86% of LGBT teens face harassment in US schools

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The most comprehensive study ever undertaken into the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the United States has found they face widespread abuse.

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released the 2007 National School Climate Survey yesterday.

6,209 middle and high school students took part.

GLSEN said nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.

“The 2007 National School Climate Survey reveals that, on a whole, the situation is still dire for many LGBT youth when it comes to school safety,” GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings said.

“It’s hard to believe that anyone who reads this report could continue to turn the other way as our nation’s LGBT students are bullied and harassed at alarming rates.

“The good news is there’s hope. The survey also shows that when schools and educators take action, they can make a drastic difference.”

22.1% of LGBT students reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation while 73.6% heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school.

31.7% of LGBT students missed a class and 32.7% missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, compared to only 5.5% and 4.5%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.

The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.8 versus 2.4).

The research revealed that students in schools with a Gay-Straight Alliance reported hearing fewer homophobic remarks, experienced less harassment and assault because of their sexual orientation and gender expression and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff.

They were also were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns and reported a greater sense of belonging to their school community.

A third of students (36.3%) reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school.

Students from a school with a safe school policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression also reported more positive results.

In April tens of thousands of American students took part in a ‘Day of Silence’.

The yearly event was particularly poignant after the homophobic murder of a gay teenager

Fifteen year old Lawrence King was gunned down at school by 14-year-old Brandon McInerney earlier this year in Oxnard, California because he was gay.

McInerney is on trial for murder and faces life in prison. He is being tried as an adult and also faces a hate crime charge.

The National Day of Silence is coordinated nationally by GLSEN.

An estimated 500,000 students from nearly 5,000 junior and high schools in all 50 US states and Puerto Rico have participated in the National Day of Silence in past years and more than 6,000 schools registered this year.

In addition, Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each issued statements on the death of Lawrence King, as did talk show host Ellen Degeneres and Larry King.

11 states and the District of Columbia protect students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation, and only seven states and DC protect students on the basis of gender identity/expression.

The report found that having a generic law that did not include specific categories was essentially as effective for LGBT students as having no law at all.

“Since the first National School Climate Survey in 1999, we have seen little improvement in the overall school climate for LGBT students which is disturbing in that improving school climate facilitates student safety and relates to positive educational outcomes,” GLSEN Research Director Dr. Joseph Kosciw said.

“Although the results of this report illustrate the grim experience in school for many LGBT students, it also highlights the important role that educators and institutional supports can play in remedying the situation.”

The 2007 survey includes responses from 6,209 LGBT students between the ages of 13 and 21 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Data collection was conducted through community-based groups, online outreach, and targeted advertising on the social networking site MySpace.

The survey is being released simultaneously with the announcement of GLSEN’s partnership with the Ad Council.

It is producing its first-ever LGBT-themed public education campaign, featuring TV public service announcements starring Hilary Duff and Wanda Sykes, which will air for the first time later this month.