For many students, showing up to school also means walking into a building where name-calling and hostility are seemingly inevitable. That’s not exactly the welcoming environment meant to help nurture and prepare the next generation for a successful future.
A sense of belonging in one’s school can be difficult to obtain, especially for LGBTQ+ students. According to The 2021 National School Climate Survey released this week by GLSEN, an organization that aims to create safe and inclusive schools, 83.1% of LGBTQ+ students reported harassment or assault during the 2021-22 school year.
The harassment, unfortunately, extends beyond the classroom walls. For students who participated in remote learning during the pandemic, online harassment was much higher than it was for students who took part in hybrid learning.
“We must make additional progress before LGBTQ+ youth are at minimum safe in schools where they can thrive and reach their full potential,” said Aaron Ridings, GLSEN chief of staff and deputy executive director for public policy and research.
“Students report a decline in school resources, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a period of mass disruption and trauma, and the attacks on LGBTQ+ youth from anti-LGBTQ+ extremists continue to create a chilling effect that threatens the wellbeing of gay and transgender youth across the country.”
In June, the Biden administration released its proposed changes to Title IX regulations, which would protect LGBTQ students and those who are pregnant from discrimination. However, its effectiveness is rather uncertain based on community feedback and recently enacted education policies implemented by Republican politicians.
“You are using non-discrimination laws in an illegal and unconstitutional way, and if this hits my kids’ school, we will file a lawsuit,” commented one parent on the Federal Register in response to the Title IX proposals. “Like it or not, there are only TWO GENDERS—MALE AND FEMALE! GET OVER IT!!!!!” said another.
Supporters of the proposed changes say the nation is on the right track to ensure each and every individual has access to a safe learning environment. “Expanding this term to include transgender citizens will protect them from educational discrimination and allow them access to single-sex spaces that align with their correct gender identity,” another comment read.
“We must look toward true progress and respect for others, which includes evolving important parameters. It is the role of the Department of Education to guarantee the protection of all individuals from sex discrimination,” another said.
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Yet, until everyone is on the same page, equitable education will continue to be just out of arm’s reach. Books portraying LGBTQ narratives continue to be banned from public school libraries. Teachers are instructed as to what they can and cannot discuss in the classroom.
“We need leaders in states across the country who will uphold basic civil and education rights and let educators teach and students learn,” said Ridings. But in the meantime, how can schools ensure their students are supported and uplifted?
Here’s what the survey suggests:
- Improve support from staff: Students who have access to LGBTQ+-related resources and supportive staff are more likely to perform better academically.
- Implement inclusive policies: Schools should consider redesigning their dress codes and bathroom policies to avoid discriminating against their students and implement anti-bullying policies.
- Provide inclusive curriculum: LGBTQ+ people, history and events should not be stripped from students’ curriculum. Instead, they should be presented accurately and fairly.
- GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) in more schools: According to the survey, students who had a GSA in their school were less likely to face discrimination or harassment.
“The 2021 National School Climate Survey reveals that LGBTQ+ students are experiencing unacceptable rates of bullying and discrimination in the classroom, which impacts their mental health, self-esteem and educational aspirations,” said Joseph Kosciw, the director of GLSEN Research Institute. “But, our research also points to how schools can better support LGBTQ+ students: Evidence shows that inclusive policies, GSAs, and supportive educators play a critical role in creating encouraging educational environments where all students can thrive.”