The recent court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have led many to believe that things are finally looking up for the LGBTQ community. But this week, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released their landmark report, the 2013 National School Climate Survey (PDF), which provides data on the experiences of LGBTQ students in our nation’s schools and shows that the LGBTQ community still faces many challenges.
This survey is a key insight into the discrimination experienced by this often marginalized community, and helps to show lawmakers why legislation such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, is so important and needs to be adopted as soon as possible.
The 168-page report deals with many different aspects of school life for LGBTQ students—from the impact of verbal bullying, to physical assault motivated by homophobia, to the way school administrators respond to such disruptive and alienating behavior. Some of the key findings include:
- 55.5 percent of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37.8 percent because of their gender expression. 30.3 percent of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and 10.6 percent missed four or more days in the past month.
- 74.1 percent of LGBTQ students were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and 55.2 percent because of their gender expression. 36.2 percent were physically harassed because of their sexual orientation and 22.7 percent because of their gender expression. 16.5 percent were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and 11.4 percent because of their gender expression.
- 61.6 percent of the LGBTQ students who report an incident of discrimination or harassment (either verbal or physical) said that school staff did nothing in response.
These numbers collectively show that our schools are failing some of our most vulnerable students, and the impact of these failures are truly catastrophic. LGBTQ kids will likely grow up scarred by their experiences, and many of them will miss out on opportunities to attend a college of their choice because they fell behind academically after missing school days due to feeling unsafe. Perhaps just as important is the perception now held by the bullies, who went unpunished by an apathetic administration, that they can behave with malice and use violence towards people that they don’t like without consequence. This is behavior that our country simply cannot allow to continue if we wish to be considered an enlightened democratic society.
Our schools must be safe spaces dedicated to learning and the equal treatment of all students, regardless of race, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, national origin, or gender identity. School administrators and government officials have a responsibility to ensure that LGBTQ students are protected when they go to class to learn, and GLSEN’s new report will go a long way toward educating them about the serious problems inherent to our educational system.