community. Input from participants can allow for insight and knowledge that can help improve existing programs and learning opportunities that may be missing. Having inclusive education for all students can prevent bullying and improve school climate through best practices for staff and students.
    As you mentioned, research has shown that schools that allow for homophobic remarks in their hallways and classrooms have a higher proportion of LGBT students that miss school, drop out, have lower grades and less educational aspirations. I am curious to know what the rates are compared to schools that have programs that include LGBT curriculum? I have read your Social Policy Report: Safe Schools Policy for LGBT Students (2010) which addresses school climate and its impact on the social and emotional well-being of our LGBT students. I am intrigued to learn how students attitudes are now in 2020 compared to the time of your original post in 2011.

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