4 ways your school’s LGBTQ+ policies can save a life

Students who attend schools with affirming policies are less likely to attempt suicide, according to a new survey. Here's how you can help.

At a time when our youth’s mental health is at an all-time low, students rely heavily on their schools—where they spend the majority of their day—for a sense of belonging. However, not every school provides that, especially for LGBTQ+ students. And what many administrators might not know is that something as simple as addressing their school’s policies can make a world of difference for those students.

More than one in five (22%) LGBTQ+ high school students attempted suicide in 2021, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, 52% reported having recently experienced poor mental health.

“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” said CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director Kathleen Ethier in a statement. “With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish.”

These findings mirror those of a new survey released on Thursday by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, which found that school-related protective factors play a significant role in mitigating the risk of suicide among students. In fact, students who had access to at least one “protective factor” were 26% less likely to attempt suicide in the past year, the data suggests.

“Young people between the ages of 13 and 18 spend a significant portion of their waking hours at school, making it imperative to examine how schools can create affirming environments for LGBTQ students in middle or high school,” the survey reads.

The timing of this research coincides with an ongoing battle among educators, parents, leaders and policymakers who all have trouble finding a common middle ground in terms of deciding what should and shouldn’t be taught in the classroom as it relates to LGBTQ+ topics. For instance, protests broke out at the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters this week as nearly 150 demonstrators who oppose LGBTQ+ education demanded eliminating discussion of the topic from their schools.

“We believe that there is a radical indoctrination system that has seeped from academia and now into K through 12,” Ben Richards, a San Diego parent and founder of SoCal Parent Advocates, told the Los Angeles Times.

The researchers also compared data between students who did have access to affirming features at their school with students who didn’t. Unsurprisingly, the results revealed that more support equals safety and inclusivity, and potentially a saved life. Here’s a look at the data:

Suicide rates of LGBTQ+ middle and high school students based on protections

Access to a gender-neutral bathroom

  • 14% among those who did have access
  • 17% among those who didn’t have access

History that discusses LGBTQ people

  • 14% among those who did have access
  • 16% among those who didn’t have access

Access to a GSA 

  • 14% among those who did have access
  • 18% among those who didn’t have access

Most/all teachers respecting their pronouns

  • 19% among those who did have access
  • 22% among those who didn’t have access

Overall, 70% of both middle and high school students had access to at least one protective policy at school; those protections, however, are more commonly found in high schools.

Finally, students are more likely to perceive their schools as “LGBTQ-affirming” when they have access to these protections. For instance, 79% of students believe their schools are more welcoming when their teachers respect their pronouns, compared to 51% of students who said most of their teachers don’t respect their pronouns.

“The findings suggest that attending a school with a GSA or other similar club, learning about LGBTQ people and experiences, having access to a gender-neutral bathroom, and having teachers who respect their pronouns are all associated with lower suicide risk among LGBTQ students in middle and high school,” the survey reads. “Overall, these findings provide concrete actions for educators and administrators to take in ensuring that all of their students are safe and affirmed in the spaces they are mandated to be in.”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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