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
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