Homophobia prevalent in US schools

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Homophobic bullying is still common in American schools, according to a new study from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

The group’s 2005 National School Climate Survey (NSCS), the only national survey to document the experiences of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in America’s schools found that three quarters of respondents heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently, and nearly nine out of ten (89.2%) reported hearing “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay,” meaning stupid or worthless, often.

The survey results were released at the National Press Club in conjunction with GLSEN’s 10th national Day of Silence.

“The 2005 National School Climate Survey reveals that anti- LGBT bullying and harassment remain commonplace in America’s schools,” said GLSEN founder and executive director Kevin Jennings.

“On the positive side, it also makes clear that inclusive policies, supportive school staff and student clubs, like Gay-Straight Alliances, all relate to reduced harassment and higher achieving students.”

Over a third (37.8%) of students experienced physical harassment at school on the basis of sexual orientation and more than a quarter (26.1%) on the basis of their gender expression. Nearly one-fifth (17.6 %) of students had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and over a tenth (11.8%) because of their gender expression.

LGBT students were five times more likely to report having skipped school in the last month because of safety concerns than the general population of students and students who experience more frequent physical harassment were more likely to avoid going to college.

The study also found that a presence of supportive staff contributed to a range of positive indicators including greater sense of safety, fewer reports of missing days of school, and a higher incidence of planning to attend college.

Students in schools with a Gay Straight Alliance were less likely to feel unsafe, less likely to miss school, and more likely to feel like they belonged at their school than students in schools with no such clubs.

Having a comprehensive policy was related to a lower incidence of hearing homophobic remarks and to lower rates of verbal harassment. Students at schools with inclusive policies also reported higher rates of intervention by school staff when homophobic remarks were made.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive anti-bullying laws that specifically address bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and only three of these laws mention gender identity. Nine other states have “generic” anti-bullying laws that do not specifically define “bullying” or enumerate categories of protected classes

such as sexual orientation or gender identity. The remaining 32 states have no laws at all.

The NSCS found that both states with “generic” anti-bullying laws and states with no law at all had equally high rates of verbal harassment. States with inclusive policies that specifically enumerate categories including sexual orientation and gender identity, however, have significantly lower rates of verbal harassment (31.6% vs. 40.8%).

“These reports from LGBT students echo recent reports from the larger population of students in the United States,” said Joseph Kosciw, research director for GLSEN.

“In a recent national study conducted by GLSEN and Harris Interactive, 62.5% of secondary school students reported that other students were called names or harassed at their school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, which was very similar to the 64.1 percent of LGBT students in the NSCS who reported experiencing such harassment.”

This year’s survey includes responses from 1,732 LGBT students between the ages of 13 and 20 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data collection was conducted through community based groups and service organizations, from April to July 2005, and online from April to August 2005.

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