Safe Schools for Lesbian and Gay Students
It is important that all children feel safe in the school environment. The majority of waking hours are spent at school, so it must be ensured that students feel comfortable, safe, secure, and supported while at school. This is especially the case for lesbian and gay students, who face several challenges in regards to discrimination, self-esteem, and fitting in with other students. It is the responsibility of teachers and school administrators to address this issue and devise strategies for ensuring that lesbian and gay students are appropriately supported in the school environment.
Lesbian and gay students often feel isolated, alienated, and left out at school (Youth Pride, 1997). These feelings of isolation result in several troubling outcomes. Suicide rates among lesbian and gay students are high, with studies indicating that gay and lesbian students are up to three times more likely to attempt suicide than are heterosexual students, and suicide is the leading cause of death for lesbian and gay young people (Youth Pride, 1997). Gay and lesbian students are also more likely to drop out of school as a result of harassment, and a high percentage of gay and lesbian young people report crippling isolation (Youth Pride, 1997). Furthermore, high rates of violence, homelessness, and HIV / AIDS are also experienced by lesbian and gay youth (Youth Pride, 1997). Child welfare and juvenile justice systems in the United States are also disproportionately occupied by lesbian and gay youth (Lambda Legal, 2010).
The negative outcomes often experienced by gay and lesbian youth could be mediated and prevented through initiatives put into practice by teachers and school administrators. These initiatives must target core values and attitudes held by students and staff. Homophobic remarks are commonly heard in the school environment coming from both students and teachers (Youth Pride, 1997). These types of remarks are damaging and stem from attitudes that could be changed with increased awareness. Also, public social and legal policy needs to address and reflect the need for action directed specifically toward lesbian and gay issues among youth in order to decrease isolation and discrimination.
Youth Pride (1997) provided several suggestions for ways to reduce homophobia in the school environment, which teachers can put into practice. These suggestions included not making assumptions regarding sexuality, and supporting how students feel about their sexuality. These can be achieved by using neutral language when addressing the issue of relationships with students and by making students feel that teachers can be approached for support and understanding. Also, it is suggested that teachers encourage school administrators to enforce policies to combat discrimination against students based on sexual orientation (Youth Pride, 1997).
Progressive changes in legal and social policy are working toward eliminating discrimination against lesbian and gay students in schools. An example of this is the establishment of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (S.506). This is a Senate bill that addresses specifically discrimination and harassment in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity (Schwartz, 2011). Initiatives like the Transgender Civil Rights Project, LGBT Aging Initiative, National policy Roundtable are also directed and passing legislation aimed at ensuring equal rights for lesbian and gay youth (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011). Also, organizations with visible internet presence, such as Bullying.org, increase awareness regarding the prevention of discriminatory behavior based on sexual orientation. Policy and social initiatives such as these act to bring legitimacy and awareness to issues experienced by lesbian and gay students, with the aim of making schools a safer more inclusive environment.
Bullying.org (2011). Retrieved 22 October, 2011 from http://www.bullying.org.
Lambda Legal (2010). Getting down to basics: tools to support LGBTQ youth in care. Retrieved 22 October, 2011 from http://lambdalegal.org/take-action/tool-kits/getting-down-to-basics.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2011). Public policy and government affairs. Retrieved 22 October, 2011 from http://www.ngltf.org/our_work/public_policy.
Schwartz, R. (2011). GLSEN lauds bipartisan introduction of safe schools improvement act (S.506) in senate. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Retrieved 22 October, 2011 from http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/library/record/2702.html?state=policy&type=policy.
Youth Pride (1997). Creating safe schools for lesbian and gay students: A resource guide for school staff. Retrieved 22 October, 2011 from http://twood.tripod.com/guide.html.
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